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Jazzin' Around Europe

Tampere Jazz Happening 2003

By Published: November 6, 2003
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.

Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet, with Swede Mats Gustafsson on baritone, started with the custom sonic assault, but after clearing the air and the ears of the audience proceeded through a series of episodes, loosely organized by the leader on a graphic score and ranging from dynamic small group improvisation through melodic, microtonal excursions by Brotzmann on tarogato (the wooden and conic shaped Hungarian clarinet) backed by slow moving chords played by the ensemble led by trombonist Jeb Bishop. The group is very strong in energy and invention, with Vandermark, McPhee and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm especially poignant in their solos.

The festival was closed by a jam session, hosted by Bjorkenheim again; his opening solo performance was much more open and varied than his “official” set, and then he was joined among others by Gustafsson, McPhee, Drake and Poulsen for a free for all that accompanied the audience in the club to the small hours of the morning, as if nobody wanted really this feast to end.

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