Finland's April Jazz Festival 2010
April Jazz Festival
April 28-May 2, 2010
The wind in these northern climes can hit heavy, even during the sunny days of late April. This year an east wind drove down from the Arctic Ocean and any opportunity to get into the sun needed to be takenbut it's a sign of the progression of the season that out of the shadows, the sun resolutely warmed the body and the soul. The same is typically said for the annual April Jazz festival held late in the month on the edge of Helsinki, across a bridge or two into the adjoining city of Espoo, mainly in the architecturally portentous "garden city" suburb of Tapiola.
Three weeks ago the streets here were still smothered in the heaviest snow that the country has seen in three generations. There were still murky gray remnants piled against north-facing walls adjoining the main venue and administrative center, the Espoo Cultural Center in Tapiola, just half mile from the chilly waters of the Baltic. The arrival of the clutch of colorful foreign artists, like the swans and wading birds currently flowing across the Gulf of Finland to these shores, was a sure sign of the annual revival of spirits that this nation needs after seven months of fairly grueling winter.
Aprilthe month of musical migrants to Finland
If spring in these parts means music, April Jazz has catered for this need now for 23 years, bringing together a roster of artists both international and regional. Headliners from the US this year included Roy Haynes with his Fountain of Youth (following a stunning opening act by 13-year old Israeli prodigy Gadi Lehavi on piano), the Stanley Jordan Trio and George Duke. While these and other prominent European acts featured on the larger stages, one inside the elegant 1960s style concrete and birch hall and the other in the capacious 300 seater marquee tent, two small venues catered for more local artists. Both the Sello Hall in nearby center of Leppävaara and the Louhi Room in the Tapiola Center offer first class publicly supported stages, where more obscure fare can be supported by the latest audio-visual spectacles. Thus, while the likes of the UK's Band of New Heavies, Belgium's Zap Mother or Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers paraded the expansive tented arena, the two smaller stages featured more unfamiliar talents.
My interest was more local artists, primarily from the home country and Scandinavia. The first evening featured Lina Nyberg and her band from Stockholm. A classmate of Esbjorn Svensson and other luminaries of the Swedish scene, maybe one should expect innovation and experimentation from her, and this she supplied in quantity with an evening of her own quirky compositions and banter. Her polished, witty style is matched by her well balanced quartet featuring the male powerhouse of Josef Kellerdahl and Peter Danemo on bass and drums, and the equally quirky, delicate piano work of Cecilia Persson. Nyberg's writing style is something of a cross between glee club and post punk songstress, described elsewhere as "avant cabaret jazz." She obviously relishes the opportunities her ten year professional career has provided to explore environments as well as relationships, with songs from Yokohama to Jamaica, from isolation to motherhood. Nyberg's voice was an equally strong asset to the evening's show, often lugubrious and mature, but then light and frivolous as she burst into a murmuring or mangled scat break. Her repertoire featured mainly her own compositions with songs of all types and running the gamut of emotions, giving plenty of space to exhibit the band's free jazz inclinations. Here was yet another example of Scandinavians taking the language and idioms of the Americas and making them their own, with style.
The same evening, in the other small hall in Tapiola, Jukka Perko took the stage with an array of contemporary Finnish stars to recreate his tribute to the Finnish experience in Africa. The germ for the work sprouted when he spent some months living in Benin. Premièred at the 2009 Viapori Jazz Festival 34216 , this six part composition had a strong rhythmic style and featured two powerful percussionists Teppo Mäkynen and Jaska Lukkarinen, as well has space for the other musicians to stretch their professional skills. In addition to Perko's saxophone the line-up was Antti Kujanpää on piano and Ilmiliekki partners Verneri Pohjola on trumpet and Antti Lötjönen on bass. As at its première, the dramatic back-drop visuals by Jenni Valorinta were based on the classical local artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela's work on the continent in the late nineteenth century, matched by the musicians accompanying themselves with vivid orange and green polystyrene staffs (aka swimming aides!) in the final, highly percussive, sung chorus.