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Live Reviews

April Jazz Espoo 2009; Day 1 - 2

By Published: May 6, 2009
In keeping with Nordic tradition of public-sponsored cultural attractions the other major stage of the Festival is located in the same building as the library in another of the local centers. Known as Sello, this venue is more accustomed to hosting classical concerts, and was less ideally suited to music such as that on the album release by a stalwart of the Finnish jazz/fusion scene, reedist Tapio Rinne. Pole Stars is the 21st album he has produced under the rubric RinneRadio, a rolling assemblage of musicians which, over the band`s 20 years, has comprised many leading young Finnish jazz musicians. The current line-up of Verneri Lume on electronics and Juuso Hannukainen on various drums was supplemented for this concert, which included Teho Majamäki on percussive devices and vibes, and the singer whose contribution to the album was central to its success—mistress of the Lappish yoik singing style, Ulla Pirttijärvi.

Of all the day's concerts this one was surely the most down-home, the composer and all his party having long been involved in all shades of musical endeavor within the Finnish scene, from Pirttijärvi's a cappella folk performances to Majamäki's rock background, and Rinne's own techno-ambient roots. The evening's performance leaned more heavily on those electronic roots than tdoes the new CD, and the two new songs performed represented the peak of the show for me. Rinne's earthy bass and soprano clarinets echoed the same timbres of the swooping, bubbling Saami vowels, while the band's powerful rhythmic arsenal often drowned the delicacy of the acoustic elements.

What they couldn't diminish was the haunting hypnotic influence of the backstage projections created by graphicist Merja Nieminen. The opening black and white dotted line seemed to show simple graphic-equalizer responses to Rinne's solo clarinet, before evolving into constantly changing, random multi-colored scenarios. Later in the show the yoiks and the graphics behind were a perfect combination of dull, dark blue sky with just a hint of the glimmering aurora borealis occasionally breaking through. It's nearly and additional 1000 miles to the polar circle, but this night in Helsinki's suburb the Northern Lights were visible to some fortunate inhabitants!

Day 2

Thursday`s main event was undoubtedly the band billed as "the top Latin-Jazz and Salsa band in Europe," based in Switzerland: Mercadonegro. Initially formed in Europe and comprising three musicians respectively from Cuba, Columbia and Peru, the band coalesced in support of violinist Alfredo de la Fe. Of late the 10-strong ensemble has been entertaining local audiences with evenings of slinky riffs and much-loved grooves.

The most intriguing event of the day was the debut performance by local guitarist— and man of many musical faces—Marzi Nyman. Like many Finnish popular musicians, he has benefited from the depth and generosity of the country's musical education resources, having studied at the prestigious Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. His career started off very much in the pop world, with the hugely popular local female duo Nylon Beat. From here he progressed towards the serious world of jazz and progressive sounds like those of Frank Zappa's music and performed with the UMO orchestra. In the main hall of the Culture Center he performed the debut of his work, tackling the union of electric guitar and orchestra, the part taken by the local Tapiola Sinfionetta under Jani Teleranta. The local press gave the piece its endorsement, describing it as a modular but adequately unified piece, putting it on a par with the program's second crossover piece.

This was Focus, Eddie Sauter's sublime orchestral work for Stan Getz, played by the orchestra with Jukka Perko taking Getz's role. Jukka Perko`s career began in a massive way in 1987 when Dizzy Gillespie recruited him at the Pori Jazz festival. Since that time he has played in multiple groupings, most particularly with Finnish vibraphonist Severi Pyysalo playing as The Poppoo, and in 2000 initiating the first ever Blue Note Finland recording, covering local mainstream singer Olavi Virta`s work in a hard-bop style of his own.

As in most major jazz festivals, mainstream music was also covered in Tapiola, as witnessed by small groups of teenage girls hanging out near the tent in the chilling evening air. Their resolute enthusiasm was spurred by a major act from the Finnish summer festival scene, a 5-piece group fronted by two twitchy females, Paula Vesala and Mira Luoti, and collectively known as PMMP. As polar opposites to the sounds from within the adjacent Culture Center, here the bass lines were straight and incessant, the drum patterns steady, but contrary to one local critic's assessment, I would favor this show above many a world-weary jazz pro.

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