What the critics have said - reviews:
Review: Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala unleashes hailstorm
Iiro Rantala, former member of the defunct Finnish jazz supergroup Trio Toykeat, crafts long, sinuous tunes, serpentine in timbre and tone, yet accessible and guileful in their transitions. Nimble-fingered scaling and rapid, dual-fisted minor-key slams slip fluidly into chipper waltzes and Art Tatum-esque swing.
He hunches over the piano in a tropical sea-blue shirt, looking a little solipsistic, gently swaying his head, his body still and his hands galloping and jumping and thrashing and pounding, living entities full of vigor.
A steady three-note pulse occupies his left hand, a trance-inducing, almost minimalist little riff around which Rantala wraps a frantic improvised solo. (He signals the start and end of his solos by raising his hand, as improvisation is rare in Rantala’s performances; he’s proclaimed that “compositions come first.”) His feet stomp while he sings to himself with his eyes closed, and his right hand explores the gamut of keys, unleashing a protean hailstorm, never errant or erroneous, always melodic.
Rantala has worn his influences like badges of honor, or perhaps like bumper stickers tagging where his aesthetics and aspirations have ventured. He throws insouciant winks toward piano pioneers Bill Evans and Duke Ellington, as well as the mad maestro of fretless bass, Jaco Pastorius. His performance is essentially a history of jazz peppered with jokes (“I won’t be playing any cool jazz, it’s cold enough in Finland!”). He performs renditions of Bach and Gershwin and offers commentary between tunes, edifying the audience with simplified theoretical musings.
His covers (to borrow a phrase not usually used by classical musicians) are suffused with zest, but the Finish composer seems most vehement when performing his own material: the mnemonic, sepia-tinged “Americans in Paris” flutters by like a swarm of butterflies; the Jonathan Franzen-inspired “Freedom” veers from mania to meditation and back; and in “Thinking of Misty” the flurry of notes fires from his fingers like sparks from a powerful wizard.
Rantala’s compositions are like aural macaronics, mixing the languages of classical and jazz into something new and singular. The defiant bite and zeal of jazz pervades the restrained melodies common in classical music. Rhythmic washes bleed in and out of chaos. The songs build in intensity and mutate into combustible concoctions.
Rantala isn’t afraid to forego this affinity for bedlam. Sometimes he’s a fervid, one-man cacophony of focused energy, sometimes he’s as mellow as transient clouds drifting across an azure sky. He can make a vast abyss seem homey, but it’s the quiet, intimate moments that seep into the deeper confines of the heart.
Greg Cwik is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.
"Iiro Rantala – My History In Jazz
The title on this recording isn’t coincidental. Iiro Rantala is expressing his own personal relationship with Jazz, and like any other relationship in life, it involves elements that don’t necessarily fall under the Jazz umbrella. That’s why classical compositions by Bach and pop standards like “September Song” are presented along with original pieces and renditions of songs like “Caravan.” Rantala’s sound doesn’t sacrifice its typical austere grace as it switches up the source material, but there’s a noticeable shift in the overall sound from track to track, duly reflecting the disparate influences on his history in jazz. Rantala’s takes on Bach’s “Goldberg Variation” possess a distant warmth, whereas the group’s rendition of “Caravan” echoes the original’s boisterousness. “Eronel” has a friendly piano trio hop and bounce that would fit right into the jazz scene of the sixties, whereas the casual propulsion and lovely melodic drift of “Smoothie” is an outstanding example of how jazz musicians of the new century are putting their stamp on the artform. Violinist Baldych guests on four of the tracks. It’s nice to see him getting put to use since signing with the ACT Music label. He’s a hell of a talent, and fits in just fine with the established pros that comprise the core trio." Your album personnel: Iiro Rantala (piano), Lars Danielsson (bass, cello), Morten Lund (drums), and guest: Adam Baldych (violin).
"Himself a hero: Rantala is already at the level of his heroes. ... He is also a highly respected and regularly performing concert pianist and a perfect master of the traditional jazz piano. Rantala understands and creates his music from these different angles. In this he is unique"
Ludwig Jurgeit - "Jazzpodium". Feb'11
"Pianist iiro Rantala sheds musical "Tears for Esbjörn" on his album "Lost Heroes". Completely unsentimental, entirely touching". - Stern Magazine Germany.
Germany - 'Concerto' 02-11 - Review - 5 stars - JG:
iiro Rantala, for many years the pianist of the Finnish Trio Töykeät, proves his musical imagination and diversity on the instrument with a solo CD after the break-up of this ensemble. With wit and melancholy, inexhaustible energy and virtuoso technique the pianist moves through the piano's many possibilities of expression. Romanticised kitsch, clichés of tradition, quotes, gestures of modern jazz, Scandinavian tunefulness: all this converges through many unexpected twists and turns in a humorous and inventive way. The CD is assembled as a series of homages, paying tribute to deceased artists: Esbjörn Svensson, Erroll Garner, Jean Sibelius, Jaco Pastorius (in the composition dedicated to him Rantala only uses the bass of the piano), Art Tatum and many others … and even Luciano Pavarotti.
Zany - The Finnish Jazz pianist Iiro Rantala pays homage to his heroes.
“The party is over” – that’s what Iiro Rantala must have had in mind when he turned to the memory of the departed. Long enough did the Finnish pianist perform his high level musical slapstick as the leader of “Trio Töykeät”. After almost two decades the successful band broke up in 2006, and also the follow-up project with guitar and human beat box was quickly put to rest. For that reason, Iiro Rantala had time to fully devote himself to his instrument – without deadline pressure and the stress of touring. He took a break, played a lot of classical music, reworked memories in a musical way and so his fist solo-project “Lost Heroes” (ACT) developed with homages to personalities like Pekka Pohjola or Esbjörn Svensson, who influenced him. When the program was complete, it was recorded in Leipzig on an outstanding lucently sounding Steinway. This was important since Iiro Rantala’s touch encompasses subtly controlled nuances of expression. Despite all seriousness, Iiro Rantala is Finnish enough to add a pinch of zany humour to his phrases. A masterpiece of musical hero worship. Germany - Suddeutsche Zeitung - Ralf Dombrowski - Feb 23'11
Album der Woche / Album of the week / CD der Woche, Mittwoch, 23. Februar 2011
Blick zurück nach innen - Iiro Rantalas verlorene Helden
Es passiert ja selten, dass man sich hinsetzt und einer CD einfach zuhören muss. Iiro Rantalagelingt dieses Kunststück der Aufmerksamkeitsbündelung, denn der Finne schafft es,Unterhaltung und Bedeutung, Eigenheit und Esprit in seine Musik zu packen. Bislang bekanntals Kopf des clever klangkalauernden Trio Töykeät hat er sich nach dessen Auflösung 2006 einpaar Jahre mit verschiedenen Projekten orientiert und ist nun bei sich selbst angekommen.Sein vorläufiges Meisterstück heißt „Lost Heroes" (ACT 9504-2), präsentiert ihn mit sich alleinam Flügel und einem Kopf voller Erinnerungen, die er in Klänge fasst. Es sind Gedanken, dieihn mit Freunden und Vorbildern zusammenbringen, Menschen, die ihn im Laufe seiner Karrierebeeindruckt und geprägt haben. Pekka Pohjola zum Beispiel, E-Bassist, Komponist und Freak,der der finnischen Szene seit den Siebzigern den Jazzrock nahe gebracht hatte. Oder EsbjörnSvensson, der 2008 bei einem Tauchunfall gestorbene Visionär musikalischer Fokussierung.Vor ihnen und vor Stilgrößen wie Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bill Evans, ja sogar vor demNationalhelden Jean Sibelius verneigt sich Iiro Rantala mit pianistischer Eleganz undüberwiegend eigenen Kompositionen, ein Souverän des Anschlags, der Dynamikkontrolle,großer Bögen und kleiner Fluchten. „Lost Heroes" ist Musik mit der Kraft eines produktivTrauernden, der seine Gefühle in vielsagende, stellenweise humorvolle Geschichten packt. Einbeeindruckender Wurf!
Ralf Dombrowski February 23, 2011 www.ralfdombrowski.de (DE)
Act Music 2011
Gwilym Simcock is an admirer of the remarkable Iiro Rantala, Finland's best-known jazz pianist, and you can hear why. Like the younger Simcock, Rantala's solo work draws on classical music as much as jazz, and fizzes with glittering contrapuntal playing jaw-dropping juxtapositions of fast basslines and right-hand cascades, tantalising swappings of romantic rhapsodies and bluesy swing, and all kinds of other pianistic fireworks. Rantala has devoted this album to inspirations now passed, including Bill Evans, Jaco Pastorius, Esbjorn Svensson, Art Tatum and even Pavarotti. His touch is flawless, particularly on silvery, caressing melodies such as his dedication to Pekka Pohjola, the slow, liquid expansion of his waltz to Evans or his meditation on Svensson. But it's the bass-note thunder of pattern-based pieces such as the stomping Pastorius tribute played entirely at the low end, the strutting dance of Thinking of Misty or the Tatumesque stride-piano account of the bebop classic Donna Lee that unleash all the pianist's upbeat power. It could be flashy, but it's lovingly done.
John Fordhaln, Thursday 24 February 2011 www.guardian.co.uk (UK)
“The party is over” – that’s what Iiro Rantala must have had in mind, when he turned to the memory of the departed. Long enough did the Finnish pianist perform high level musical slapstick as the head of “Trio Töykeät”. After almost two decades the successful band broke up in 2006 and also the follow-up project with guitar and human beat box was quickly put to an end. For that reason, Iiro Rantala had time, to fully devote himself to his instrument – without the pressure of constant touring and other obligations. He took a break, played lots of classical music, came to terms with many musical memories and so his fist solo-project “Lost Heroes” (ACT) with homages to personalities like Pekka Pohjola or Esbjörn Svensson, who strongly influenced him, grew up. When the repertoire was complete, it was recorded in Leipzig on an outstanding Steinway grand piano. This was important since Iiro Rantala’s pianistic attack allows subtly contoured nuances of expression. Despite all seriousness, Iiro Rantala is Finnish enough, to include a pinch of ludicrous humour in his phrases. A masterpiece of musical hero worship.
Ralf Dombrowski, Wed. 23 February 2011, Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE)
ACT Music (2011)
German record label ACT Music is rapidly cornering the market in stylish solo piano albums. With Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala's Lost Heroes, it adds another distinctive and glorious recording to its collection, alongside Gwilym Simcock's Good Days At Schloss Elmau (2011) and Danilo Rea's A Tribute To Fabrizio De André (2010), among others. Rantala has been a jazz musician for many years, most famously with Trio Töykeät, a superbly skillful and inventive band which existed for almost 20 years until it split in 2006. He is also a popular presenter on Finnish TV. This is his first solo album and, like Rea's CD, Rantala's Lost Heroes is a tribute—in this case, to ten of Rantala's musical role models, from Jean Sibelius to Art Tatum and Esbjörn Svensson. Eight of the tunes are Rantala originals. Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," dedicated to Tatum, and Toots Thielemans' "Bluesette," in tribute to Oscar Peterson, are also included. Every performance is a joy: stylish, creative, precise and imbued with warmth. "Pekka Pohjola " is dedicated to Rantala's fellow Finn; musician and composer Pekka Pohjola, who died in late 2008. It's one of the disc's most graceful and lyrical tunes; Rantala's sadness almost palpable, particularly in the middle section, when his playing becomes more strident and powerful. "Tears for Esbjörn" is equally beautiful: played with economy and space its simple, delicate melody is achingly lovely. Other tunes display Rantala's more playful side, a sense of humor that translates readily into musical ideas. "Can't Get Up" is dedicated to Jaco Pastorius and, as befits this legendary bassist, Rantala plays the entire tune on the bass keys, hammering out a powerful rhythm with both hands. His tribute to Errol Garner, a player who "puts a smile in my face," is the angular, jagged, "Thinking of Misty," filled with melodic twists and turns as well as an insistent tick-tock rhythm. "Donna Lee" is another playful performance, Rantala's fingers skipping across the keys as he mixes stride and bebop phrasings. It's difficult to praise Lost Heroes too highly. Rantala's international profile may not be as high as other jazz pianists, but he is a hugely talented artist, with a powerfully emotional approach to his playing and a good-natured sensibility that some better-known players could do well to emulate. Rantala's heroes may be lost, but they still resonate in the hearts and minds of many people. Lost Heroes is a superb tribute; a giant of an album.
By BRUCE LINDSAY
Published: February 24, 2011 at www.allaboutjazz.com (US)
"...His playing to put it mildly is virtuoso. One must perhaps go all the way back to Franz Liszt to find the same kind of virtuosity. At least there is lots of romanticism in Rantala.""Iiro Rantala is a pianistic sensation who makes the strongest case I know to believe in reincarnation because his pianistic technique and musical sensitivity speak of depths which appear impossible to have been achieved in this lifetime alone...."
Kjeld Fransden, Berlingske Tidene, Copenhagen
Gil Goldstein, pianist and arranger, New York
"When I first heard the Trio Toykeat play I was totally bowled over...knocked out. I immediately recommended them for work...and also started hiring them... then they started hiring me! Iiro Rantala is one of the best musicians I have ever known. A RARE talent!"
Lew Soloff, trumpetist, New York.
"The most exciting performance of the festival was by Finnish ensemble Trio Toykeat..... Their music at Montsalvat was exhilarating and beautiful....The audience erupted into a frenzy after every solo...."
Jessica Nicholas, Herald Sun, Melbourne
"A virtually unbroken torrent of in-your-face virtuosity, leavened with a delicious sense of humour and a daring eclecticism".."Judging by this concert you can see why these three are gaining a reputation as one of the hottest properties in the jazz world today."
Tim Bridgewater, The Dominion, Wellington, New Zealand
"...The Trio became a tight-knit formation of three bumblebees whose flight took them into stratospeheric realms where they whizzed over the firmament like shooting stars immune from burnout".
Gilbert Haisman, Evening Post, Wellington, New Zealand
"Seldom, if ever has it happened that at an international jazz festival in Finland, a Finnish jazz group turned out to be the most outstanding of all performers".
Jukka Hauru, Helsingin Sanomat, Helsinki, Finland
Trio Toykeat is the name of the Finnish ensemble, and on Thursday made its debut in the Amsterdam Bimhuis. As such it is of course not important that a Finnish group plays here. Actually a number of groups play here often from less obvious originating jazz countries. Much more important is that the Finnish Trio, despite a somewhat noisy and definitely unnecessary amplification, made an excellent impression.
Stronger still: Leader and composer Iiro Rantala exposed himself as a heavyweight of the same calibre as Brad Mehldaw. With the difference that Rantala does not choose for the standard repertoire but for his own compositions, which are unmistakingly European in character. Not to forget the manner in which Rantala applies his superior (classical) technique to play with melodies wiithout ever getting bored, reminds one strongly of the way Mehldau seeks the depth in his standard.
The sympathy of the music, which Rantala writes for his Trio Toykeat, a traditional jazz trio with piano-bass-drums, is the total lack of pretention. So they hang together with cliches - but cliches, which bring up a smile, and because the effects are there with such emphasis, Trio Toykeat could almost have been a Dutch band.
A piece like 'Another Ragtime' is a good example. In this everything moves around powerful, virtuosely played loops, to which Rantala gives a different twist each time. It refers to the ragtime made famous by Scott Joplin at the start of the century, but also surpasses it.
Another example is 'Unfinnish Tango', a piano solo in which the peasantlike raw characteristics of the Finnish Tango (yes, it exists, our own Manlando was not the only one who claims the Argentinian tango for himself) are placed in a romantic framework: just nice to dream away with or simply to enjoy.
The surprisingly well filled hall did this, and treated the blond portly pianist repeatedly with ovational applause. Rantala beamed in this with delight. And justifyingly so. With Trio Toykeat he has played almost everywhere. Only the (spoiled) Dutch public had not been introduced to his music. That deficiency has now been rectified.
Kees Polling, 'Trouw' – Holland - 26/9/98
24.9.1998 (Copenhagen Jazzhouse 23/9/98) A Finnish phenomenon
It is important to experience Finnish jazz live, as it is difficult to describe. Finnish jazz is peopled with originals, which was once more confirmed, when Trio Töykeät played for the first time in Denmark. They presented us with music which we had not been confronted with before. The drummer Rami Eskelinen and the bassist Eerik Siikassari were artistically more conventional, but the leader of the ensemble, the composer and pianist Iiro Rantala is a real phenomenon.
His voluminous body suits his playing well, which to put it mildly is virtuoso. One must perhaps go all the way back to Franz Liszt to find the same kind of virtuosity. At least there is lots real romanticism in Rantala. But there was much else too. Elegant and original melodies, lots of imposing, insisting and fascinating repetitive figures, extreme improvisations and a good grain of melancholy and humor - yes humor.
This was especially visible in “Unfinnish Tango” etc, to which Rantala introduced a very cryptic - very Finnish - story, and also in “Hömmpä-Humppa” based on a Finnish dance, which here and there lost the rhythm in a perfectly untransparanet manner.
The trio finished with “Donna Lee”, and it was an impressive round of bebop with generosity, personality and good tricks. The music made the people happy and there were many of them. And when Finnish jazz gets popular, the word jazz crisis can disappear from the Danish language
Kjeld Frandsen - Denmark