Finland's April Jazz Festival 2010
If all the colors of the rainbow are needed to banish your spring blues and grays then try Jimi Tenor and Kabu KabuI mean as much their attire as their music. With three percussionists straddling the stage you expect a rousing from any tendencies to hibernation, but with a wardrobe straight out of the Rocky Horror Show (the range including Tenor's sequined, floor length gown, a caped trombonist and one drummer in full Ghanaian national costume) the prevalence of dark glasses on stage might better have been shared with the audience! Originally a student of classical flute, Osmo Tapio Lehto opted to reinvent himself by incorporating the name of his childhood hero Jimmy Osmond combined with that of his preferred instrument, and burst onto the club scene of the early 1980s with his band The Shamans. Always more of a solo artist, Tenor's frequent relocations in Europe and the US have resulted in a regular if somewhat cultish following eager to savor his many solo releases during the '90s. During these years he collaborated with many namesthe Flat Earth Society from Belgium, and not least Afro-beat drum pioneer Tony Allen.
This century saw Tenor playing with the 8-man Kabu Kabu; originally from Berlin, the band features four Finns, two Ghanaians, one Cuban and a German. The music was a soul flavored funk, with Tenor adding flourishes of electronica from his retro-looking Korg synthesizers, and short solos from flute and sax, while the percussionists and the 3-man brass section maintained a powerful interaction and rapport. Without strong vocal domination, the music was more suited to a club environment, and the intimacy of the smaller stage in the Tapiola Cultural Center came very close to bringing the appreciative but typically reserved Finnish audience to their dancing feet.
Earlier the same evening, the bigger stages featured artists whose names brought a larger audience out despite the grisly equinoctial weather that the season is equally likely to offer. Stanley Jordan demonstrated his guitar virtuosity in the Cultural Center, while in the marquee the African soul-styled Zap Mama followed a stalwart of the Finnish jazz artist Lenni-Kalle Taipale. After his breakthrough at Porijazz in 1997, through his media-friendly approach and regular TV appearances this local-boy-made-good can be said to have been responsible for pioneering almost single-handedly the introduction of mainstream jazz to the Finnish public in the 1990s.
The evening of the last day of April in Finland was one not to be taken lightly. The celebration of May Day started some days before when one started to see the vivid red, green, or yellow party dungarees of the undergraduate population on the streets selling student magazines, and generally getting into party mode for the equivalent of a Scandinavian Mardi-gras. Originally a celebration of the industrial workers, culminating in mass marches and speeches in the morning of the Day itself, the student population as well as their non-academic peers have succeeded in turning the evening before into a frenzy of street festivity celebrating the passing of the winter and the somewhat suspect arrival of spring. Catering to such tastes were Dwayne Dopsie and his Zydeco Hellraisers and Swedish Timba-style Calle Real in the marquee, while inside the Center the local Espoo Big Band had invited a string of guests to perform pieces written or inspired by the singer Joni Mitchell. Two female singers stood out for mention here as leaders of the younger generation of female Finnish artists bringing foreign influences to bear in their own work in Finnish: Emma Salokoski and Johanna Iivanainen.
Salokoski made her name performing in the late 1990s with the Finnish nu-soul styled Quintessence, before establishing her own nu-bossa Ensemble for performances around Scandinavia. While her vocal presence may not assert itself as a dominant stage feature, Salokoski as consistently worked with the county's finest musicians in line-ups where the vocalist is more on a par with her instrumentalists. Her disc of Swedish evergreens released in summer 2009 Vi Sålde Våra Hemman was created in partnership with the ever-influential Ilmiliekki band in which her husband Olavi Louhivuori also plays drums. This venture into the English speaking arena with Mitchell's lyrics is little more than could be expected of a singer already well established performing in both languages of her home country. Likewise her compatriot Johanna Iivanainen has also worked earlier with many of Finland's leading jazz artists in recent years both on records and in joint projects, most prominently Eero Koivistoinen. In the illustrious company of the local Espoo Big Band and its conductor Petri Juutilainen, along with guest saxophonist Manuel Dunkel, these two stars of the up and coming Finnish female jazz world raised their collective tributes to Ms. Mitchell.
May Day, May Day