CD Review | Kristjan Randalu's "Absence" by Alex W. Rodriguez
Estonian-born pianist Kristjan Randalu’s new offering takes the form of a trio with New York-based guitarist Ben Monder and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari. It expands upon the duo recording that he made with Monder in 2012, Equilibrium. The suite of original compositions began as solo piano works, and was adapted for this trio, which stretches it in new directions. Still, they are anchored deeply by Randalu’s dynamic pianism, rooted in a percussive touch and virtuosic precision. This is supported ably by Ounaskari’s crisp drumming and complimented by Monder’s abstract lyricism.
Randalu’s forceful approach gives the album a thriving, vital quality, even in the more spacious pieces that gesture to contemporary classical timbres and steer away from groove orientations, such as “Lumi I.” Monder’s creative counterpoint stands out in these spaces, as he finds novel ways to complement and accompany Randalu’s decisive flourishes. One perpetual challenge of the piano trio format is in teasing out timbral variety; by unleashing Monder’s effects pedals and Ounaskari’s wide-ranging approach to the drumset, Randalu overcomes this admirably.
Although it is full of virtuosic flourishes and impressive piano technique, the album projects a serious, melancholic tone throughout. When the sun does come out, however, it is quite uplifting, as in the second half of “Partly Clouded.” Many of the pieces have a similar logic of unfolding into different moods over time, rather being framed by a clear melodic statement. But that allows for this trio of dynamic improvisers to tell the story in their own way.