Beauteous Tales and Offbeat Stories
Is Finnish composer Karu Ikonen the Hieronymous Bosch of piano jazz? The cover of Beauteous Tales and Offbeat Stories suggests so, because both Bosch and Ikonen marry beauty and the beast.
Though, in the case of Ikonen and his impeccable trio, beast should read as strange, or quirky, for Beauteous Tales and Offbeat Stories, is a ten track voyage through the weird and the wonderful, with a fascinating take on John Coltrane’s Countdown.
Being Finnish, Ikonen enjoys contrasts and extreme changes, and he has set out with some determination to deploy the magic of the contrary with this recording which was completed in two days without post production to iron out mistakes.
It’s a novel approach and its success depends whether you buy into the aesthetic of Beauteous Tales and the improvisation of Offbeat Stories.
Apparently, the motivation behind an unrefined recording was a means of liberating the trio from the bloodless aesthetic of contemporary jazz. Yet, a tune like Astri Pes, a conventional piece for piano tuns out to be anything but once Armenian bassist Ara Yaralyan attaches a soft accompaniment.
This is the Ikonen trio as its most relaxed and the tempo and mood extends to Septentrional: Markku Ounaskari on drums is almost anonymous until he drifts in after two minutes and the trio has muscle. They like to meander and alter course at will, fired in one direction or another by Yaralyan or Ikonen.
So, the contrast between control and playing it safe and taking risks and pushing the boat out into rougher waters, results in a commitment to the flip side of perfunctory jazz. If the improvisations have the pace of a pugilist sussing out his opponent it is because the Kari Ikonen Trio decided the final result of their recordings over 48 hours completely unrefined.
For the listener it is akin to eavesdropping on a spectacular session by three quite superb musicians, being a witness to the conception of each experiment, which naturally reaches a zenith with their take on Coltrane’s Countdown, the ideal primer for one of the many high points of Beauteous Tales and Offbeat Strories, the Ikonen composition, The 4th Part of the Harbour Trilogy: Yaralyan extracts a soulful hunger from his bow, a deft resonance bordering on dampening, but always on the same page as Ikonen.
The Broken Mirrors
By Elias Khoury
Review: Tom Mooney
Take your pick, but either Karim Shammas, who has returned to Beirut from France, or his father, Nasri, are the most memorable philanderers to have graced the pages of a novel bursting through the seams of recent history since Milan Kundera unveiled Tomas in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Like Tomas, both Karim and Nasri have access to a conveyor belt of lovers because they are practitioners of medicine: a common thread runs through both novels, a typical Kundera theme, namely the lightness of love and sex, and that which occurs once is unlikely to repeat itself.
Why does Karim forsake the safety of France for a city still reeling from a vicious civil war? Is it to kick over the traces of old love affairs or to establish the truth about his father’s death? Is his brother, the less than sharp and once make-believe pharmacist, Nasim, in any way complicit?
Khoury was born into a Christian family in Beirut where he fought, and was injured, during the protracted and bloody Lebanese Civil War. He is the author of over a dozen novels, was a researcher for the PLO, has a background in journalism, and his latest novel is translated by the award winning Humphrey Davies.
What is beautiful and immediate about Khoury’s prose is his depiction of Beirut, easily on a par with Pamuk and Istanbul or Marc Pastor and Barcelona: there is a shifting of the tenses as characters appear and disappear whilst the weft of the tale of Karim’s return untangles.
Those who are dead are very much alive, and Khoury never misses an opportunity to fill in the background of even minor characters, and gradually the pieces slot into their place in the jigsaw: who is the legendary phantom of the civil war, known as the ghost? What is to be discovered about the death of his father? What has yet to surface from past love affairs?