Pori Jazz Festival uLTRA mUSIC nIGHTS Pori, Finland July 19-21, 2012
On a scale of 1-10, summertime activity in the capital of this northerly European nation barely registers a "1," whilst in the normally sleepy western coastal town of Pori it is topping out for the penultimate week of July. It's the annual Pori Jazz Festival. Along with over 1,000 local voluntary helpers, there were about 140,000 visitors this year attending about 120 concerts, of which almost 70% were free. And on top of this there was a whole week of children's activities and concerts involving over 20,000 kids with over 2,000 performing.
As ever, the festival proper sees a collection of major international artists, often on extended European summer tours, alongside a strong showing of Finnish musicians, vying for a slice of the attention. Ever since 17-year old saxophonist Jukka Perko stepped up beside trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie
in 1986, the chance of international exposure has kept this festival among the top favorites for aspiring local professionals. However, the photos on the official program showed exclusively the roster of international artists, from Paul Anka and Norah Jones
to UK star and Simon Cowell favorite Emeli Sandé and New York's Estelle (Fanta Swaray). These continue to pull in the Finnish audiences who transform this old harbor town into a hub of fun and festivity for the whole country in mid-July.
With accession to the organizational committee of Helsinki producer and jazz DJ Markus Partanen, the strength of the contribution by jazz musicians has been underscored, and inevitably Finnish artists predominate. Among those appearing again at Pori Jazz were veteran swing reedist Antii Sarpila, saxophonists Manuel Dunkel and Timo Lassy, pianist Jukka Uotila, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and "action-jazz," little big-band, Auteur Jazz. Six of the nine evenings at the riverside Café Jazz were sold out, and even the nearby church had standing room only for a return performance by Perko. On less auspicious stages were street performers Elonkorjuu, and the banner-waving, pseudo agit-prop-styled Bad Ass Brass Band, as well as a host of other entertaining and engaging artists.
Alongside these mainstream artists the festival has continued to support music for fringe tastes, now located at a venue tucked into the small stage beside the classic Pori Town Theater, and known as the uLTRA mUSIC nIGHTS. Run by a French immigrant, producer Charles Gil, this program always sees a backbone of experimental and free jazz bands, both Finnish as well as a selection of foreign acts. This year the focus was more on Mediterranean sounds than earlier years' Gallic attack, but the principle of breadth of appeal here was reflected in a wide range of style and sound, as well as nationality.
For the first evening of "Tinissima and Olavi Night," Francesco Bearzatti brought the full force of Mediterranean frenzy to this sweaty theater space. Although his Tinissima Quartet is fronted by the reedist and composer Bearzatti, equally active was the frenzied trumpet and personality of Giovanni Falzone. The first of the evening's excitement was dedicated to and named after one of Bearzatti's mentors, political activist Malcom X. Both lead musicians used a full assortment of acoustic as well as occasional electronic effects to add color, but the thrust of the performance was the eyeball-to-eyeball interaction between these two 'brothers in sound.' In addition to fluid and harmonized performances, both players also attacked their instruments with flair and imagination, using both ends and all orifices of their instruments and trading as many comments, musical and spoken, between each other as well as with the audience. Bassist Danilo Gallo also used an electronic pallet, but his primary role was to support the front men with rolling, rock styled riffs over Zeno de Rossi's sensitive and inspired drumming.