Formed in the mid-90s when the musicians were still teenagers, the Joona Toivanen Trio has been quietly expanding the vocabulary of the piano trio for the better part of three decades. A brilliant string of releases for Italian label Camjazz displayed a healthy preoccupation with melody, mood and lyricism, but it was their playful streak of rhythmic subterfuge which for me really set them apart from the pack.
The trio is now geographically dispersed across Scandinavia – Toivanen (b. 1981) is in Gothenburg, bassist Tapani is in Copenhagen and the redoubtable Olavi Louhivuori is in Helsinki. Perhaps crucially Both Only is released by Helsinki label We Jazz Records, a shift that seems to have provided the trio with fresh impetus to push at the boundaries. It would be hard to improve on the press note’s description of this music as a welcoming cocoon of sound, and heaps of credit must go to Studio Folkhemmet‘s Petter Eriksson for his deeply immersive and unapologetically lower-case mix.
Somewhat darker in tone and more introspective than usual, the band open with an evocative haze of arco bass and a soothing mid-range drone which instantly draws you in. Enlightened is perhaps the most conventionally structured pieces of the set, a mid-paced shuffle that could have graced any of the Camjazz sets. Toivanen really digs in before the rhythm is broken by some ominously heavy chords, signalling a marked change of mood. The subtle shifts of time and space on Acceptance borrow liberally from dub, and as its slow processional cadence gathers momentum a heavy bass figure and Louhivuori’s skittish metallic chatter thicken the brew.
Elsewhere the seductive pulses of Direction lean on minimalist electronica, while the mirror-like surfaces of Faculties have an Eno-esque ambience. Of Profession is built on the kind of symbiotic interplay that recalls prime E.S.T., while the shimmering Except For harbours a latent intensity that never quite erupts. Only the closing This And This is in any way nostalgic, and I think I may have detected just the faintest whiff of optimism in its elegant theme.
Packed with surprises and totally absorbing from first to last, Both Only is at once a continuation of the trio’s eminent artistry, and a logical departure from their established norms.
Both Only; Enlightened; Acceptance; Direction; Faculties; Of Profession; In Place; Except For; This And This (47.00)
Toivanen (p); Tapani Toivanen (b); Olavi Louhivuori (d). 6-9 October 2019, Gothenburg.
We Jazz Records WJCD/LP 37