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Back Roads Beat

The 2005 Keitelejazz Festival in ńšnekoski, Finland

By Published: September 2, 2005
At saxophonist Tapio Leino's concert there was something refreshing in the self- deprecating humor among players and listeners about a night of "geezer" jazz. Leino's sextet was competent, and some of the players a bit more, on songs never getting more adventurous than "Georgia On My Mind" and "The Lady Is A Tramp." But Leino, who formed the band 12 years ago and plays gigs roughly every other week, scoreed on an essential point - playing for fun, not to impress audiences in the region whose interest in jazz is limited.

"It is not necessary they play jazz," he said, referring to creating a setting for listeners. "What is important is they can get together and drink and have a good time."

Leino's playing unsurprisingly rated among the group's best, with a husky growl and good pacing giving extra heft to mostly conventional and safe solos. Drummer Kai-Petri Gustafsson also ranked among the "betters," notably for keeping an ear on fellow players and supporting them. Vocalists Ritva Oksanen and Pirkko Rahkila-Rissanen were OK as one or the other performed on most songs, although there were some misses harmonizing with other band members. But the best support and interaction probably came from pianist Eero Vuorinen, who put some outside-the-lines color in both his chords and running right hand solo lines, hardly a surprise since Leino first played with him in 1957.

As a kid, Leino learned songs like "Take The 'A' Train" listening to American music on the radio, similar to many of Finland's jazz pioneers, since "50 years ago there was no possibility to get any sheet music." He said he tries to model his style and sound after Earl Bostic, a rhythm and blues player who peaked during the 1950s.

"John Coltrane learned to play in his band," Leino said. "He had the baddest voice in saxophones that I know."

The festival featured midnight concerts at the town's Irish pub by various groups, including a Russian blues band on opening night and a rock foursome playing Police covers later during the week. I'll confess here I missed all of them, a bad habit of mine given my tendency to try to get up early so I can get writing done. Given that mentality, hitting geezer night may have fit me better than I'd care to admit.

Bits o' jazz here and there

Finding jazz during the festival's middle days was a hit and mostly miss affair.

Downtown √É‚Äěänekoski is a few blocks of small stores along the main street, with the library and town hall at one end. Walking down a steep hill leads to the concert tent by the river, but just outside the library is the small central park where free concerts played from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. during the final three days of the festival.

The mixture was much the same as the main festival acts - lots of variety with jazz in the minority. The second day acts were all rock, including a group featuring the kids of festival director Vilja Ruokolainen. The extreme hair was still much in evidence, although today it seemed like a few more adults were also sporting the look - if only temporarily using wigs. The bands were loud enough to keep an ear on at the library (which really does have a great in-country jazz collection; thoughts some noteworthy recordings will accompany a separate feature on Finnish artists offering free music downloads) and perusing the used bins at a couple of nearby thrift stores. There was little in the way of jazz to be found on CD, although LP hunters doubtless would have been thrilled to find a number of classic titles on vinyl.

Ronkanen, who is in charge of the library's music department and edits the publication Suomijazz (online version in English at, said planning for the festival begins in the fall, with performers available through European booking agencies making up nearly all of the non-regional lineup. That means an American artist like Weckl may be available because of other appearances he is making on the continent, but someone like Nine Simon - maybe the festival's only exception from previous years - is not.

A few internationally known names such as Bill Bruford's Earthworks, Betty Carter and Jean Luc Ponty stand out in past lineups, but most are Scandinavian acts ranging from the relatively high profile Stockholm/Helsinki Funk All Stars to dozens of names known mostly to the locals in their hometowns.

There's an effort to match artists and audiences, such as recognizing early evening shows are more likely to attract more focused listeners, Ronkanen said.

"John Abercrombie deserves a concentrated audience with no noise," he said. "The last band (Weckl) will be a bit different - people will be more relaxed."

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