Tampere Jazz Happening 2003
The Electrics – a most appropriate name for a completely acoustic quartet – opened the musical proceedings. They are a northern European group formed by musicians well known for their wide network of collaborations, in particular Strid played with Marilyn Crispell. They manage to combine the microscopic movements of minimal european improvisation with a soft, cool sound somewhat reminiscent of Gerry Mulligan’s pianoless quartet, especially when saxophonist Sture Ericson shifts to the baritone and drummer Raymond Strid sticks to brushes. Axel Dorner’s instrument does not look like a trumpet, nor does it sound like a trumpet, and his inclusion of vocal sounds, breathing and gurgling noises expands the vocabulary of the instrument building on the tradition of Rex Stewart, Lester Bowie, Leo Smith and Bill Dixon.
The Scorch trio led by Finnish guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheim was, you guessed, scorching. The popularity of the instrument truly escapes me, and the references to classic rock “power trios” were lost on my ears, which refused at some point further scorching. Uri Caine’s Bedrock Trio was to me slightly disappointing, mainly because I’d rather hear his piano playing than some electronic keyboard; I also fail to understand the import of DJ Olive’s contributions. However, Caine is nothing less than a genius and a musical explorer, so there’s always something striking in his music, and bassist Tim Lefebvre with drummer Zach Danziger laid out ever changing, mesmerizing grooves.
Billy Bang Quintet was a very welcome occasion to hear again at length guitarist Ben Nix, of Ornette fame. He has the difficult task of taking the place of the late Frank Lowe, a major and sadly missed voice of modern jazz. Violin, despite the best efforts of many excellent musicians, remains to me always a guest in jazz, almost like flute, and Bang’s solos didn’t change my mind. The best moments of the set came when the leader left ample space to Nix, aptly supported by Todd Nicholson on bass and Newman Taylor-Baker on drums.
The Healing Song is a project conceived by the creative team of Patricia Nicholson and William Parker, a true powerhouse of American creativity: it is based on a combination of dance and music, with four dancers and four musicians, going through a loosely organized narration or rather celebration of the diversity and beauty of life. It was strongly evocative, musically and visually drawing on shamanistic tradition, with whirling and circular motions accompanied by Parker on zurna and bamboo flute and Parker on frame drum. The transition to African American creative tradition was smooth and natural, marked by Parker switching to bass and Drake sitting at the trap set; the dancers led and organized by Patricia were highly effective also through vocal and recitation. I would not be honest if I didn’t mention that as a male I was aware of the deep beauty of the three women on stage, evoking the feminine spirits of Earth. Rob Brown on saxophones and Lewis Barnes on trumpet were up to the difficult challenge. The whole atmosphere was highly charged, attaining the highest levels of the Great Black Music tradition as established by Art Ensemble of Chicago and Sun Ra. A work that truly deserves presentation in festivals all over the world, kudos to Tampere for giving Maestro Parker the chance to create it. Later on, Joe McPhee and Raymond Boni played on the club stage. The set was dedicated to the late Frank Lowe, and the open melodies by McPhee were beautifully complemented by the delicate sounds of Boni’s guitar and effects. The surroundings were however quite noisy and I do not think it was an appropriate setting for the music; at the 14th hour exhaustion also settled in.
Finnish Samuli Mikkonen presented some of the best Finnish musicians in an ambitious Octet, but the music was rather static and all in all the set sounded less than the sum of its parts, even if very strong solos were delivered by saxophonist Sakari Kukko and bassist Uffe Krokfors (everybody in Finland seems to want him on bass). Louis Sclavis Quartet is, quite simply, one of the best groups in European jazz today. The French clarinetist and saxophonist seems to have found a mature balance between improvisation and structure, pure sound and melody; the group can sound uncanny Djangoesque at times, with Dane Hasse Poulsen picking the guitar and Vincent Courtois plucking his cello bass-style, while Mederic Collignon switches from perfectly playing in unison with Sclavis intricate melodic lines to vocal and body sounds that range from comic to disturbing – always without missing a beat and to the great amusement of his comrades. An exhilarating set, titled “Napoli’s Walls” as the first inspiration for the project were the frescoes painted by a French painter in the Italian town.