My Working Class Hero Iiro Rantala ACT/Planet
★★★★ With his latest solo tour de force, Finnish maestro Iiro Rantala adds 1960s pop to an impressive catalogue of piano recordings that includes interpretations of jazz, classical, tango and folk standards. As the title suggests, the pianist covers a genre great, John Winston Lennon. Not that Lennon’s songs — a handful composed with his accomplices-in-rhyme Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono — are all immediately identifiable. Rantala has turned some famous pieces on their head, to an extent that may leave non-jazz appreciators scratching their head. Exploiting the tonal expression range of a Steinway grand piano, the Finn transforms some of Lennon’s best-loved works while exploring structure and texture with brilliant use of dynamics and virtuosic keyboard technique. Rantala employs a repeated chordal stab and a teaser figure before skirting the familiar strains of Norwegian Wood, slipping in a short Edvard Grieg quote. The title track he tackles with overt solemnness and a slow-burning fuse. By contrast, a gospel-tinged rendition of Happy Xmas, War is Over is positively ornate. Rantala captures the tenderness of Woman and the frenzied essence of Help, albeit with a decidedly left-of-centre approach. Pyrotechnics and poignancy are unlikely but compatible bedfellows in the pianist’s take of another Beatles classic, In My Life. While his version of All You Need is Love conveys the orchestral majesty of the original, his version of Imagine is surprisingly understated. Rantala may plumb intellectual depths with My Working Class Hero, but he does so with considerable imagination and humour.