Tampere Jazz Happening 2010: Days 3-4, November 6-7, 2010
The final set of the night at Telekka was handed over to Kolhoz, an as-yet unrecorded group that uses the groove-driven music of Weather Report and keyboardist Joe Zawinul as two starting points, leading to music heavy on groove and vintage 1970s analogue sounds.
Keyboardist Kari Ikonen was heard the previous night in a much more extreme context, with the Markus Holkko Quartet. There, he was restricted solely to his Moog synthesizer, but here, with Kolhoz, he expanded his sonic arsenal to include a Fender Rhodes electric piano, and between the two he proved himself as much a master of a fusion-centric jazz language as he was of color and texture. Electric bassist Timo Hirvonen's tone was more from the Alphonso Johnson school than that of Jaco Pastorius, as he pushed the groove with a visceral bottom end that was impressive throughout. Drummer Mikko Kaakkuriniemia burly, bearded veteran of the Finnish rock and soul sceneapproached the high energy music with the right amount of bluster and bombast, while still locking in tightly with Hirvonen's gut-punching bass lines.
Manuel Dunkela veteran of the Finnish UMO Jazz Orchestra, and with four albums out under his own name, including the recent A Step Forward (Texicalli, 2010) (and also featuring pianist Alexi Tumoarila)fit perfectly in an environment more electrified than usual for the tenor and soprano saxophonist, but he was an inspired choice, with a fluidity that confidently moved in and around Ikonen's dense piano harmonies, and synchronized sonically with the keyboardist's Moog.
From left: Timo Hirvonen, Mikko Kaakkurinkiemi
The set list drew on largely original material from Ikanen, Hirvonen and Dunkel, often sporting a buoyant kind of Afro-centricity that made it music as good for the body and heart as it was the head. It was the perfect closer to a fine evening at Telekka, and the group's debut record can't come soon enough.
With the release of Kuára: Psalms and Folk Songs (2010), ECM Records demonstrated one of its greatest strengths: taking a great idea and making it even better. Drummer Markku Ounaskari and pianist Samuli Mikkonen have worked together for some time, and had a program of pagan folk melodies ready as grist for improvisational exploration when label head Manfred Eicher suggested adding some Russian Orthodox psalms to the program, as a means of bridging a cultural and geographic proximity between the two Finns and a bordering country that has had a significant impact on Finland's history over the years. The addition of Norwegian trumpeter/singer Per Jørgenson only served to strengthen the duonot just by bringing an additional voice, but by adding a musical personality who readily understands the bridging of cultures, through his own work and that with fellow Norwegian Jon Balke. Kuára is, quite simply, a revelation that continues to unveil its deeper meaning with each and every listen.
From left: Samuli Mikkonen, Marrku Ounaskari, Per Jørgensen
A revelation that only made the trio's appearance at Tampere Jazz Happening even more eagerly anticipated...and its hour-long performance not only lived up to expectations, it exceeded them. Playing music from Kuára but, rather than as discrete songs, as a series of connected material in a continuous, 45-minute performance, Mikkonen proved an even more astute pianist, tremendously interpretive while, at the same time, focused intently on his band mates. Beginning the set with a combination of inside-the-box strumming and outside-the-box voicings, his sense of dynamics was fundamental to the trio's success, as was Ounaskari's similarly astute ear. Whether using mallets, sticks, pedals or hands, his choices were always in service of the trio, pushing and pulling in concert with both Mikkonen and Jørgenson, as the trio wove its way through material ranging from simply lyrical to broadly dramatic, a maelstrom of pulse, harmony and melody that was, in turns, brooding and buoyant, but almost always effortlessly beautiful.
As much as eyes were on the duo, Jørgenson was the charismatic focal point, both musically and visually. Playing trumpet, small hand percussion and singing, he often seemed to be waiting on something from one of his band mates, occasionally encouraging them to action. His playing was filled with lines where he'd move sharply away from the mike, as if to punctuate the ideas, and it seemed almost possible to hear him think, or at least to feel, as he cocked his head, listening to Mikkonen and Ounaskari, waiting for the next and right moment to reenter.
As much as this is deep culled from folk and religious traditions, it was still all about spontaneity, finding new ways to use the basic building blocks of melody and rhythm to create a music filled with surprise. Jørgenson's trumpet playingtremendously influential on subsequent generations of Norwegian horn men like Arve Henriksen, Nils Petter Molvær and Mathias Eickwas plangent and, in many ways, more overtly horn-like than those he's informed; a nod, perhaps, to a tradition, but still reflecting a deeply personal voice that made his trumpet as vocal as, well, his own voice when, half-way through the set, he began to sing with a wailing, evocative sound filled with emotion yet delivered with no shortage of control.
Jørgenson even went for audience participation at one point; after using small hand percussion to encourage a response from Ounaskari, using his hands to direct, he then looked out at the audience, went "Hooooh" and waited for a response. Fortunately, the audience caught on quickly, and after a brief exchange, it appeared over until, just before the end of the set, Jørgenson simply looked up at the audience, raised his hand, and received a collective "Hooooh."
A brief introduction, at the conclusion of the 45-minute set, was in Finnish, but it was possible to glean a reference to Sound & Fury, the band to follow, as the trio launched into a relatively short improv that referenced some of the turbulent landscapes of the late Edward Vesala's best-known band, proving that dark beauty can still be found in the most disturbed places. If Kuára is one of this year's most stunning surprises, then the performance by Mikkonen, Ounaskari and Jørgensen will surely go down as one of the highlights of Tampere Jazz Happening 2010, and a clear signal that this is a trio that absolutely needs to continue working together.