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Live Reviews

Jazz Happening in Tampere, Finland

By Published: December 18, 2007
The next evening, Friday, offered the main course of the festival and the beginning of the paying concerts (Thursday night was free). Sten Sandell's Trio with bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love effectively recreated the delicately jarring nature of their albums, Sandell hovering like a ghoul over the inside of his piano, creating eerie sound effects for the two improvisations, Nilssen-Love more restrained than I have ever heard him. A quick run across the square to Telakka found local multi-sax hero Pepa Päivinen's quartet indulging in, via bombastic drums, electric bass and Ollie-Halsallesque guitarist Timo Kämäräinen, some modern fusion. It was also encouraging to see that drunken whistlers are an international fixture. Rashied Ali's Quintet, featuring young guns Josh Evans (trumpet) and Lawrence Clark (tenor) were not as effective as during other performances when I have seen, though one must commend the fortitude of the group for playing over an hour on just three tunes. Ali's loose, almost implicit drumming is always good to hear. Hazmat Modine, a sort of Frankenstein's Monster of blues, reggae, jazz and funk, featuring underrated tuba player Joe Daley, was the party band at Klubi, a packed house with dancing, carousing and drinking (this is Finland after all).

The Saturday afternoon portion at Pakkahuone was the most modern segment of the festival: Trio Braam DeJoode Vatcher followed by Nik Bärtsch's Ronin and then Polar Bear. The Dutch Trio were one of the special moments of the Happening, improvisations that grew and developed organically, sprightly boppish themes expanding and contracting, all without a road map. Ronin's ECM album doesn't do them justice as their dark-toned etherealism and heavy groove (plus cool light show) are really designed for a live setting. Polar Bear, led by large-haired drummer Sebastian Rochford, began in a vaguely folksy mode that was unconvincing but then opened up for some longer pieces at the end of their set, one featuring a processed balloon and drum duet.

The evening portion began with Percussion Paradise which, while entertaining and certainly sincere, was aptly described as like walking into a perfume store: there was simply too much assaulting the senses from piece to piece to build momentum. Shipp's Trio with bassist William Parker and drummer Guillermo E. Brown was very dense and featured the empathy that would be expected from a long-term group that knows its own proclivities; the foray into "My Funny Valentine was unexpected but appreciated. DeJohnette's project built on his long relationship with Surman but probably should have stopped with the addition of bassist/ guitarist Jerome Harris. The trio itself was fine — though DeJohnette is overly amorous with his electronic drumpads — but Surman's son Ben's electronics and Miranda's vocals were distracting and seemed tacked on; the set also could have easily been a lot shorter.

The final day at Pakkahuone began with Acoustic Triangle, which is an apt moniker for this unamplified trio. Perhaps it was too early in the afternoon or maybe the total lack of sharp edges, but this trio's pleasantries quickly became soporific. To follow this up with Sonore was like driving a run-down truck into a nursing home. The group has been growing exponentially, plumbing new depths of subtlety to go along with its moments of anguished screeching. With seven horns at their collective disposal and three of the most intense minds in the world of free improvising, the hardest part of the set was focusing on any player.

The festival ended for this reporter with Verneri Pohjola's "Sounds Then and Now Project. The night before at Telakka the trumpeter had fêted Miles Davis' classic acoustic period. For this set, Pohjola used the interesting device of live footage of '70s performances from Jukka Tolonen, Tomasz Stanko and Edward Vesala as springboards for his sextet's improvisations. Featuring Finnish legend Juhani Aaltonen, who was playing along with his younger self in Vesala's on-screen band, this was intriguing if somewhat narcissistic in concept and often fascinating in execution. For the final "piece," guests Sten Sandell and Mats Gustafsson were invited on stage. The highlight of this year's festival came when Gustafsson on baritone paired off for a first-time duet with Aaltonen on tenor, ten minutes of deliciously shrieking fury.

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