When most people think of jazz, they either stop at Duke Ellington’s sophisticated big bands, or possibly make it as far as the edgy, revolutionary architecture of bebop, if they’re hip.
This extremely limited viewpoint overlooks the fact that, in its essence, jazz is essentially improvised instrumental music. On Open The Door, Don’t Look Back, the Finnish duo Good Romans strips the influence of jazz down to its bare RNA, pointing out its role in nearly every underground, avant-garde movement since. They manage to trace a very tenuous line from Django Reinhardt to Supersilent, which is a very abstract journey, if you missed the connecting steps.
Using a very concise palette of electric guitar, drums and abstract electronics, Good Romans take you on a guided tour through nearly every genre that jazz has touched, from instrumental post-rock (“Smiling No”), to harsh freeform noise (“Moha Rave”) and droning ritualism (“Hardanger”). They cover a lot of ground, but there is smart sequencing here, with miniature soundworlds strung together like a string of pearls. Some of the cuts are harsh, like a splash of cold water. This seems intentional: the intention is to shock, to make you pay attention and make you listen to some sounds you had not previously thought of as music.
My favorite thing about instrumental music is that the imagination is not limited by the imposed narrative of lyrics. Your mind is set free to wander, free to conjure all manner of subjective universes. My inner world lit up with elegant imagery, lace-like frost, fractalling on a windowpane (“Sejm”), and slow, solemn processions of robed figures (“Hardanger”). This record makes for an excellent reading companion or an interesting soundtrack for a stroll, even if there is some firebrand free jazz thrown in. Good Romans cast you under their spell for two main reasons: one, excellent production, and two, keen musicianship. Ilari Filander’s guitar tone is smooth and warm as melted butter, alternately sighing and screaming, while Jussi Miettola’s drumming had me looking up 100 synonyms for ‘skittering’, so light and deft is his touch. Both musicians manage to be amazingly personal and emotional, all without words, paintings in hues of greys and off-whites rather than bold primary colors of definitive statements.
The closest comparison to this duo hardly resembles jazz at all: Ben Chasney’s collaboration with the free-jazz drummer Chris Corsano, on Six Organs Of Admittance’s School Of The Flower. That pair also investigated the intersection of improvisation, ritual and free-noise, and also both looked back, towards traditional music, as well as pushing the boundary further of what is possible in instrumental music.
Here’s to hoping that jazz and improvised music fiends will find and love Good Romans, as this record is damn good, and that it will compel listeners to look back, and redefine (pun only slightly intended) the music of the past, and dig out some obscurities and, as a result, pull some of these classic sounds into the present.