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Jussi Reijonen: Three Seconds | Kolme Toista (Challenge)

Review of the Finnish guitarist/oudist's second album—released nearly a decade after his first

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Cover of Jussi Reijonen album Three Seconds/Kolme Toista
Cover of Jussi Reijonen album Three Seconds/Kolme Toista

Even in our present jazz moment, when the art form is worldwide and vital, albums that come as complete surprises are relatively rare. Three Seconds | Kolme Toista is a stunner.

Jussi Reijonen has released only one previous recording (un, nine years ago). He is a Finnish guitarist and oud player who has also lived in Jordan, Tanzania, Oman, Lebanon, and the United States. It is possible that no one has ever assembled a nonet quite like the one here. There are three Americans (trumpeter Jason Palmer, drummer Vancil Cooper, bassist Kyle Miles), two Turks (trombonist Bulut Gülen, pianist Utar Artun), a Jordanian/Iraqi (violinist Layth Sidiq), a Palestinian (cellist Naseem Alatrash), and a Japanese (percussionist Keita Ogawa).

Three Seconds is a five-part suite that grips you from the opening notes of the first movement, “The Veil.” A haunting, premonitory fanfare is introduced by Miles on arco bass. That theme becomes a dramatic looming presence when the whole band takes it over. In this 42-minute multidimensional work, Reijonen, as composer/arranger, has many sonorities available. He blends the colors boldly. The music sounds both personal and majestic. Its first impression is power, when the ensemble, with its two drummers thundering, hits full force. Yet there are many moments when Reijonen’s expansive sonic world contracts to fine details: Sidiq’s violin softly keening on “Transient”; Reijonen’s guitar alone in the open spaces of “The Weaver”; Palmer’s trumpet announcements on “Verso.”

The variety of ethnicities and instruments makes for a unique, heady mix. Among this album’s many revelations is the gradual realization that it truly is a suite. That enigmatic theme at the beginning recurs throughout, albeit sometimes subliminally. When it returns explicitly, like at the end of “Verso,” it is a rush. This album is a single, unified, diverse, overwhelming statement.

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.