I was fascinated by the Kari Ikonen Trio based on its contribution to Ozella’s 2014 compilation The Magic & the Mystery of the Piano Trio, and eagerly anticipated this year’s release of the trio’s second Ozella date. Beauteous Tales and Offbeat Stories entirely lived up to my expectations. Finns Ikonen on piano and Markku Ounaskari on drums and Armenian bassist Ara Yaralyan seem insatiable in their exploration of the jazz trio’s possibilities. This album is about equal parts upbeat swinging jazz, icy Nordic soundscapes, and pensive, occasionally dark excursions into modernist interpretations of European folk music.
The two most welcoming and upbeat are the opener “L’avant-Midi D’une Elfe” and the Bollywood dance tune cover “Poorab Disa Se.” The former is a swirling cascade of Lisztian runs punctuated by Ounaskari’s assured time-keeping; the latter a dramatic and non-condescending interpretation of a popular form by this very confident trio. Just as assured is the trio’s cover of John Coltrane’s “Countdown,” which finds Ikonen ranging through a wide variety of melodic and harmonic choices while the bass and piano interact with great subtlety.
Yaralyan plays beautiful arco bass on a couple of these pieces, including the haunting “Astxi Pes” (Like a Star) which he arranged, based on a folk-based Armenian composition by Gusan Ashot. Note Ikonen’s use of “prepared” piano (in this case paper across the strings) for a special muffled effect.
The Finns love their tango, so the inclusion of the brief but energetic pointilist take on the form, “Verhotango,” is de rigeur. The most straightforward piece is the lovely, languidly paced and meditative “Septentrional,” while the closer “The 4th Part of the Harbour Trilogy” skirts modernist music and jazzy balladry, including the second instance of haunting arco bass by Yaralyan and sensitive brushwork from Ounaskari. Tossed in almost as punctuation are a couple of short Finnish modernist tunes just to keep things chilly.
Perhaps tilted a little more toward the “offbeat” than the “beauteous,” the coolly passionate disc as a whole rewards close listening.
The Kari Ikonen Trio has a website.