Finnish Jazz. Interview. Aki Rissanen

Foto: Maarit Kytöharju

Interview with Aki Rissanen

Review to La Lumière Noire

Jazz Convention: How would you introduce yourself to the italian readers with three adjectives?

Aki Rissanen: Fearless, modernist and traditionalist.

JC: La Lumiére noire is your first piano solo recording. You decided to record it in some live sets. What was your mind approach in sitting in front of the 88 keys alone?

AR: To me playing solo has always been natural and I don’t think it’s more challenging or difficult than playing with other players. I’ve always, from the age of 7, improvised on piano and playing solo in concerts is just inevitable continuation of this. Even though I love to play with bands, I enjoy the situation when I’m alone responsible for the music without the need to communicate with other players. Recording the CD live was simply a experiment to see how live audience gives the extra “touch” to my playing in the first place. Fortunately it did, at least for the majority of tunes. Best examples are included on the CD. I got a wonderful change to release this music and document this stage of my playing on Ilma Records label.

JC: Is the choice to perform in chamber orchestra halls an indication of the importance you give to sound?

AR: Of course it is. I’ve always appreciated the warm, round “classical” tone on piano in a good sounding hall. I felt my music needs this kind of sound hence stylistically my musical vision falls somewhere between classical and jazz. For the piano sound I’ve listened players like Keith Jarrett, Bobo Stenson and Yaron Herman who share the same preference for the tone. Nowadays I’m not so fixed to one tone, though. I’m expanding my sonic palette also with different kinds to approach the piano tone and in addition doing piano preparations and electronic modifications.

JC: You avoided standards interpretations and preferred to focus on your originals and improvisations. How did you feel in relying just on your improvisational and compositional skills?

AR: I just looked at the mirror and asked what kind of music was the most close for me. I love to play standards and originals from the jazz history not only because their importance as an endless source of education and inspiration. But I felt playing my own music was the thing for me, it comes directly from my heart.

JC: Classic music influences are present in this music, due to your early musical training. When did you discover that these elements could live together with improvisations and how did you find the right balance between them?

AR: Maybe I’ve been a bit naive, but I never have separated classical, jazz, pop and other influences in my music. I have just fearlessly took ideas from different styles to my playing and by mistake and success slowly have adopted them to be my own voice and expression. This process is still unfinished of course and it will take a life time to finish it. The importance of classical music from the 20th century (Ravel, Debussy, Scriabin, Mompou to name a few) is undeniabely strong in my music and that music is a source for inspiration every day.

JC: Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Paris has been one of the stages you choose for your music studies outside Finland. The decision to entitle some of your compositions in french shows the influence that this country have had for you. Wich differences you found between finnish and french music teaching methods?

AR: As long as I experienced it, the french way to teach at the Conservatoire was much looser and gave more liberties for students. On the other hand I was missing some systematic approach every once in a while. I really can’t say what works the best where, but for it the combination of French and Finnish way would be the perfect choice. Overall living in Paris in a different culture in many ways for a year was an educational experience for me.

JC: What’s the most important lesson about music you learned during your music school days?

AR: Hard to name one, I would rather say two things: first the technical education at classical school and the jazz idiom at Sibelius-Academy. The second thing would be encouragement for finding an own voice and being personal. This is the encouragement I received from teachers like Frank Carlberg, Jarmo Savolainen, Anders Jormin and John Taylor.

JC: From cover art to title to music itself, ambivalence between dark and light seems to sorrounds all this recording . What’s your relation with darkness, that in winter season lasts so long in your native country, and with lights, on stage?

AR: First of all, the title La Lumière Noire means “black light” like everybody knows. The black light is an ultraviolet light, impossible to eye itself but can be used to reveal details from things in appropriate settings. The explanation why I chose the title was a metaphor for solo concerts. Being under the black light- the same as playing alone- is a naked situation where all my details, skills and flaws are revealed. There’s not a change for hiding them behind other players.

JC: What will be your next step in your musical path ?

AR: At the moment I’m doing music in a theatre play directed by Mr. Kristian Smeds at the Finnish National Theater. The play entitled Mr. Vertigo ( based on a book by Paul Auster) will go on probably 1 year more. During that time I’ll try to be active doing my own music too. I’m preparing music for the second solo piano CD for Ilma Records/AEON next year. In the coming months I will have concerts with the band playing music from my latest Cd for jazz ensemble entitled ‘Beautiful Anxiety’ (on KSJAZZ label, I’m also recording new music with my trio. With trumpeter Verneri Pohjola I’m recording for German label ACT on next spring. The first Verneri Pohjola album entitled ‘Aurora’ is to be released also on ACT in the coming months.