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Music Review: Grupa Janke Randalu – Live

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I can't play the piano. For the most part, I've never had much of an urge either. The piano's keyboard always seemed daunting to me — just too big to comprehend. My realm remains the guitar fretboard, where things make sense…at least to my stubby little fingers.

There have been a few pieces of music though, that have caused an almost unbearable urge to take up the instrument. On Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays' Ozark (from As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls), Lyle lifts a series of chords rapidly to the sky, causing an abrupt shift of mood from dark to light. Every time I hear that piece I find myself thinking, "Man, I wish I could do that!"

When the rippling percussion kicks in during "Confidance," the first composition on Grupa Janke Randalu's Live, I got that exact same feeling.

Grupa Janke Randalu is actually the duo of pianist Krisjan Randalu and drummer Bodek Janke. This Estonian/Polish pair bring along a wide-ranging background spanning jazz, classical, and various world musics. On this live recording, the two musicians put very interesting spins on an equally interesting selection of compositions, from the scraping percussion and piano give & take during "Largo" (from Dvorak's Symphony No. 9) to the sparkling read of the standards "If I Were A Bell" and (especially!) "All The Things You Are."

To these ears, maximum fun is had on the non-jazz material, the longer suites in particular. At thirteen and a little over twelve minutes, "Confidance" and "Iguahel oma pill" give Randalu and Janke plenty of room to stretch out. On the forementioned opening track, the mood shifts from a tango of sorts to a faster-paced circular workout where Randalu can put his lightning fingers on display while Janke comments on his phrasing. When Janke takes over the lead and Randalu slips into the comping role, it's pretty clear that these musicians are locked in.

The set closes out with "Iguahel oma pill," based on a tradition Estonian children's song. With Janke's percussion (including vocals) taking the piece out and around the world, everything from free jazz to something reminiscent of Indian and African musics are referenced. Really exhilarating stuff.

It makes me want to take up the piano…and buy a studio full of percussion instruments.

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