Playing as a duo is surely the most intimate of musical encounters and when the duo is made up of piano and bass - two instruments normally considered members of the rhythm section in jazz - this also presents an opportunity for free expression outside of the usual confines of having to support the soloists. Here, pianist Iro Haarla and bassist Ulf Krokfors show their mutual respect and understanding by comfortably responding to each others´ playing and by giving each other the space they require.
Haarla and Krokfors first played together as members of Edward Vesala´s Sound and Fury ensemble from 1988 until 1990. Beginning in 2000, they again started working together in various connections and, finally, in the fall 2002 set out to create their own music both in the duo context and as co-leaders of a quartet.
Haarla and Krokfors themselves have said the following of their collaboration:
"For the two of us, playing together has always been easy. We think of music in the same way and creating Music, with a capital "M", is always the priority. After having participated over the years in many recordings with our friends and colleagues, focusing on our own material and putting it forward in our own way was a liberating experience.
With this recording we leave behind one trying period in our lives. There is sadness in the music but also a promise of light at the end of the tunnel. As composers and musicians, we were expressing our feelings of the moment, which were easier to process and leave behind when made into music.
Although this album was recorded in the depths of winter, it is being released during the middle of summer, the lightest time of the year. That light is good to remember if clouds start gathering again."
Perhaps because of her many years of arranging Edward Vesala´s music for his Sound and Fury ensemble and for various other projects with her late husband as well as her background as a composer, Haarla´s piano playing is always sparse and to the point. In a way, she plays an "arranger´s piano". Not one for flashy runs or empty bravaggio, Haarla focuses on the essence of the music. This leaves Krokfors unconfined and creatively free to roam. Even in a group context, Krokfors´ strong bass often carries through the whole ensemble but here he truly is given the lead voice. However, this is, first and foremost, a duo of two individuals who know each other well and express their mutual feelings through the music.
On four tracks, the duo is joined by saxophonist Rasmus Korsström, a long-time friend and colleague of Haarla and Krokfors. The plaintive sound of his saxophone adds another voice without disrupting the mood and flow of the music. On these tracks, there are simply three rather than two kindred spirits having a musical conversation.
Most of this recording was made during the darkest period of an unusually cold and snowy Finnish winter in January 2003 and, even during the second session in March 2003, the winter was still very much upon us. Maybe, that is part of the explanation for the general tone of the music. There is no denying that it is somewhat somber and, at times, almost heavy despite the light instrumentation. In a way, the archetypical Finnish winter mood of quiet contemplation bordering on the melancholy dominates these sessions. Still, occasional rays of light reach the listener through the music just as they do in the midst of even the darkest winter.
Another reason for the somber tone of the music is more personal. The music is intensely private and, through much of it, the two musicians are addressing their own private feelings of loss or regret on the one hand and hope and anticipation on the other. In that sense, the recording can be seen almost as a continuation of Iro Haarla´s duo recording with saxophonist Pepa Päivinen (Yarra Yarra, November Music NVR 2017-2), which also dealt with the feelings of loss and loneliness. Still, there is much positive in this music as well. Just as the snow melts away to make room for the spring, the darker shades of this music move aside and make room for beautiful, if tentative, melodies giving hope and consolation. Indeed, both Haarla and Krokfors are unashamed romantics and this always comes through in their music.