Kristjan Randalu - Absence

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel – Kristjan Randalu: piano; Ben Monder: guitar; Markku Ounaskari: drums.


With a knack for texture and improvisation, as well as a huge capacity to understand form and structure, Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, a former student of John Taylor and Django Bates, establishes his own depth-charged dramatic stance on his ECM debut record, Absence. The work comprises nine rigorously structured originals for trio, combining jazz, avant-garde, classical, and modern composition with a carefully cultivated touch. Filling out the band are American guitarist Ben Monder, a mainstay in the New York scene, and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari, whose temperate chops qualify in perfection to tone up the bottom layer. 

Forecast” is initiated as a rubato pianistic reflection, developing into a galloping continuousness. The rhythmic impetuosity, gaining a different dimension with Monder’s spacious guitar, is later interrupted so the guitarist can express his beautiful lyricism over understated drums. Randalu also delivers a colorful moment, conveying an impressive lightness, even when using swift sequences of notes to delineate his logic phrasing. 

Lumi” has two variations. On the first one, Ounaskari’s cymbal murmurs have the company of sparse piano, later joined by enigmatic, flickering guitar chords. Monder embarks on a stunning guitar fingerpicking while sliding harmonies, contrasting with the bandleader, who, moments after, chimes in with melodic sweeps and fugue-like movements to attain a close-knit texture. 

Sisu” brings the well-defined harmonic progressions of a pop song, yet, shaped with erudite refinement. The flow obeys a simple triple meter and the dreamlike tones rival with the amiable “Adaption II”, where piano and guitar work shoulder to shoulder over a low-key cymbal articulation.

The initial ambiguity and mystery of “Escapism”, whose tension is created by Randalu’s high-pitched notes in opposition to instant deep-toned swirls, is completely put on a halt to launch a relaxed melodic final section adorned with brushed drumming. If this piece makes you slightly uneasy at first, “Adaption I” is sinister, with its dark mix of eerie guitar vibes and floating piano spirals. Before the title track closes the record in peaceful contemplation, the 3/4-metered “Partly Clouded” advances with a perpetual piano riff that moves between registers with nimble acuity. The ruminative guitar is pretty descriptive and its rapid runs inflict lustiness. In turn, the pianist unearths searing lines with an authentic feeling, drawn from the classical and jazz vocabularies.

This trio, whose members are no imitators but builders of their own language, embraces discipline and finds coherence in the assemblage of their musical aesthetics.

       Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Lumi I ► 03 – Sisu ► 08 - Partly Clouded