Tampere, Finland, about 2 hours north of the capital Helsinki, was established in 1775 when the country was still part of the Kingdom of Sweden. Because of its proximity to two lakes separated in height by 18 meters, with rapids connecting them, Tampere was initially a city built around manufacturing plants utilizing the cascading natural power source. Subsequently, much of the manufacturing has stopped, and today Tampere, as the third largest city in Finland, is known primarily for three things: the cell phone company Nokia's headquarters, the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame, and its Tampere Jazz Happening, celebrating its 26th Edition this past November.
The Jazz Happening is nothing if not ambitious, having hosted everyone from Finnish legend Edward Vesala to Carla Bley and David Murray (1983) to Marc Ribot, Andrew Hill and The Thing (last year). In 2007, reasonably full crowds were treated to the avant-garde (Sten Sandell, Trio Braam DeJoode Vatcher, Sonore), high profile percussionists (Rashied Ali, Marilyn Mazur, Jack DeJohnette) and new jazz (Matthew Shipp, Polar Bear, Nik Bärtsch's Ronin).
The structure of the festival is almost a relief for anyone who has run around Berlin or Copenhagen or Montreal for their festivals. Three venues the converted customs house hall Pakkahuone, the smaller wooden-beamed restaurant Telakka and the nightclub space Klubi were within a snowball's distance of each other (it did snow, though not to the extent reported last year), and the schedule allowed for listeners to catch most of this year's program without much distress as there was very little overlap.
This year's Happening could be broken up into distinct themes. There were several piano trios, ranging from the Bill Evans-inspired Acoustic Triangle from Great Britain to the modern Shipp Trio to Sandell's pan-Nordic and the Dutch Trio Braam DeJoode Vatcher free improvising groups. As mentioned above, rhythm was the thing with Mazur (about whom a recent Danish documentary film was screened at Klubi to open the festival) leading her all-female Percussion Paradise. Other highlights soon became apparent: Ali bringing his newbop quintet; and DeJohnette in a world music experiment entitled "Ripple Effect that featured the horns of John Surman in tandem with the Brazilian vocals of Marlui Miranda. New Jazz was represented by Britain's trancey Polar Bear and Switzerland's even trancier Ronin. The three wild cards were Erica Stucky's Roots of Communication, an amalgamation of accordion, vocals and alphorn, which this reviewer only caught the tail-end of, the three-horn trio Sonore with Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson and Peter Brötzmann and Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola's two historically-minded groups. And for those who wanted to soak up the jazz festival atmosphere though having no particular fondness for jazz, each evening ended at Klubi with groups whose aesthetic may not have been traditional (nor very aesthetic, for that matter) but was certainly energetic and crowd-pleasing.
For the sake of efficiency, what follows are brief comments on this year's Happening in chronological order, which unexpectedly ends with the highlight of the four days.
The opening film of Marilyn Mazur followed her career from Miles Davis to leading her own groups and was filled with exciting footage, including that of the Percussion Paradise, a good way to generate interest for the upcoming show. Following the screening was the populist group Black Motor from Finland with guest guitarist Jukka Orma. Dressed in swing attire, the horn trio was reminiscent of The Thing, except that whereas that band is founded in punk, Black Motor gets its inspiration from blues and California rock. Orma, a combination of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Greg Ginn, was the perfect addition.
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