By J.D. Considine | Published September 2019
Perhaps because he grew up at a time when the term “keyboard” was as likely to mean a synth or sampler as a Steinway, Finnish pianist Aki Rissanen seems to have a particular fondness for the pulsing insistence of eighth-note ostinatos. It’s a sound that evokes the chattering circuitry of sequencers, except that instead of programming the notes, Rissanen plays them by hand, a bit of virtuosity made all the more astonishing because it’s merely background, a rhythmic pattern that simply supports the melodic thrust of what he’s playing.
“Aeropeans,” the track that opens his third album with bassist Antii Lötjönen and drummer Teppo Mäkynen, is a case in point. It begins with a blur of rhythm, the piano percolating like a sequencer as the bass moves in contrary motion against it, offset by a spare, glitchy rhythm on hi-hat, all in 5/4. It’s the sort of background groove you’d expect from an adventurous electro-pop group, except that the Rissanen trio leaves gaps in the groove, which allows the beat to breathe a bit. Moreover, where much electronic music seems determinedly horizontal, driven by an endlessly looping ostinato, Rissanen and company keep changing things up—the texture, the rhythmic patterns, the tonal center. Structurally, it’s more étude than electro.
Then again, as Rissanen states in the liner notes, his sensibility owes as much to Mozart as to Moby, and the classical influence is strong throughout Art In Motion. Two tracks are jazz interpretations of classical pieces, and their differences are instructive. “Moro Lasso Al Mio Duolo” is based on a 17th century motet by Carlo Gesualdo, but instead of getting the John Lewis treatment, it’s lifted out of the baroque era and reimagined with the moody, modal harmony of Brad Mehldau. “Cantus Arcticus, Melancholy,” by contrast, is based on a late-20th century orchestral piece by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, and alternates between ghostly open chords and the sort of knotty jazz lyricism you’d expect from Keith Jarrett.
Add in the witty dissonance of “Das Untemperierte Klavier,” which features a striking, double-stopped solo by bassist Lötjönen, or the mutated bossa of “Seemingly Radical,” a tune whose melody eerily echoes “Thanks For The Memories,” and Art In Motion finds the Rissanen trio moving in many directions, all of them interesting.