Tampere Jazz Happening 2010: Day 2, November 5, 2010
A student of Tony Williams and protégé of Will Kennedy, André Sumelius was looking forward to his Tampere Jazz Happening performance as a release party for his latest disc, but unfortunately the CD didn't make it in time. Still, that didn't stop the drummer's set from being a terrific combination of high-powered modal blowing and more straight-ahead swing, delivered by a crack band, featuring pianist Alexi Tuomarilathe best-known of the quartet internationally, for his work with Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko on Dark Eyes (ECM, 2009)along with Sibelius Academy instructor/saxophonist Jussi Kannaste, and recent Sibelius graduate, bassist Ville Herrela.
From left: André Sumelius, Jussi Kannaste
Based on the group's 75-minute set, Sumelius' new CD will be a largely more mainstream affair than Kaira (Abovoice), his 2002 album featuring Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen, well-known Finnish bassist Uffe Krokfors (Edward Vesala, Iro Haarla, Krakatau) and one of the country's best-kept secrets, vibraphonist Severy Pyysalo. The quartet opened its performance at a mid-tempo swing with a hint of gospel; ambling, but with enough firepower under the cover to encourage Tuomarila's early set high point, the tremendous disposition for construction that the pianist demonstrated at his 2010 performance with Stańko at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival in even sharper focus, using small motifs as building blocks which he continually shaped and reshaped, building upon them as they evolved into the next core idea.
He may have been the leader, spokesperson and composer, but as a player Sumelius avoided any tendency to dominate; instead, he was simply one spoke on the wheel, pushing and pulling the group as it worked its way through fierier material like the set's second piece, a brightly swinging tune with a knotty start/stop head that led to another outstanding solo from Tuomarila, as well as a lengthy exploration by Kannaste that suggested he's clearly someone to watch. Tuomarila was channeling McCoy Tyner in his cycles of fourths, but with a lighter right hand contrasting his suitably powerful left for the ascending and descending series of chords, Tuomarila's touch and tone were all his own, distinct and increasingly recognizableeven on the small upright piano that was the only kind that could fit on Telakka's small stage. Kannaste's sound was also personal, with terrific technique but, even more importantly, an acute sense of what's right in the moment, as he went from lengthy runs to upper register squeals and lower register growls.
From left: Villa Herrala, Alexi Tuomarila, André Sumelius
Like Sumelius, Herrala's role was more supportive, though the quartet wouldn't have managed its unshakable pulse and, at times, greater energy, were it not for the rhythm team's big ears and even bigger hearts. Sumelius did take a soloor, rather, a series of solos, trading with Kannasteon the closing track to a set that possessed an unusual arc: rather than building to a climax, leaving the crowd screaming for more, the performance gradually reduced from a fast boil to a slow simmer, but curiously, it worked.
If there were any fears that the evening at Telekka was going to be all about the mainstream (not that there's anything wrong with that), Markus Holkko Quartet's closing set of the night dispelled any and all of them. With an electro-centric, rock-edged group that also featured drummer Mika Kallio, keyboardist Kari Ikonen, and guitarist Raoul Björkenheimn (Krakatau, Scorch Trio, UMO Jazz Orchestra), Holkko delivered a set that weighed heavily on improvisation, despite there being clear structures to provide basic foundations, and both starting and rallying points.
Altoist Holkko also played an ARP Odyssey synth which, combined with Ikonen's Moog, was analogue heaven for those who still find contemporary digital sonics somehow sterile. From odd, sci-fi bleeps to visceral, in-the-gut bass lines, both Holkko and Ikkonen combined with the often effects-laden Björkenheim, meshing freewheeling extremes with moments of dark beauty...and everything in-between. The set opened with a soft, pop-like chord sequence from the guitarist, but whatever lulling, hypnotic state that it engendered was blown out of the water when the group made a paradigm shift into more aggressive territory, with Holkko's raw, unfettered free play matched by Kallio's fluid textures and Ikonen's otherworldly landscapes.
From left: Markus Holkko, Raoul Björkenheim, Mika Kallio
The music continuously moved back and forth, from a whisper to a roar, with occasional stops along the way that entered the realm of reggaeBjörkenheim's pitch shifter dropping his guitar into the lower register for a pulsating bass lineto an early set high point, where the guitarist channeled Jimi Hendrix, but with a more sophisticated approach to harmony, even as, from a purely emotional perspective, Björkenheim played with complete and utterly reckless abandon.
Those who think this kind of music lacks structure might have been surprised at the sheet music onstage, especially mid-way through the set, when Ikonen pulled out a dauntingly large chart. But what made Markus Holkko Quartet work was that, despite the irrefutable evidence of formalized structures creating context, this was far from music being read off the page; instead, the group almost literally yanked the music from the page, imbuing it with power, passion and commitment.
Day three of Tampere Jazz Happening continues with more great Finnish music, including legendary saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen with pianist Iro Haarla; K-18 and Plop, both featuring up-and-coming saxophonist Mikko Innanen, and the energetic Kolhoz.
All Photos: John Kelman