Finland's April Jazz Festival 2010
To soothe sore heads or invigorate flagging party spirits, the May Day holiday in Tapiola featured an all-afternoon brunch involving all manner of musicians. With the majority of the country engaged in public or private partying, typically defying the elements with party tables set up in parks and gardens, often under umbrellas and awnings, April Jazz's in-tent shirtsleeve brunch program was a rolling affair. The main artist was the former local enfant terrible guitarist Marzi Nyman accompanied by the likes of Dwayne Dopsie, and other local luminaries like multi-percussionist Markus Poussa.
Winding up the fourth festival day was a veteran of Finnish popular and progressive artist rosters, Anna-Mari Kähärä. Known locally for her recent interest in using the lyrics of British and American poets (from William Blake and Robert Louis Stevenson to Charles Bukowski), Kähärä has a long pedigree of composition and performance. A native of central Finland, Kähärä has been active center stage of Finnish jazz and modern music creation since 1983 when she helped found and furbish material for the female trio How Many Sisters (a respectful parody on the name of a successful 1950s Finnish trio, the Harmony Sisters). Kähärä has worked with film and theatrical scores, performed as a member of the archetypal Finnish ethno-jazz quartet ZetaBoo (her accordion and vocals alongside coruscating guitar of Jarmo Saari), and written songs in particular for the internationally successful a capella sextet Rajaton (Boundless).
In 2005 Kähärä released her long awaited first solo album, featuring Saari alonside crossover classical violinist Pekka Kuusisto, the ever-incandescent Marzi Nyman and percussionist Poussa. The record was well received in its homeland, selling out in Finland and generating some interest abroad. The danger of such an ensemble of gifted individuals is that they fail to gel as a single musical entity; however with Kähärä now playing the pivotal role as solo vocalist the breadth of style more reflects the quixotic character of her own persona. Her songs incorporate the multiple influences on musicians in this country located on the very edge of political Europe, where the musical traditions of pre-industrial shamanism still exist alongside a culture of highly sophisticated classicism, experimental and mainstream. Kähärä's brand of music is a modern female professional's reaction to these deeply embedded Finnish styles, combined with her personal investigation of themes and contradictions close to her hearta treat for the musically inquisitive, and the concerts a delightful challenge for all involved! The show on Saturday evening lived up to expectations with significant offerings of new material, including settings of poems by Edward Thomas and John Masefield, Snow and Sea Fever respectively. The talents of her band members blended well on the extended pieces, with Kähärä abandoning her piano and controlling the show from behind her microphone. For her encore she added her own respects to Joni Mitchell, singing the classic "Woodstock," followed by "So this is Love" by Dougans and Cobain.
Sunday was the second, unofficial day of the Finnish Spring Party, but the focus of the festival had by this time reverted to the true community spirit, with the tent stage taken over by students of the local music school Ebeli. With the high number of currently successful Finnish professionals originating in this locality, the quality of the performances by the new generations was no great surprise. The school's own Ebelin Choir set the standard with a stirring a capella song, followed by multiple line-ups of future stars. The coincidence of the stately departure of the black window-tinted Beatthestreet bus, slowly bearing away the big names of the event, with the arrival on stage of these fresh faces of Finnish youth seemed a sure sign that the spirit and quality of this well supported local festivity is guaranteed for the foreseeable future.