Tampere Jazz Happening 2003: Speaking a Universal Language

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On a Saturday afternoon a group of music journalists gather at the 22nd Tampere Jazz Happening to debate “the changing face of jazz,” a lofty title for an unwieldy subject. JazzTimes writer Stuart Nicholson makes the opening remarks, summing up jazz’s history as one of “appropriation” then declares that Europe and Asia, not America, is where jazz is pushing towards the cutting edge. For two hours the journalists debate, each taking turns declaring their personal philosophies of jazz, music and life. Nicholson tries in vain to convince the Finnish jazz journalists, a Norwegian writer, the Wire’s Tony Herrington and Downbeat regular Howard Mandel of his central thesis, that the nationality of a musician puts the most meaningful stamp on his or her music.

The “bastard music,” as Mandel affectionately labels jazz, will not be caged, and Francesco Martinelli (check out his perspective on the festival) deftly silences the chatter when he quotes Sun Ra: “It’s after the end of the world, you just don’t know it yet.” Yes, the musicians, of whom none are in attendance, are way ahead of us, off preparing their own song written in the universal language.

Many, like Louis Sclavis’ quartet, the Norwegian multi-media quintet Wibutee, Erik Turfazz’s 4tet and Uri Caine’s Bedrock3, are busy pushing live improvisation and electronics closer together, with varying degrees of success. Others, like Peter Brötzman’s Chicago Tentet, the Nordic super-group of improvisers The Electrics and Americans The Bad Plus are still stretching the expressive capabilities of the all-acoustic.

Backing Nicholson’s thesis that Europe is developing its share of innovative improvised music, the Nordic countries make their voices heard. The shifting ensembles of Finnish pianist Samuli Mikkonen’s 7 Henkeä specialize in rich group textures, Håkon Kornstad’s trio bursts with focused, swinging energy and the Finnish trio Gnomus brings a witty edge to ambient rock with the former Wigwam keyboardist Jukka Gustavsson. Raul Björkenheim’s Scorch Trio fuses the electric drive of Hendrix with Coltrane’s roiling waves of sound.

Tying these dialects of jazz’s language together is William Parker’s healing song, an off-shoot of his Vision festival collaboration with his wife, dancer Patrcia Nicholson. Dance, song, cosmic poetry, film, ritual drumming and muscular blues merge into a spectacle that wants to know no boundaries.

This is the language spoken in Tampere’s Old Customs Hall, a warehouse turned festival space that makes room for an eclectic crowd of young and old, male and female. The Tampere fesitval organizers have made the mental and physical space available for such meetings for the last 22 years. Our world, “ a heap of broken fragments” in T.S. Eliot’s formulation, may be splintered, but if the result is such a language, then I say speak on.

Complete coverage of the 2003 Tampere Jazz Festival...
Tampere Jazz Happening: Speaking a Universal Language
Wibutee in Tampere: Club Music and Jazz Collide
Erik Truffaz in Tampere: Fusion for the 21st Century
The Bad Plus in Tampere: Cinematic Trio Images
The Electrics in Tampere: All-Acoustic Electricity
Kornstad Trio in Tampere: Improvisation as Negotiation
Scorch Trio in Tampere: If Hendrix and Coltrane had a Love Child...
Uri Caine's Bedrock 3 in Tampere: Too Many DJs
Gnomus & Jukka Gustavsson in Tampere: The Wit of the Improviser
William Parker's Healing Song in Tampere
Samuli Mikkonen in Tampere: Composed Moods and Spontaneous Energy
Louis Sclavis in Tampre: Memories of a Naples that Never Was


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