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Back Roads Beat

The 2005 Keitelejazz Festival in Äänekoski, Finland

By Published: September 2, 2005
Pohjola said he started playing classical music at age 15, but shifted to jazz because "I wanted to do things in more personal ways." He said Finland may not have a huge number of jazz musicians or listeners compared to other music styles, but that doesn't mean diversity is lacking.

"The scene is not big, but it is wide stylewise," he said.

The Keitelejazz performance was different than the clubs and nighttime festival appearances the quartet typically plays, with the small and upscale sun-filled room contributing to a different acoustic setting. Pohjola said he enjoys playing without microphones since it allows more intimate communication with the audience, but there are challenges.

"Because it's daytime it's more conscious," he said. "You're thinking more about your playing, and that's both good and bad."

All in all, it was ideal for establishing a mindset for Abercrombie's show.

The guitarist and drummer Joey Baron danced around each other a bit on the opening "Dansir" (the opening track from his 2004 Class Trip album with the group) before bassist Marc Johnson and violin Mark Feldman joined in on a tightly interactive body that set the overall mood. Styles were constantly mixed on compositions mostly of extended length, with five songs anchoring the hour-plus show. Feldman was in a zone from the opener, burning rapidly through repeating phrases with lots deviating touches, throwing in off-kilter pitches and concepts sporadically for added spice. Abercrombie mixed his note-driven phrasing up well while still being easy to follow, but didn't quite inspire to the same level.

Baron's non-stop head swinging and body language, on the other hand, clearly indicated he was having the most fun all night - maybe too much at times as his intensity hit levels that stepped on co-players, especially when setting more of a consistent beat than adjusting to others' solos. On the other hand, he offered one of the more creatively accessible solos I've heard on "Open Land," setting up a simple African cadence with his floor hi-hat and gradually elaborating and expanding it with the rest of his kit.

If clarinetist Louis Sclavis was meant to be the evening's main attraction, it's safe saying his seven-member Big Napoli ensemble commendably represented Keitelejazz's eclectic diversity.

The performance was part of the French Nordic Jazz Transit exchange, a project involving festival and cultural organizations in the two regions. Sclavis' complex and improvisation- heavy compositions fit in well with the intelligent yet modernistic flair of Scandinavian jazz from groups such as the above-mentioned Ilmiliekki Quartet. But the band's makeup ensured an expansion of the concept, the most obvious example being French rapper Dgiz.

An early piece evolved from an intense chamber-like introduction to a sythesizer/ percussion world beat and finally to rock resembling "Graceland" before Dgiz took over by finishing the song to a reggae/hip-hop beat. The piece represented a clear refusal by the group collectively and individually to be locked into roles all evening, as the subsets of interacting and the instruments they played shifted constantly. Keyboardist Paul Brousseu, for example, contributed on pocket trumpet, vocals and a wind-driven synthesizer; Mederic Collignon played trumpet, manipulated electronics and chipped in vocals. Sounds from Italian ballads to hard rock emerged, although sometimes the range felt more like a show of diversity than cohesively linked composing.

Sclavis stayed in a high-intensity mode most of the night, playing dense and note-heavy passages on everything from funk to modern mainstream. Dgiz was a notable audience hit with various vocal acrobatics from wordless jungle-like tongue-trilling to rap at something resembling an auctioneer's pace.

Charles Gil, a promoter for the French Nordic Jazz Transit, said afterward the show is relatively new - it was Sclavis' sixth performance of it - and it was good to see it go over well so far from home with a non-urban crowd.

"I was very astonished they were into the mood even if they didn't understand it," Gil said. "You don't need to bring something standard. I like to bring things that are very improvisational."

"It's a way to say art can exist in the middle of the people," he said. "It doesn't have to be elitist."

As for Weckl and Ronkanen's statement about a more "relaxed" crowd, let's just say one needs to limit the definition of seemingly totally contradictory concepts.

A throng of mostly younger men crowded the front of the stage well before showtime, watching the assembly of the drummer's supersize-me kit. He got a hero-worshipper's welcome just for coming out to do a brief sound check.

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