By Chris Haines
Having reviewed Heikki Ruokangas’ trio album last year, here’s another of his, this time an album of solo pieces and duos with fellow guitarist Henrik Hako-Rita. Compared to the trio album, this time out is a lot more freer and with more ‘out there’ playing than his previous outing. In some respects the pieces on this latest album are more honest and they get down and dig in the dirt, with raw emotional content never far away from the surface of the music, which makes it all the more compelling and interesting. Dissonant and chromatic playing frequently rubs shoulders with more traditionally structured and beautiful melodies, and harmonic structures do their best to contain the stream of conscious playing that spills over the edges of the musical vessels. The second track on the album, Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ is a great example of this, which after the initial statement the guitar takes a flight of fancy, not so much soaring into the stratosphere, but more unearthing and tearing holes in the fabric of the harmonic structure, before returning to a variation on the theme to end with an unresolved feel. ‘Warma’ is a solo acoustic piece, containing echoes of Derek Bailey, with it’s edgy and angular phrases and strong attacking of the strings, which the legendary Masayuki Takayanagi would have approved of, as he believed that the strength in which you plucked a guitar string was a good barometer of your inner strength as a person. All of this could also be applicable to ‘Mechanical Crow’, which if anything sounds even more indebted to Bailey’s improvisational gymnastics approach.
As mentioned previously there is also some wonderful melodic material on this album, something that made Ruokangas’ trio album stand out when I first heard it. ‘Ghost Waltz’ is a duo, with a haunting but beautiful melody simply underpinned by straightforward chordal arpeggios, allowing the shape of the melody to speak for itself, with clever use of volume swells and harmonics that become part of the melodic line and not just a superficial add-on which is so often the case. ‘Flamenco Of Rust’, seems to be an exercise in deconstruction, as is the cover of ‘Jos Lahdet Laila’ an old Finnish pop song, but the former also contains the alluring melodic material from which it is born and to which it returns, albeit too briefly in my humble opinion as I could quite easily have listened to some more of this splendid chord/melody playing. The final piece, ‘The Last Robot’ has a gorgeous melancholic ostinato that repeats throughout whilst the second guitar weaves in and out the line in a way that ranges from the subordinate to the most important element, providing interest and sustaining the idea for the duration of the piece.
An album full of contrast, particularly between dissonance/angularity and reflective/structured melodic material, but also stylistically with full-on free jazz blowing assaults, more mannered improvisational environments as in the European vein, blues influenced solos and standard song formats to the rockabilly/surf rock sound of ‘The Real Boy’ are visited across the ten tracks. It will be interesting to see where this upcoming artist will be heading next.