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Quick Hits: Runar Blesvik / The Howard Hughes Suite / Tapani Rinne & Juha Mäki-Patola

Runar Blesvik‘s Restore is a lovely album of piano-driven compositions that melds the highly patterned work of mid-century modernism (like “Canto Ostinato”) to the intimate emotional appeals of Ólafur Arnalds. Pieces like “Home” do this explicitly, letting the piano run off ostinato patterns while acoustic guitar, effects, and keys melodies dance and spin around the central theme. Highlight “Measures” offers similar joys. Even in pieces where the tension is less foregrounded, Blesvik’s skill throughout is making formal elements and romantic elements work together excellently: the deconstructed, elegaic, strings-driven “Fade” still maintains the central tension of the work. Restore is a strong, compelling album of usually-intimate, always-effective work.

High & Lonesome by The Howard Hughes Suite is an ambient country record, heavy on the ambient. The multilayered pedal steel textures here are deeply abstracted, controlled, and sculpted. The results are free-floating, ethereal, even celestial sounds that are deeply peaceful to listen to. Pieces like “Reverie” could easily be confused for a synth-created work, as the shimmering waves of sound seem almost impossibly other (there’s no way a guitar could make this happen, right?). “Transcendental Medication” allows the pedal steel to have a little unprocessed melody that grounds the piece, but amid great clouds of sound that sound (yes) transcendental. It’s always good for ambient music when the Pillars of Creation come to mind. FFO: Suss at its absolute most abstract, Lucho Ripley, big ambient energy.

I’ve been listening to Open by Tapani Rinne & Juha Mäki-Patola for months. It is a gracious, open-handed record: the jazz/ambient fusion offers much but does not make many demands on the listener (as much jazz, rightly and properly, can). Instead, Rinne & Mäki-Patola develop a consistent sonic space that relies on careful background layers, subtle piano, and fluttering saxophone. To wit: “Open, Pt. I” at the beginning, “Peak” in the middle, and “Hover” at the end are each exemplar demonstrations of the particular concept they explore in this record. All of them describe a landscape and then gently traverse it; the landscapes are similar but not distinctive enough to feel the subtle changes: the foregrounded piano of “Open, Pt. I”, the thicker/more prominent background layer of sound in “Peak,” and the pulsing mood and almost lyrical saxophone performance in “Hover.” Rinne and Mäki-Patola make it easy for the listener in Open, but those who listen and explore will find subtle treasures throughout.