Baltic Jazz Trio celebrates centenaries of three Baltic States

The Baltic Jazz Trio is one of the premiere jazz ensembles in the Baltics, and have been performing together for more than a decade. As their name indicates, the trio is made up of three musicians from the Baltic States – drummer Māris Briežkalns from Latvia, double bassist Toivo Unt from Estonia, and pianist Dainius Pulauskas.

To celebrate the recent centenaries of the three Baltic states, the ensemble came together to record jazz versions of compositions by Baltic composers, and the album, simply entitled Centenary, was released in 2018.

One of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s best known works is ‘Für Alina’. Originally for solo piano, the work, dedicated to a daughter’s friends whose family had split up, is very quiet and tender, and the Trio’s interpretation of this work preserves the intimacy and longing that is imbued throughout the piece, particularly in Pulauskas’ piano performance.

Originally written for string orchestra, Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks’ ‘Viatore’ loses none of its quiet intensity and weightiness in the trio’s performance. The music is in a near constant state of motion, with Unt’s double bass providing the backbone for this entrancing interpretation.

The Trio performs two preludes by Lithuanian composer Mikalojus Čiurlionis. Čiurlionis was also well known as a painter, and considered a major force in European abstract art. Many of his musical works could also be considered paintings, and the Trio brings forth the vivid colors and elements in the two preludes – Op. 11 No. 3 and Op. 7 No 4. Briežkalns’ drums are used not just to keep time but also to add to the sonic palette, particularly in the expressive No. 3 and the rhythmic and pulsating No. 4.

The album concludes with the Baltic Jazz Trio’s performance of Latvian popular music composer Raimonds Pauls’ ‘For Mother’. Pauls, with his peerless knack for composing catchy and memorable melodies, provides a sentimental and nostalgic mood, and the Trio captures the essence of the work, bringing this musical journey through the Baltics to a satisfying close.

According to Briežkalns, the album was meant to flow together as a cohesive musical narrative, rather than having disparate tempos and styles. Though some may find that the works are very similar in nature and style, the reserved and even occasionally somber performances do allow for an absorbing, engrossing listen, with no musical shocks along the way.

Centenary is a significant musical accomplishment, particularly considering that many of the works on the album were originally more academic music compositions, and presenting these in a jazz style could have been a challenge. However, these three talented and accomplished Baltic musicians have revealed new elements in these works with their jazz interpretations. The Baltic Jazz Trio has confirmed themselves as a truly masterful ensemble, and Centenary is a worthy gift to the Baltic States on their 100th anniversaries.


Baltic Jazz Trio

MMC, MMCCD021, 2018

Track listing

  1. For Alina – Arvo Pärt
  2. Viatore – Pēteris Vasks
  3. Prelude Op.11. Nr.3 – Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis
  4. Prelude Op.7. Nr.4 – Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis
  5. Siin On Oja – Olav Ehala
  6. Chestnut Blossom – Dainius Pulauskas
  7. Nostalgia – Dainius Pulauskas
  8. For Mother – Raimonds Pauls

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

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