Tampere Jazz Happening 2010: Days 3-4, November 6-7, 2010
As much as there's a new scene building in Finnish jazz, with many of its artists performing during the four days of Tampere Jazz Happening 2010, there was a time when all thoughts of Finnish jazz turned to the music of drummer/composer Edward Vesala. While his early work was heavily weighted in free improvisation, participating on classic 1970s ECM albums such as saxophonist Jan Garbarek's Triptykon (1973) and trumpeters Tomasz Stańko's Balladyna (1976) and Kenny Wheeler's Around Six (1979), his own releases began to concentrate more on a marriage of form and freedom; music that often seemed to teeter on the brink with a kind of controlled chaos. When Vesala met with Iro Haarla, in the late 1970s, it was the beginning of a personal and professional marriage that lasted until his death, one where the pianist/harpist's classical training and ear for orchestration began to increasingly impact on the drummer's writing. It's no secret, in fact, that Haarla was an uncredited co-composer of much of Vesala's work from the early 1980s forward, contributing significantly to classic recordings like Lumi (1987) and Ode to the Death of Jazz (1989), the first recording by the drummer's aptly named group, Sound & Fury.
Nearly 11 years after Vesala's untimely death at the age of 54, many of the members of his group are back under the same name, with fresh interpretations of classic Vesala chartscredited, finally, to Haarla, who did not, however, appear with the group. Without Haarla's piano and harp, and the accordion of either Taito Vainio or Matti Riikonen, the complexion of the group, at its Sunday afternoon Tampere Jazz Happening performance, was understandably altered. Still, the spirit of the group was on stunning display in a 70-minute set that drew on tracks like "The Wedding of All Essential Parts," from 1992's Invisible Storm, where the marriage of contemporary classicism, meticulously executed, met unrelenting improvisational élan, in particular Pepa Päivinen's curved soprano solo, which seemed to build to climax after climax, driven by turbulent polyrhythms from bassist Sampo Lassila, and drummers/percussionists Ilmari Heikinheimo and Hannu Risku, all newer recruits and not members of the original Sound & Fury lineup.
The original members were, in fact, the frontline of Päivinen, saxophonists/flautists Jorma Taipo and Tane Kannisto, trumpeter Matti Riikonen (who blew a marvelously long and powerful solo, early in the set), and guitarist Jimi Sumen, who also engineered all of Sound & Fury's albums on ECM after Lumi. Sadly, Sumen has contracted MS in the last decade or so and now walks with a cane, requiring a second guitarist, Julius Heikkilä, to assume some of the charted parts. Still, Sumen took a few solos where it was clear his extreme notions of sound and, well, fury were still intact, elsewhere creating washes of distorted sound palming the body of his guitar and using his whammy bar to create swooping dives.
A potent set, proving that the relevance of Vesala's (and Haarla's) music does, indeed, transcend time. It wasn't the last performance of the day, but it seemed like the perfect place to stopending, in a way, full circle, bringing the modern scene of younger artists like Mikko Innanen, Kalle Kalima and Kari Ikonen back to the music that, in many ways, is still its precedent. Ricky-Tick Big Band followed with an homage to the swing era of the 1930s and 1940s, while The Bad Ass Brass Band and DJ Levy closed the festival in style at Klubi, bringing together a disparate array of influences, all underscored by a definitive Finnish pulse. But with Sound & Fury, Tampere Jazz Happening 2010 ended on a particular high note by recalling the music that first put the country on the jazz map, and proving its continuing relevance long after it was first introduced.
And so, Tampere Jazz Happening 2010 ends, an occasion marked by a fertile combination of legacy and budding artists, and proof that the diverse Finnish scene is truly best represented at this festival; it may be small in scale, but it is big in import. With a worldwide reputation as the finest jazz festival in Finland, and with a true milestone coming in 2011its 30th anniversaryit's a festival that will, no doubt, attract considerable attention when its line-up for 2011 is announced.
As the winter truly begins to set indarkness at 4:30 in the afternoon and enough snow fallen to have whitened the roofsit's also a reminder that the weather in Finland may be somewhat prohibitive outside, but inside, where it counts, at Klubi, Telakka and Pakkahuoneand thanks to the people running the festival, who did everything possible to make its guests feel welcomethere's still plenty of warmth to be found.
All Photos: John Kelman