Pori Jazz and its Ultra Music scene
Saturday's concerts featured another international mixture: Two Men Galaxy from Finland, Caravaggio from France and Huntsville from Norway. This was definitely the heaviest of the three evenings of contemporary sounds in the old Workshop, even if the first performers are more known for the delicacy of their approach. Joonas Riippa is a regular drumming partner for visiting luminaries (Mats Gustaffson, Lenny Picket) and a member of leading Finnish ensembles (Mikko Innanen's Plop and Verneri Pohjola's new Quartet), his delicacy of touch with his skins making him a popular choice for experimentalists. His partner here, Seppo Kantonen, started a career with Finnish rock pioneer Pekka Pohjola when the latter was working with highly orchestrated scores, towards the end of his career. He too performs frequently with other Finnish artists, including Mikko Innanen and the big band UMO, and he is involved with the Albero project.
In Pori this duo had the unenviable task of introducing an evening dominated by rhythmic performers with extensive arrays of effects to hand. Equipped with the dominating Hammond organ, a small effects box and a drum-kit, these two set about creating their Galaxy. With music contributed by both artists, Kantonen was the leader of many short, quirky pieces, where a melody might be created, deconstructed and reassembled in short bursts. Working with some loops on his bass hand, Kantonen led with the swirling Hammond tone, while Riippa did his best to add color and variation via his especially staccato style drumming. Not only does he physically accompany his music (head swaying, gestures flowing etc) but of all younger Finnish drummers, Riippa controls volume and intensity as much as pace. Using only hands or fingers in place of sticks is quite common among drummers these days, but blowing on cymbals or waving at the skins seems equally to be part of Riippa's technique too. The result in this minimalist line-up was that despite sometimes being sparse in quantity, the performance left a lot of space for the audience fill with its own creativity. Given also the contrast of Riippa's extravagant gesture and Kantonen's very sedentary physicality and musicality, this duo were a rewarding introduction to an evening of even wilder histrionics.
Caravaggio is an association of French musicians who have also long been involved in contemporary experimental jazz. It comprises the Marc Ducret Trio colleagues Eric Echampard and Bruno Chevillon, with Benjamin de la Fuente on processed violin and Samuel Sighicelli on sampler, piano and effects. Categorized by the festival organizers as "industrial jazz," this music can be considered closer to progressive rock than to classic jazz, but is still highly improvised and experimental. Considering that the impulse for more eccentric musical forms often originates with the bassist (Phil Lesh and Roger Waters both come to mind), it should be no surprise that the largest effects board (approx 6 square feet of pedals, controls and connectors) should belong to Chevillon. So with his instrument only sporadically performing its traditional bass role, and the others too all utilized well beyond their traditional capacity, their players are all credited on disc with "electrical effects." Samuel Sighicelli's arsenal includes sampler and piano, although at this gig his use of more traditional organ sounds was predominant, building a soundscape very reminiscent of Waters' former colleague Rick Wright.
This music is of course much more contemporary than Pink Floyd, although barring the lack of vocals, the tools as well as the dynamics are remarkably similar to the original, experimental Floyd. The willowy bassist, using two conventional guitars as well as a solid state upright, drove the structure from stage left, while opposite Sighicelli and violinist Benjamin de la Fuente held sway. Although the predominant sound is electronic, de la Fuente's technique is very classical, as is his background and education. As co-founder and second lead instrument of the band his role was as prominent as Chevillon, highlighted when both plucked or bowed their instruments in a competing duet. However this band is essentially a partnership of equals, with Echampard's drums very prominent in the mix and his contribution to the structures critical too. Each member explored his respective palette creating a show where the artists truly played with sound, again raising smiles as often as tapping fingers. With a light show and more dancers, one might have even been back in the UFO in London, where the spirit of fun pervaded that of experimentation.
Huntsville are also known for pushing the boundaries of the jazz genre outside the usual categories, having recently released a disc with two members of American rock band Wilcoguitarist Nels Cline and drummer Glen Kotche (Eco, Arches and Eras). Their pieces are long extemporizations, structured but not predetermined, with loops constantly building interweaving patterns. The trio is led by the rhythmic guitar and banjo of Ivar Grydeland and has played together since 2006.
The contribution of Ingar Zach is equally dominant, as he operates both a small drum-set as well as a modulator and a drum machine, controlling the beat which persists relentlessly throughout the music. On disc their long work is called Eras, which in Finnish actually would mean Piece or Section, and this would perfectly describe the rather featureless character of the music. This is because the whole time it is slowly evolving, with each transition seamlessly segued into the next, producing a 60 minute throbbing, hypnotic raga, with Grydeland's processed strums leading the way. On disc it can be played continuously, with the end blending effortlessly into the opening, making it a perfect accompaniment for departure from the festival through the short Nordic night, where sundown blends into a slight dimming of the sky before it starts to lighten again in the east. It also characterizes the essentially Nordic character of these Ultra Music Nights, as well as the overall feel of the Pori Jazz Festival: first class international music served under broad Nordic skies.