Jussi Reijonen and his ensemble appeared at Alwan Center for the Arts on Sunday, April 13. The incredible sound of their music is the product of a very unusual life. Born in the Arctic circle, Jussi grew up around the Middle East. His latest album, “Un," Jussi says, is his way of finding his path home. Jussi is not a composer or a musician that can be boxed in stylistically, either in writing or in performance. His love for his work is clear in his playing, in his writing and in his connection to the audience.
The ensemble's ability to create atmosphere is unsurpassed. Jussi took Coltrane's original, “Naima” and made something completely new and stunning out of it. Tareq Rantisi's percussion created a through the looking glass feel that lasted from beginning to end. It was a true joy to see such a diverse set of percussion instruments at his disposal. With them, he created splendidly a layered atmosphere for each piece. He is a truly indispensable musician.
The second piece, “Bayatiful” recalled an Arabian dance. It was a true feast for the senses, combining Jussi's melody on the oud with more outstanding tambourine and percussion work by Tareq Rantisi. Never again will the audience think of the tambourine as anything other than an instrument requiring a high level of skill. Guest artist Naseem Alatrash's romantic cello solo was also a highlight of the beautiful “Bayatiful”.
Jussi and the other members of the ensemble were one at all times. There are no noticeable breaks, and ensemble moments flowed skilfully right into solos and back out again. Bass player Bruno Raburg didn't just create steady, dependable bass. His music was always exciting, unexpected, and driving. Each musician was incredibly focused and pushing their instruments to their limits. More than once, pianist Utar Atun reached inside the piano to pluck at strings. Everything was done in service of their music.
In keeping with the theme of finding home, the ensemble performed Reijonen's “Kaiku” which, in his words, is a “sung photograph of the north," and indeed, it was. Jussi issued nothing less than a call to prayer with the gorgeous bent sound from his guitar. The music enveloped and transported the audience to a place as starkly beautiful as the world of “Bayatiful” was rich and warm. Raberg's bass was like an echo on an icy morning. Jussi Rejoinen is a clearly a passionate musician. His music is 100 percent real, ranging from the deep introspection of “Kaiku” to the ecstatically driving dance of “Serpentine."