aki rissanen pianist / composer

Aki Rissanen // Jussi Lehtonen Quartet
with Dave Liebman



Acclaimed Finnish musicians, hotly-tipped pianist Aki Rissanen and drummer virtuoso Jussi Lehtonen invite legendary saxophonist Dave Liebman as a special guest on a new quartet album release on Ozella Music in summer 2014.

The entire album was recorded live in two days at the Finnish Broadcasting Company in Helsinki, Finland in April 2013. The quartet recorded music by Rissanen with echoes from Finnish folk music and ‘Pont Marie’, a composition by the pianist inspired by the Billy Strayhorn masterpiece ‘Chelsea Bridge’. They added originals by Liebman and Lehtonen and an interesting arrangement by Liebman of Clare Fischer classic ‘Pensativa’, as an homage to recently passed away composer (b. 1928- d. 2012).

The result was a perfect example of international co-operation with musicians with different backgrounds and musical heritages combining both the Nordic and American traditions in an innovative way.

Pianist Aki Rissanen (b. 1980) has been quickly rising among the few top forces of the instrument in Finnish Jazz. Although originally classically trained he has always had a heart for improvised music. In addition to his high merits in the Solo Piano Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and La Defense competition in France, Rissanen is best known for his works with Verneri Pohjola on ACT Music in Germany. He has released 5 albums under his own name and gaining growing attention in the European jazz scene.

Drummer Jussi Lehtonen (b. 1977) has received critical acclaim both in his native Finland and for his career in Scandinavia. He has released three albums under his own name and was featured on two Blue Note albums with the Finnish group ‘U-Street All Stars’. Lehtonen has worked extensively with Tim Hagans, Randy Brecker, Marc Bernstein and Jukkis Uotila to name a few.

Jori Huhtala (b.1984) is one of the most sought-after bass players in the Finnish jazz scene. At the moment he draws international attention by touring Europe with Scandinavian guitar wizard Raoul Björkenheim and releasing music on Italian CAM label with various groups.

Dave Liebman’s (b. 1946) career has spanned over four decades, beginning in the 1970s as the saxophone/flautist in both the Elvin Jones and Miles Davis Groups, continuing as a leader since. He has played on nearly three hundred recordings with over one hundred under his leadership or co-leadership.  In jazz education he is a renowned lecturer and author. Liebman is the Founder and Artistic Director of the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) existing since 1989. Awards include the Jazz Educators Network Legends of Jazz (2013); National Endowment of the Arts Masters of Jazz (2011); the Order of Arts and Letters (France 2009); Jazz Journalist’s award for Soprano Saxophone (2007); Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Solo (1998); Honorary Doctorate from the Sibelius Academy (Finland-1997). He has consistently placed in the top three positions for Soprano Saxophone in the Downbeat Critic’s Poll since 1973, winning first place in both the Downbeat (2011) and Jazz Times Critic’s Poll (2011, 2012).

from Dave Liebman’s blog on April 28th 2013:



LONG RELATIONSHIP WITH FINLAND: It was brought to my attention in an interview a few days ago in Helsinki that my relationship with the country of Finland actually predates any other in Europe for me.

When I went to Europe in 1967 at 21 years old, with my parents giving me $1,000 and a book called “Europe on Five Dollars A Day,” I had a few phone numbers in London and Stockholm given to me by bassist Cameron Brown, an old compatriot. When I arrived in Stockholm I called pianist Lars Werner who immediately invited me to his home. (By coincidence this was exactly July 17, 1967….the day Coltrane passed).

I spent the next two weeks playing and recording with Lars and a great group of Swedish musicians, subsequently released on the trumpet player’s label in Finland, Otto Donner for Love Records. This was my first recording and it ends up that Love Records is iconic in Finland, having released a lot of important music in that country over several decades.

My first intro to Finland after that was drummer Jukkis Uotila, who came to New York in the early 80’s to record with American musicians. That lead to being invited to play with the state supported big band, UMO, for a tour and something I am very proud of, receiving the first doctorate given to a jazz artist by the Sibelius Academy in 1997.

Since then I have been to Finland many times teaching and performing and must report that though the population is less than New York, the musicians there are among the most educated I have collaborated and completely aware of what is happening musically elsewhere.

I appreciate their openness to me over the decades. This latest trip included a concert with the French trio lead by Andy Emler, but also a two day recording with a wonderful rhythm section, Jussi Lehtonen, Aki Rissanen and Jori Huhtala, which I hope will be released in the near future.

Liebman’s liner notes from the album:



Finland, small in population as it is, somehow has produced a lot of great jazz musicians. They are particularly skilled in diverse idioms and have a very high level of expertise on their instruments. I had played with Jussi on a few prior occasions, but both Aki and Jori were new to me. This was a very enjoyable recording date demonstrating a lot of different idioms that are part of contemporary jazz now. My appreciation to these fine gentlemen for their work and musicianship.