Day 1 | Day 2 | Days 3-4 Tampere Jazz Happening Tampere, Finland November 4-7, 2010
While most festivals aim to keep the energy, commitment and creativity levels high, few succeed at starting with a high bar and raising it continuously throughout the course of the event. While the first two days of Tampere Jazz Happening 2010 were strong, the final two days continued an upwards curve that culminated in two of its most memorable performances. Still, there were other high points, including a performance by Finnish saxophone legend Juhani Aaltonen
Despite its relatively small size, Tampere Jazz Happening has grown into one of Europe's most significant festivals in the promotion of forward-thinking jazz. With its decided emphasis on some of Finland's most creative artists and ensembles, it also creates a strong case for there being a distinctive Finnish identitythough, as is often the case, it's harder to define exactly what that identity is; instead, it's something felt, something that's simply known when it's heard. Some of the diverse elements range from a sense of the absurd that approaches the Dutch scene, and a melding of classical and folk traditions. And more than some, Finland may be a small Northern European country, but its ties to the American tradition are strong. While it's not predominant, elements of swing are often either heard explicitly or simmer just beneath the surface. Even the blues has its place in some of the music, albeit of a more abstract, ambiguous nature. And when it comes to free music, especially in the realm of "changes, no time," few other than the Norwegians do it as well as the Finns.
Released in 2009, Conclusions (TUM) introduced Finnish saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen's latest quartet, where in three out of four cases there was a connection through the music of the late drummer/composer Edward Vesala
, though not necessarily at the same time: Aaltonen, collaborated a great deal with Vesala, but is best-known internationally for his work on two of the drummer's ECM classics: Nan Madol (1976) and Satu (1977); Haarla, an uncredited compositional collaborator with Vesala, played on albums beginning with Lumi (1987), through to Vesala's death in 1999; Krokfors, a founding member of another ECM band, Krakatau
, played for a time in Vesala's band, and can be heard on Lumi.
From left: Iro Haarla, Ulf Krokfors, Juhani Aaltonen, Reiska Laine
All three players worked seamlessly within the parameters of Vesala's music, though its markersfluid time, compositions as rooted in contemporary classicism as they are a modern jazz vernacular, and an approach to free improvisation weighing heavily on nuance, economy and lyricism rather than technical pyrotechnicsare equally strong components of their work as well. Was Vesala the influence, or was it the other way around? The answer, most likely, is: yes, and yes.
For Aaltonen's afternoon performance in the larger Pakkahuone venue, which seats approximately 1,000 people, the quartet focused on the music from Conclusions, an egalitarian mix of compositions by the saxophonist, Haarla and Krokfors. As distinctive as she is a pianistat times hauntingly melodic, but also capable of sharp corners and aggressive block chords that suggest roots in the music of Cecil Taylor
, but delivered far more sparinglyit's her work on harp that's especially definitive. Improvising harpists are few and far between, and amongst them, few can approach Haarla's ability to suggest imaginary landscapes on a cinematic scale. If musicians are, indeed, a reflection of who they are and, equally importantly, where they are, then Haarla certainly evokes cold, barren, but starkly beautiful vistas.
The set opener, with Haarla on harp and Aaltonen on flute, bolstered by a gently turbulent underpinning from Krokfors and drummer Reiska Lainea criminally underrated drummer whose ability to be pliant with time matches some of Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen
on Fish Out of Water (ECM, 1990)moved from darker climes to soaring flights, with Krokfors' arco bass blending perfectly, at times, with the flute's sonority.
If Laine's work resembled Christensen's with Lloyd, when Aaltonen switched to tenor and Haarla to piano, the entire quartet began to suggest how Lloyd might sound, were he Scandinavian rather than American. Still, while the rubato tone poem ebbed and flowed with similar strength and collaborative interaction, Aaltonen's tone is sharper, his fluidity possessing an edge not unlike that of saxophonist Jan Garbarek
on albums including Shimri (1977) and Green Shading into Blue (1978)is clearly his own, and the improvisational élan he demonstrated here, and throughout the set, suggests that, like so many aging jazzers these days, like keyboardist Chick Corea
, Aaltonen, who turns 75 in December, 2010, is experiencing a career revival and, more important, reinvigoration.
Krokfors was a stunning combination of deep rhythmic suggestion and lithe contrapuntal partner, but in his opening solo to a song midway through the setwhere he moved from complex melodic ideas to soft, tension-building dissonancea brief dalliance with true swing made it clear that, while this quartet's focus is on rubato music where Laine's work was largely textural, it can reference the American tradition more explicitly. Its avoidanceor, perhaps more appropriately, subsumptionof that tradition into a larger whole, speaking more to the music that's a greater part of their individual and collective DNA, is what made the performance so rich, so compelling and so achingly beautiful at times, and one of Tampere Jazz Happening 2010's most important shows.