Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Healing Through Lamentation and Jazz

At least some readers probably know by now that I have done my best to follow the work of jazz saxophonist Rent Romus, who has taken his approaches to the avant-garde to particularly adventurous levels. However, January of last year brought my attention to a program of music he had composed in partnership with Heikiki Koskinen, conceived to weave the elements of jazz together with neo-traditional Finnish music and free improvisation. (Both composers are of Finnish descent.) The result of that partnership was a suite based on The Kalevala and other Finnish literary sources.

Last year Romus and Koskinen completed a subsequent creative partnership. This one was given the title Itkuja Suite, about an hour in duration. The music surfaced for the first time during last year’s SF Music Day on March 20. The literal translation of “itkuja” is “crying;” but, in a broader sense, it carries connotations of “a more all-encompassing worldview of the concepts of existence, loss, and change.”

from the Bandcamp Web page for the album being discussed

This past April 4 Edgetone Records released an album of Itkuja Suite. The Bandcamp Web page for this album supports both digital streaming and download and the purchase of a compact disc. The latter is packaged with an eight-page booklet that provides ample descriptions of the eleven tracks and lyrics in English, Finnish, and Karelian, along with photographs and more general liner notes. I have to confess that, personally, I found all of that “metadata” to be particularly valuable in guiding my listening through the eleven tracks. The Bandcamp Web page provides a two-paragraph summary of the suite’s background, but I welcomed the reading matter that allowed me to dig deeper into the ideas behind this composition.

Nevertheless, I have to confess that, after the first few listening experiences, I still feel that I am at the beginning of an ambitious journey. Even if my acquaintance with this music dates back to last year’s SF Music Day, I still feel that I have a lot to learn about the cultural infrastructure that informs the nature of the music. Still, I continue to feel that the journey is worth taking; and I suspect that I shall be spending as much time with the booklet as with listening to the music itself.

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