Pori Jazz Festival: Pori, Finland, July 19-21, 2012
As befitted a Nordic ensemble, the Olavi Quartet offered a starkly different approach to musical interaction, with sounds drawn from an equally varied source of approaches to their instruments, but with only a fraction of the frenzy that characterized the Italians. The contrast was a healthy shock to the audience's senses, now having to strain to follow and interpret the music on offer. Both Teppo Hautta-Aho and Olavi Louhivuori share a taste in the minimal as well as the minutiae of expression, starting their set with all manner of incidental (and barely perceptible) taps and scrapes on acoustic bass and drums. Jari (Olavi) Hongisto is also well-versed in the world of European avant-garde, having played in drummer Edward Vesala's Sound and Fury, and now accompanying Vesala's pianist/harpist (and then wife) Iro Haarla in her sextet. His role in this trio is as experimental as his colleagues, and by virtue of his instrument's vocal-like nature, brings the element of direct, overt humor to their set. The arrival of Juhani Aaltonen, veteran Finnish master of the jazz saxophone, brought a sharper focus to proceedings, with pieces led more from his corner and with more than a hint of melody.
The evening closed with the return of the Italian quartetequally enthusiastic, despite having used the intervening time for some energetic audience participation elsewhere in the festival. This second set also reflected Bearzatti's political intentions, being another full-length suite, this time dedicated to the life and political achievements of Malcolm X. Again, both front men played their hearts out, musically interweaving around each other's anthems and antics, as Bearzatti introduced a new program, entitle Monk and Roll Gallo's bass had a more prominent electronic role here, reinforcing an amusing and inspired composition which utilized Falzone's eerie and perverse vocal antics to the full. The piece includes a full range of musical references, replete with twists and surprises, and culminating on a highly optimistic note with a hectic and hilarious samba styled duet on reed and trumpet mouthpieces.
The second evening of the uLTRA nIGHTS was a more predominantly Scandinavian affair, branded as an evening for "Exploring Motors." First up was a trio whose motor force is definitely its bass department in the form of veteran Danish icon Peter Friis Nielsen. This diminutive but extraordinarily dynamic bassist has a track record of work that includes saxophonists Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, John Tchicai and others, and here infused the trio of compatriot and saxophonist Lars Greve and Norwegian drummer Håkon Berre with a platform for exploration. Nielsen seemed very much to be in the driving seat, hunched over his aged Fender with his fingers skittering up and down the fret board, leaving Greve to follow a more muted improvisational path. The motor of this part of the evening was undeniably detuned, even erratic, but the three lengthy musical journeys were exciting in their turns of speed as well as the variety of the musical landscape, from intense to spartan.
Second up was a far more pastoral voyage at the hands of Paolo Angeli and Takumi Fukushima. Playing a customized Sardinian guitar (incorporating three sets of strings, and an intriguing pedal-operated bass string hammer device), Angeli led the process with bow and picks, while Fukushima added touches with her conventional violin and delicate voice. Both sang in their respective native tongues (Sardinian and Japanese), as well as creating delicate audio landscapes as open and inviting as their predecessors' had been crammed and challenging. Angeli's collaborations with guitarist Pat Metheny and drummer Hamid Drake betray a musical sensitivity that is more robust, but on this night his style was matched by his partner's delicacy of approach and song.