Rainy Night in Helsinki is the third album by pianist Alan Matheson – who of course also is known here as a trumpeter and composer – and bassist Wade Mikkola, his longtime musical partner from Finland. They released it digitally this summer, where you can now hear it alongside their previous albums Souvenirs, Vol. 2 and Duetti.
The duo share an honest and closely-captured sound that tells you exactly what they would sound like if you were sitting right next to him. The title can serve as an evocation of the atmosphere if you got to be a fly on the wall in Finland, of them playing in a living room on a rainy night in the city, with all the informality and playfulness that would come with that.
Or that you're listening to them play a casual gig in a restaurant minus the glass clinking of the Village Vanguard sort of thing – and the other kind of informality that comes with that. It's almost like the duo of Hank Jones and George Mraz, with some Bill Evans influence on the harmony, and the spontaneity and jumping into space to fill the tunes amongst themselves.
The whole album has a consistent mood of head-solos-head over a bunch of these duo tunes. Bass and piano definitely split the solo time equally. "On Green Dolphin Street" is the most live-sounding one where the bass sounds super roomy and it does sound like you're at that restaurant.
The tempo of "Sal's Mode" feels like their perfect tempo. Mikkola's walking bass is just right, the eighth-notes roll along with Matheson's precise articulation, and the pianist's left hand together with those bass notes leaves no doubt about the movement of the harmony.
"Rumba de Mambo" adds a clave to the mix, which I suppose is the biggest changeup. Rainy Night in Helsinki is a straight-ahead heartwarming duo session.
Rainy Night in Helsinki: Digelius; Avamaa; Sal's Mode; Isolation; Rumba De Mambo; Rainy Night in Finland; On Green Dolphin Street; 75th Street Swing; Yölintu. (45:59)
Personnel: Alan Matheson on piano; Wade Mikkola on bass.