The 2005 Keitelejazz Festival in Äänekoski, Finland
There's the usual logistical challenges associated with small festivals such as artist hospitality requests that are difficult or unable to be fulfilled. There's also inevitable conflicts among audience members under a single tent with lots of beer and frankfurters (served without buns in this part of the world before low-carb became a fad) since "there's always somebody not understanding people want to listen."
Friday afternoon's concerts finally broke the rock mold and set the mood for the evening ahead. A jazz group from the 150-student Kavstinen College Of Music 30 miles away was followed by two blues bands, including a Russian band that may have turned in the most lively non-jazz (and non-thrash) performance of the week.
The Lumme-Jazz octet, like many student ensembles, played mostly familiar standards with varying talent. Instructor Jukka Lumme, who coordinated the arrangements and led things on alto sax, proved a good teacher by keeping songs moving smoothly while still giving students room to be free within their abilities - more like a group of teens jamming than a carefully scripted school effort. The final result was probably less accomplished than typical for such a group, but with a looser jazz spirit communicated between both the players and audience.
"It's fun, but really sometimes it's quite hard because the chords are so challenging," said Mikko-Ilari Ojala, 18, also playing alto sax.
He said the college doesn't emphasize jazz, but Lumme formed the band by asking if any students were interested. His primary musical tastes lie elsewhere, perhaps not surprising given the limited opportunities to hear jazz.
"If you're really, really lucky you may find a jazz club in some bar, but it's really rare," he said.
Jimi's Blues Band did a pretty good straightforward R&B set, but the Russian band Da Capo wrapped up the afternoon in loud and high-adrenaline style. The horn-heavy group didn't do one unique or adventuresome thing - just played loud and loose rocking blues with that energy that makes even songs like "Jailhouse Rock" and "Tequila" fun to listen and jam to.
Friday night's blues were almost quaint in comparison.
The opening concert by Erja Lyytinen, "The Blues Lady Of Finland," was a solid if not spectacular show of mid-to lower-tempo blues often tinged with pop or West Coast cool. Her mid-range vocals were sharp and for the most part level on songs like "I've Got Something To Tell You" and "Change Of Season," but showed good ability to embellish on higher and lower ends at appropriate moments. Her guitar solos were largely of the well- played blues scale variant, with extra flourishes and chordings establishing some final tension. Pianist/keyboardist Toni Kortepohja and guitarist Davide Floreno were notable among the players, with Kortephoja's electric tones painting a good acoustic landscape at times, although a number of the band's solos seemed to be of the riff-and-repeat type.
The subsequent concert by Coughlan, the Irish vocalist, arguably might have been the most import of the festival because of its role in shifting the night's emphasis. From what I heard it was stronger and slightly more subdued than Lyytinen's group, highlighted by Coughlan's deep and emotive vocals on some folk-blues originals.
Sadly, however, I missed much of the concert making a beer run.
Not the typical type, since I don't drink. It involved a mad dash to the hotel for towels and anything else absorbent after someone spilled their drink onto the table with my computer and backpack holding all my possessions for my several months on the road. (My apologies to that person if they're reading this for the brief but profane outburst; it wasn't their fault and such things happen in beer tents - if someone's dumb enough to use a laptop they accept that risk.)
So I caught Coughlan's first few and last few songs, and would rate her concert above average for the genre. Ronkanen gave her strong praise and since he knows her work better than me that'll have to do for critical assessment.
The evening's finale saw a return to Finnish artists, but hardly the blues.
Värttinä, a nine-member world-pop group led by three female vocalists, is described by Ronkanen as "very well-known, very Finnish and very original." The brightly dressed blonde vocal trio of Susan Aho, Mari Kaasinen and Johanna Virtanen certainly seems to represent popular European modernism - one was an wearing an iPod for reasons I can't image. It's one of those groups about movement as well as music, with good and lesser moments of each during the show.