Good Stuff Iiro Rantala & Ulf Wakenius
- 2Carmen (Micaela & Don Jose)04:07
- 6Nessun Dorma03:38
- 7Sir Duke03:16
- 9What a Wonderful World04:33
- 11Giant Steps02:46
- 12Love the Stuff & Ain't No Mountain High Enough03:44
Info for Good Stuff
Vienna, Rome, Seoul... Iiro Rantala and Ulf Wakenius are musicians who travel the world, always on tour as leaders of their own projects. So it was something of a fluke that this duo was able to come into existence at all. The idea first emerged in October 2015, when Rantala and Wakenius stopped off at the Philharmonie in Berlin. Siggi Loch, curator of the “Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic” concert series, had brought them together on stage for the “Tears for Esbjörn” concert. “We were part of a larger ensemble on that occasion”, Rantala remembers, “but it was clear to both of us straight away that we would want to form a duo.” This has to be seen as a very smart move, given the rarity of the piano-guitar duo in jazz – a fine exception being that of Brad Mehldau with Pat Metheny.
Thereafter, whenever gaps could be found in both of their crammed diaries, they would meet to do concerts together. “Each of us would bring some pieces to play”, says Wakenius, “but because we always had so little time in the run-up, we were more or less rehearsing live on stage.” It is precisely this way of approaching the music – with spontaneity, inquisitiveness and a complete lack of preconceived ideas – that gives the duo its fabulous energy. It is worth noting that almost all of the tracks on this album are first takes.
After a much-acclaimed concert at Jazz Baltica in summer 2016, it was evident that this music needed to be recorded. Siggi Loch invited the pair to his gallery in Berlin, where the now famous Alfred Brendel Steinway “D” was awaiting Rantala’s arrival. Each track of the album captures the mood of a different city. These are places which the musicians visit regularly, where they often play, and to which they feel a special connection: “Vienna” sounds as if Mozart could have written it – if he were a jazz musician living now. “Seoul” combines traditional Korean music with the 21st century urban metropolis. “Helsinki”, says Rantala of his home town, “is a relaxed, groovy place.” That’s also where the Finnish artist Jiri Geller is living, who has done the CD artwork. He is just as much at home as the musicians themselves when it comes to reconciling the contradictions between seriousness or concentration and playfulness, flippancy – or just going for an effect.
Puccini's aria “Nessun Dorma” references Milan as an important centre of Italian opera, whereas Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” takes place in Seville, and the Don José - Micaëla duet from it has been arranged by Rantala as gently swaying jazz ballad, in which both piano and guitar sing from the heart. “Berlin”, as portrayed by Ulf Wakenius, is in a state of flux. The city that never sleeps is propelled here by an unrelenting pulse from the guitar; the melody over it is catchy yet elusive. In John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” both instrumentalists show their dazzling virtuosity. “What A Wonderful World” that was made famous by Louis Armstrong is a summarization of this musical tour of cities: “Every place is lifted by its music and is therefore unique. We've hunted down these specific sounds.”
Rantala and Wakenius always play Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” as the encore at their concerts, and audiences love it. That track was a must for the album, as was “Love The Stuff/Ain‘t No Mountain High Enough” from Stuff, the 70's and 80's jazz-funk band with Richard Tee, Cornell Dupree and Steve Gadd, a group which both men revere. That legendary band also inspired the choice of album title: “Good Stuff”. “The tracks bring together influences and composers that have left their mark on us,” says Wakenius.
He and Rantala have indeed brought together great things, but what they go on to make of these materials and inspirations: that’s the real good stuff.
Iiro Rantala, piano
Ulf Wakenius, guitar
Recorded by Nanni Johansson at the ACT Art Collection Berlin, May 30 & 31, 2017
Mixed and mastered by Klaus Scheuermann
Produced by Siggi Loch
(b. 1970) started his piano and music studies at the Music School of Käpylä and in the Cantores Minores Choir at the age of 7. In 1983 Rantala was accepted to the Pop & Jazz Conservatory of Oulunkylä where he studied under Seppo Kantonen and composed his first songs for Ikivirheät-group where played also drummer Sami Kuoppamäki and saxophonist Manuel Dunkel. Rantala was also a member of Upi Sorvali's (1952-1989) Big Bad Family before the death of the drummer-leader.
In 1988 Rantala started his studies at the jazz department of the Sibelius Academy and already the same year he formed Trio Töykät with Eerik Siikasaari and Rami Eskelinen. Trio developed an original concept where Rantala's compositions were backed up with the skills and arrangements of the trio and the repertoire included more humor than Finnish jazzbands usually had in their music in the 1980s. Already on the year the group was formed Trio Töykeät won the Hoeilaart European Jazzband Contest in Belgium. The group played their first Finnish Jazz Federation tour in 1989 and the debut album Päivää! (Sonet) was released the next year.
In 1990-1993 Rantala and Eskelinen studied both in New York at the Manhattan School of Music but Rantala was disappointed in the jazz education of the school and took classical piano studies instead. When Rantala and Eskelinen returned to Finland, Trio Töykeät performed actively around the world, for example in Cuba, Mexico, Europe, Australia and Asia. Trio released high-quality albums regularly and Jazzlantis released in 1995 won the Jazz Emma Prize as the Jazz Recording of the Year in 1995. In the same year, and the year after that, first Siikasaari and then Rantala were awarded with the Georgie, Yrjö, Award as the Jazzmusician of the Year. Trio Töykeät was also honoured to be the first jazzband ever to play at the Presidential Independence Day Reception in 1996.
In the beginning of the 21st century Trio Töykeät released several high-quality albums and performed still actively abroad and in Finland. In 2008 Trio Töykeät however announced, after over 2000 gigs, 43 countries and seven albums, that they are breaking up. There was not any drama involved in the decision to quit: the group just felt that it had come to the end of it's journey. All in all Trio Töykeät was one of the most famous Finnish jazzbands in the 1990's, probably even the most popular.
Besides Trio Töykeät, Rantala has been composing music for different occasions. Only as a soloist for an orchestra he has performed several times but he has also composed lots of classical music and music for films, theatre plays and musicals. Rantala has hosted his own tv-shows Iirottelua and Iiro irti! on the channel TV1 and he is the artistic leader and the producer of the Kansi auki! Piano Jazz Festival organized annually in Helsinki in November. The most recent groups for Rantala have been Iiro Rantala New Trio with guitarist Marzi Nyman and beatboxer Felix Zenger that performed in 2006-2010 and My History of Jazz -project that was dedicated for the past idols of Rantala.
(b. 1958) in Halmstad, Sweden. Ulf Wakenius. A jazz guitarist extraordinaire acclaimed and celebrated all over the world. Between 1997 and 2007 Ulf held what may have been the most prestigious spot in jazz for a guitarist: a chair in the Oscar Peterson Quartet.This was the coronation of a career which included many record-breaking moments.Wakenius guitar duo Guitars Unlimited rocked Scandinavia in the early 80s, culminating in the 1985 Melody Grand Prix, which was seen by 600 million viewers, probably the largest audience a jazz guitar duo ever had. Shortly after that Wakenius started a extremely successful and long-lasting collaboration with the legendary bass player Niels-Henning Örsted Pedersen.( NHOP), and both of his duo albums with bass icon Ray Brown, topped the US Jazz Charts.The last few years he's been touriing the world with the amazing Korean singer Youn Sun Nah.
Oscar Peterson has publicly described Ulf as one of the greatest guitarists alive in the world today and many of today’s most acclaimed jazz guitarists are among Ulf’s fans, including Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, John Scofield and Mike Stern. Great Rhythmic feel combines with a extraordinary lyrical touch- his emphasis is always on melodies and groove. He has been filmed by Clint Eastwood. His next release on ACT will be Ulf Wakenius-Solo "Momento Magico“.