Pori Jazz and its Ultra Music scene
July 1725, 2010
Pori Jazz trucks onthis was its 45th year of action, still housed on the banks of the River Kokemäki and with links spread to all corners of this normally rather sleepy town on Finland's west coast. This year it ran concurrently with the Molde Festival in southern Norway, with which it shares similar history and a new profilea long established festival of contemporary music now offering a vast selection of acts, many of which haven't even a tenuous claim to be labeled jazz. As in past years the main action took place at the big arena site, and in the evening at the LP45 stage, both across bridges on a sizable island just opposite the majestic town hall. Here, in front of crowds of up to 8,000 fans, the likes of old-timers John Fogerty, and Jeff Beck, and mega-stars Massive Attack, Toto and NERD performed. At the smaller venues such as the city theatre, the old cotton factory and a downtown brewery, more local and European artists appeared, such as the newly created Tomasz Stanko Quintet, the Gotan Project, Finland's own Jaska Lukkarinen Trio, and singer Emma Salokoski with Ilmiliekki.
The festival has moved with the times, and hence kept its financial head above water. For the best part of ten days this rather isolated town (nearly 300 kilometers from capital Helsinki) wakes up to the huge influx of visitors from all over the country. Given some good weather the center of town is full with families and old-timers, teenagers tiptoeing on newly acquired stilettos, and assorted gangs of folks spread out on the grass, picnicking along the riverbank. Despite the huge increase in size over the 45 years, the holiday atmosphere prevails, and music is in the air from all corners and almost at all hours around the clock.
The preponderance of visitors are attracted to the big venues and the major acts, but Pori has also done its share of promotion "outside the box," none less than the three Ultra Music Nights, held in the creaky wooden hall of the old cotton factory on the north bank of the Kokemäki. This year's roster was similar to last year's in its mix of international free jazz and avante-garde stars, with instrumentalists from across the board, from the tortured guitars of France's Marc Ducret and Finland's Raoul Bjorkenheim to the flowing vibraphone of The Claudia Quintet's Matt Moran. This little corner of cutting edge culture has been run for 9 years now by Frenchman Charles Gil, recently knighted by his government for his efforts to forward the profile of French avante-garde and improvisational music in the Nordic countries. Gil's efforts are particularly concentrated on Finland, where he is now resident, but his remit includes spreading the gospel of the A-G throughout the region without exclusive favor of French artists. It's nice to see free jazz getting some real respect.
The first evening involved French, Norwegian and Finnish bands, all three led by trumpeters. This was quite an education in the different roles that this essentially traditional instrument can play in contemporary improvisational jazz. First up was the French duo of Jean-Luc Cappozzo on trumpet & Eric Brochard on double bass, both players with extensive records behind them for service in the field of modern and free jazz in their home country. Cappozzo has been involved in the improvisational scene in Lyons for years, while Brochard has played many styles of music from classical to theatre, as well as cooperation with Edward Perraud, Sylvain Kassap and Tim Berne. Improvisational art though is close to both men's hearts and with Brochard frequently using a special arched, slack bow as dexterously as any glass-harp player to produce numerous overtones. Cappozzo could play the field of decoration and also the occasional melodic lead. The trumpet was often so unobtrusive that its role as lead brass instrument might have been forgotten except when the mouthpiece was replaced by a double reed, and the instrument manipulated in short melodic blasts more like a clarinet or bassoon. Mounting, complex tensions and slow release were frequent during this performance, with Cappozzo often gesturing his creative intentions with his free arm. The often melodic dialogue between the two even recalled the hilarious yet hallowed French circus tradition; many a wry smile passed many an amused face.
The second band of the evening was the duo of Per Jorgenson and Terje Isungset from Norway, who were playing in a summer context and hence without the Isungset's seasonal utilization of the great natural material of his native Norwayice. Typically this adds great visual appeal to his music, reinforcing the eerie trance-like atmosphere which the show induces. The music may be improvised, but the structures are well established after years of collaboration. Jörgenson has been involved in Jon Balke's different ensembles, and has also recorded with composer Michael Mantler on The School of Understanding (ECM, 2001) and the Swedish bassist Anders Jormin on Jord (Dragon, 1995). His open ended experimental style has surely had an influence on the younger trumpeters in his country, like Arve Henriksen and Mathias Eick, though more in his exploratory attitude than in any technical realm. In fact on the basis of this performance, it was his vocalizing, as well as percussion and general joy of performing that proved his greater creative strengths. At one point, having earned some applaud from the audience, he turned the appreciation back to the crowd encouraging them to continue in order that he could use this as rhythmic input in his own playing.
Turning an audience's excessive reverence into a performing tool is a welcome approach to the hushed scrutiny that exudes around many experimental stages. Terje Isungset too has also been influential in his innovative approach to percussion, incorporating in his music the sounds of everything from tapped or scraped stones and ram horns to a variety of suspended dried branches. More importantly he reveals an apparent pleasure in the demands that the intensity of their interaction requires, turning at times to the audience when Jörgenson seemed to overstretch the bounds of credibility, and utilizing their bemusement. The duo's power is in their ability to lead the listeners into a highly abstract acoustic world and communicate their own efforts to navigate the creative hurdles they meet.
Playing in the darkness of the timbered workshop, Finland's Sun Trio were also deprived of the natural element that their name implies. The band features the rhythm section of the Finnish nu-jazz pioneers Ilmiliekki, in combination again with a lead trumpeter, this time drummer Olavi Louhivuori's brother Kalevi. The solidity of their foundation allows the trumpet to investigate more distant soundscapes, as on their penultimate piece Organisaatio from their album Time is Now (CAM, 2009). The use of processing and wah-wah makes for an exciting blend that Miles Davis in his later years would have been proud of. After the intimacy of the previous performers, the languid but very intense style of the drums and the trumpet's flowing lead gave the audience more direction. Antti Lötjönen also has a far more insistent role in this line-up, playing lines often closer to a rock rhythm bassist and giving the other two musicians greater scope. Kalevi Louhivuori's palette is varied and powerful, inviting comparisons with Ilmiliekki's Verneri Pohjola and not being overshadowed.