Tampere Jazz Happening Tampere, Finland October 31-November 3, 2013
It all started with a whimper. Or, rather, a quiet, almost serene drum roll. You knew things were going to eventually explode, but, of course, the getting there was half the fun. The Danish drum duo Toto was working in tandem in what was to be the eventual drum suite of all sticks and no cymbals (apart from hi-hats). The main floor of the rustic, atmospheric, funky Klubi was full as were the outer layers of seats, with most fans standing, the two drummers in a kind of face-off, Tobias Kirstein and Toke Tietze evoking images of a Max Roach/Buddy Rich showdown. And with the occasional, sneaky insertion of electronics, this packed house responded to the occasional techno flourishes with smiles and not a little ass-wiggling.
These were the opening salvos to the 32nd annual Tampere Jazz Happening, presented by Copenhagen Jazz Festival and once again uniquely programmed by Artistic Director Juhamatti Kauppinen and impeccably organized by award-winning Executive Director Minnakaisa Kuivalainen.
Indeed, this drum piece was probably a typical tour de force, a kind of unleashed but modified Elvin Jones-type demonstration transmogrifying into a more Ginger Baker-type climax before settling into what became a kind of cadence, these two skin heads lowering the temperature ... only to stop.
Alternating between two conveniently located sites on either side of a pedestrian squarea square that also includes such landmarks as an "American Hotdog Stand" kiosk and a truly notable "Passion Bar" neon window sign for anyone more inclined to skip the music and get right down to businessthis edition of the Happening continued its tradition of housing alternate and not necessarily opposing groups and styles. The venues, which also included more intimate Telakka, are a fascinating mix of old architecture and design, with lots of wood, and, in the case of Klubi, two stages, the larger of the two known as the Old Customs House Hall, built in 1901 (both old red brick buildings). Telakka, due to its cozier confines, most often resulted in shows there were all packed- house affairs that meant if you wanted a good seat or to even see the musicians performing, you were best to get there way ahead of schedule. A large video screen was installed upstairs to accommodate those who insisted on seeing what they were hearing but who were unfortunately unable to find a suitable resting place on the main floor. Of the two sites, Telakka's quarters, not to mention music, lent a kind of sporting event vibe to the proceedings.
As for the second of three Danish acts that first night (commencing on Halloween, for those interested in tricks and treats), songwriter Maria Laurette Friis offered a unique mix of vocals, electronics and overall mood- and scene-setting. Ethereal, dreamy and at times quite lyrical, Friis' chops-busting controlled explosions were a study in contrast. In this solo performance, her piano provided an elegance that in itself was a jarring, if subtle, contrast to the experimental bombast.
closed out the first night presenting yet another Danish take on what it means to play "jazz," this quintet displaying their own sense and sensibilities of controlled explosions. Theirs, however, operated on a level that remained pretty much just below the boiling point. A sustained low-key romanticism spread over long pieces draped in delicate moods had some critics suggesting their usual pop sheen operated in the realms of lounge music. This writer heard something slightly more menacing even as it occasionally suggested sounds and grooves approaching a slightly surreal display of make-out music. The compelling, slight rhythmic shifts and low-moving pulses, combined with the minimalist sax musings from Martin Stender
presented a marvelous demonstration of group cohesion, the level of musical conversations intimate and remarkable, the group's sustained modulated energy a paradoxical display of soft music with an edge. Their encore, beginning with percussionist Victor Dybbroe's simple yet effective turn on wood blocks, set the stage for the group's most dynamic and robust grooves and "song" delivery. What was implicit with everything that came before was now made manifest, the music's otherwise introverted qualities realized in an extroverted less-than-controlled explosion. Throughout, the band's understated grooves comingled with a crowd that found not a few women swaying their hips, raising arms, dancing to and fro.
The second night of TJH opened with the Finnish/Greek quintet Timo Lassy
Band for the festival's first performance in the all-seats Old Customs House Hall. It served as the initial offering to a night filled with studied contrasts to the previous night's music: slightly odd and/or experimental vibes followed by an idiosyncratic return to convention. Tenorist Lassy led his band through a heartfelt if familiar return to jazz's hard-bop spirit in what would be the festival's most overt nod to a mid-century jazz. Following Lassy's set harpist Edmar Castaneda
' trombone the clear balancing voice in this reinvented approach to improvisation. Aggressive, robust, melodic, this group was about reshaping the landscape of what a solo instrument can do. Emphasis was on unusual time signatures, the band avoiding a natural tendency to be dreamy, Castaneda's proficiency on harp a marvel to behold and hear, full of energy and life, the music's formulaic approaches laced with Latin American folk elements and masked by some dazzling virtuosity and tight arrangements.
Across the plaza at Telakka, the Finnish guitar duo of Kamarainen & Viinikainen took elements of flamenco with many classical overtones in what was yet another departure from "jazz." At times reminiscent of Larry Coryell's 1970s and '80s work with Steve Khan, this full house was treated to a kind of transposition of guitar playing sometimes heard in the context of larger ensembles not to mention symphony orchestra. Not just for guitar lovers.
Back at the Old Customs House Hall, the American band Medeski, Martin & Wood
dished up some of their standard fare of groove-based material, staying (and not straying) with successful, tried-and-true takes of their so- called jam-band music. Alternately at Telakkaand following the eclecticism of keyboardist Seppo Kantonen
audiences heard a variation on MM&W, one also tethered to a groove, this time, however, more sedate, more flowing with tunes in meters like 6, 5, others. It was a midnight set of the Finnish quintet Lightboxer, a band of young guns refined and featuring saxophonist Markus Holkko, Hammond B3 organist Emil Luukkonen, and guitarist Aki Haarala. With overlapping styles, these two funk bands mirrored (as opposed to contrasted) two takes from two generations from two continents.
The second night of TJH once again ended on the main floor of Klubi (the main floor always ready to receive dancers and all-around movers and shakers) with Mali's Bassekou Kouyate
. As was to be case all four nights at this site, ngoni string player Bassekou Kouyate's septet delivered a more heated mix of music, this energetic troupe of string players, electric bass and percussion, spearheaded by the soaring vocals of wife Amy Sacko and Kouyate's chops. Evoking classic West African give-and-take energy and loaded with a boatload of dance rhythms, this upbeat music was the perfect ending to an evening filled with equivocation. Propulsive, driving, the band and its tight arrangements could be like a James Brown ensemble, full of life, at their best when turning tradition on its head.
Saxophonist Mikko Innanen returned the following day in the first of a series of weekend afternoon sets at the Old Customs House Hall. It was 14:00 and time for drummer Stefan Pasborg
's Danish/Finnish/Lithunaian quartet and their "Free Moby Dick" project. Amiably emceed by Pasborg announcing the program from behind his drum set, the loose-limbed and rambunctious drummer steered his group through a mix of reinvented rock numbers, all of them familiar no doubt to some adherents of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and the like. Beginning with what felt like a revisitation of Ginger Baker's "Dada Man," the heavy- handed double-sax frontline (which also featured tenor saxophonist Liudas Mockunas alongside Innanen playing baritone) played it straight, except when they weren't. Indeed, it was Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," along with "covers" that also included Wolfmother's "New Moon Rising" and the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" in this novel approach to both jazz and rock. Pasborg's big-band-like drumming spearheaded everything in a set that included spooky, spacey horn playing, shimmering cymbal work, floating unison lines, rolling beats, the teasing out of melodies with the occasional slowly building explosion. King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" was played close to the vest when it wasn't alloyed with some ferocious free playing from Mockunas, the band returning to the theme only to end gently. Not necessarily good enough to make you want to ditch the originals, "Free Moby Dick"'s journey into the past was yet another curiosity and unlike anything else heard in Tampere.
In what was the strongest day of music at this year's TJH, the temperatures continued to rise on this third day with one of the true highlights of the festival. The Swedish/Austrian quintet Swedish Azz, like the "Free Moby Dick" band, could be considered a repertory band. In this case, however, Swedish Azz is no newbie to this concept, the boys having been at reinventing Swedish 1950s and 1960s jazz compositions to the point of abstraction over and over again, often with hilarious results. Doubling on electronics, Mats Gustafsson
, tubaist Per-Ake Holmlander (himself doubling on cimbassoa valve trombone with extended, vertical open horn), Gustafsson's electronics an oh-so-subtle complement to the electronics of turntablist/electronics man Dieb 13. Drummer Erik Carlsson threatened to undermine Gustafsson's affable physical stage presence from the rear with arm movements and crazed facial expressions that suggested a madman of sorts.
It all started with Carlsson's Elvin Jones-like robo drumming: loose, frenetic but uncannily still at times. The tuneful head carried no recognizable pulse, the first song brief, but allowing for Gustafsson's unique brand of choreography on baritone to help get things pumping. Introducing (and discussing) the series of Swedish songs that followed, Mats referred to the program as consisting of "forgotten and not so forgotten Swedish jazz" (hence, the sheet music?!), Gustafsson grimacing as he went on bended knee blowing and as he genuflected to his electronic platform. Lars Gullin's "Fedja" was then followed by a medley of sorts that included something with the title approximating "Adagio Con Espressione." The music, played at a slow gait and once again tuneful, featured Carlsson playing brushes in what became a gentle tuba feature for Holmlander, Carlsson's light touch on drums using a bow across everything from cymbals to bells serving as a kind of baton. Swedish Azz continued this combination of entertainment and inspired free playing using such device as swinging unison lines (with much playfulness), Nordeson's alternating two- and four-mallet playing, some rapid-fire, up-tempo swing with tuba basslines, and periodic explosions followed by relative calm. Gustafsson's animated self ever the congenial host continued to introduce other Swedish delights from Lars Farnlof, Jan Johansson, Lars Werner and Bo Nilsson, topping everything off with the traditional folk melody "Visa Fran Utanmyra." A royal treat to these virgin Yankee ears (and eyes).
The freneticism continued with yet another multi-national band (Great Britain, Austria, USA, France, Germany), this time courtesy of the Anemone Quintet. Still playing in the Old Customs House Hall, the afternoon remained wild, unpredictable, unconventional, if consistent with so-called free-jazz imperatives. Indeterminancy ruled in this group gaggle of one long piece (how do you provide an encore to this kind of stuff?). It was outer space, with no sense of up or down, no beginning, middle or end (except when the sounds stopped altogether), no pulse to speak of (perhaps decipherable at times, but then gone once again; think a meteor shower replaced by nothing). Five players, five countries, three continents and four generations, the Anemone Quintet was spurred on by everyone and no one, pianist Frederic Blondy managing chords when he wasn't splaying notes alongside saxophonist John Butcher
all providing clear, distinct voices amidst the periodic clamor. These five were about sound, musical and otherwise, in different tantalizing combinations that most often was as much about searching as it was about arriving (probably moreso). Then again, maybe that wasn't the point to this adventurous series of sojourns impossible to repeat and clearly to the left of anything else offered at this year's TJH. Not for the squeamish.
Another return performance (and on the same afternoon bill!) was turned in by the pugnacious Mr. Gustafsson, this time with the power trio of guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheim
, Morgan Agren on drums and Mats back on baritone. The Finn Bjorkenheim along with his Swedish cohorts followed the Anemone Quintet's brainy abstraction with something closer to the gut, the guitarist filling the 550-seat Customs Hall with searing, resounding lines that, combined with the other sounds, could've given you a haircut. Agren's double-bass drum attack was thunderous, his stickwork coated with stretch marks of eigth- and 16th-note lines, only to be followed by silence ... and then crashes! It was robo-drumming with implied beats, an explicit beat, another nod to Ginger Baker (or John Bonham), the trio jamming on, Raoul's power chords and strummed lines both rough as well as ready to pounce, virtuosity submerged by obvious emotional displays and seemingly endless body movements. Those body movements were somewhat tempered, however, by Gustafsson's energizer-bunny antics, the ever-present sweat on his brow (and through yet another t-shirt wardrobe change), the veins bulging from his templesnot to mention sporty moves up and down with his horn genuflectsall serving as the perfect complements to his razor-sharp horn lines, atonal and insistent, full of altogether musical staccato blasts and sustained lines. This was abstraction not for the sake of being abstract but because of an implied musical imperative to kick out the jams, motherfucker. Needless to say, there were moments of sustained feedback, a fair amount of ebb and flow, nuanced playing (a baritone that bore through holes but could float as well), guitar playing with bow when Raoul wasn't almost drowning out Mats' horn, the steady stream supported by what was now a serious light-and-effects show, complete with varying colors, smoke and changing backdrops (not unique to this trio's show, incidentally). All in all, one might get away with calling what was heard a kind of Blow Torch Jazz, lots of potent zest and a huge cachet of chops, not to mention appeal, this group's calling card.
The onslaught continued in the Old Customs House Hall when Tim Berne
. The all-American Snakeoil's incendiary brand of jazz, both free and fully formed, was a kind of respite from everything else heard in the hall this fall afternoon, the music stands and studied manner of out-playing heard approaching the outer realms of chamber music by comparison. Asked later about the presence of sheet music by everyone but Mitchell in this obviously rigorous display of controlled yet loose-limbed virtuosity, Berne let slip the "genius" word, Mitchell's spot-on playing filled with flourishes, smart comping and unsuspecting but totally apt single lines in what was a program that paradoxically implied melody but steadfastly remained unhinged to any apparent so-called musical logic. It was ordered disorder, the "tunes" clearly heading toward predetermined ends, Berne and company's musical syntax a step or two or three removed from everything and everyone else. E
At times melodic, groove-based, different parts of the band huddled together as duos, trios, solo even before rejoining as a quartet all playing together, with eddies everywhere. The interplay was the thing, crazy, intricate interplay. Yet they approached it all like scientists, the music studied yet somehow raucous, Mitchell's confounding "genius" including elements of stride, boogie-woogie, new classical, laced with atonality on top of chords! With an amazing left hand, his wizardry would alternate between floating lines one moment, a wiggley yet precise move to the center the next. Noreiga's deft clarinet playing was the perfect sonic and color complement and contrast to Berne, his floating lines and sharp attacks punctuating, always telling a story.
Snakeoil's casual dress and formal, almost classical demeanor combined to give the picture of a group dedicated to painting outside the lines, with an insistent threat to blow the roof off only to return to something altogether predictably unpredictable, all of it something you were suddenly reminded of that that's what they were doing all along. Counterpoint, polyphony, multi-textured pulses in a four-way dialog: this was the music of a band whose calling card continued to include light, sure and fleet-footed alto playing with the constant undertow of a mirror on the world. Or was it a lens?
, was a mixed bag and an odd counterpoint to close out a stunning series of shows programmed by artistic director Kauppinen. Featuring no bassist (apart from lines provided by keyboardist Alfio Origlio
when he was on his Hammond B3), Katche's extended drum arsenal was a counterweight to the horn line that rested on the other side of the stage and to Origlios' immediate left. Perhaps this show was designed as a kind of balancing act, one filled with lush, romantic leanings in sharp contrast to what, in retrospect, was a wild and crazy afternoon and evening. Still in the Old Customs House Hall, Katche's playing offered too much bottom-end booming, his style clunky when it wasn't being supportive. It was eloquent, almost florid music, full of appeal in a danceable way.
Things were better when they floated, with less of a sense of going anywhere in particular, the light touch bordering on sappy but never quite going there. You got the sense, too, that the horn section was on a leash, periodically turned loose, Molvaer's inimitable trumpet music a vital and necessary voice to material that could be bland when it wasn't catchy. It could be heartfelt, soulful stuff, Origlio's organ occasionally adding the necessary grease to what otherwise might come across as mood pieces. Katche and company obviously did more than a few things right (including having the leader's sincere messages delivered from behind the mic at one point toward the end of their set) as they returned for an encore and left, ultimately, to a standing ovation. Clearly, there was audience appeal. And while Katche was playing it sweet and lovely, across the way at Telakka the countering voices heard were those of two Finnish bands, one right after the other, first with the Tenors of Kalima, followed by the Verneri Pohjola
. In each case, the music seemed a kind of mirror to what Katche's band was offering up, only this time it was with elements of free jazz, via guitarist Kalle Kalima's brood, or even more atmospheric mood music from trumpeter Pohjola's band.
TJH's final day once again began at the Old Customs House Hall. The trio of Joelle Leandre
(from France, Denmark and Sweden, respectively) provided the festival with some of the most exquisite, delicate sounds. Indeed, they were three complementary sound providers, free in the sense proffered by the Anemone Quintet but totally and altogether different in every other respect. Beginning on soprano, Lotte set the stage with her tender, non- melodic musings. And, again, like the Anemone Quintet, there was no "leader," but rather the emphasis was on group empathy and sharing, Leandre at times providing some vocal support to the proceedings.
When Lotte turned to her alto, more of the music centered around her horn, one of the pieces beginning with a kind of call-and- response, between short notes and longer lines, bird calls followed by gentle honks and squeals, Lotte finding the musical in the sounds she was creating. Leandre would enter with a bow in slow, creeping movements, Strid's drumming lightening quick, his deft stickwork furious yet amazingly tempered. Then there would be a walking bass pattern, a pulse, swing even! This, in turn, led to another swirl into a mild scurrying, Leandre cradling her bass, creating a melody of sorts, bowing ever more so slowly, everyone barely playing ... until the music stopped, inevitably, almost imperceptively.
The trio's combined light touch was mesmerizing throughout, like the music one hears just upon waking, perhaps before even, Lotte's sax creating ethereal songlines while Leandres's bowing remained gentle yet insistent, even sawing at points. If one wasn't careful, you could drift off to the sound of Strid's "bells and whistles" playing, his blue bag of tricks suddenly, gently an instrument of loose pieces being dragged across the drumheads, a bow of his own caressing the ride cymbal's edges. In what was only their third time playing together thus far, this was music about turning improvisation on its collective head, the sound of these beautiful instruments and the people who play them a curious, satisfying blend. Incidentally, it was a welcomed sight to see more women than men gracing the stage, if only by one.
In similar fashion, the peaceful almost childlike sounds of the Trio Reijseger Fraanje Sylla group was like a gentle reminder that this Sunday at TJH was also about including young people in the audience. It was not hard to find children playing, dancing about. And so it was with cellist Ernst Reijseger
and especially singer/m'bira/xalam/kongoma player Mola Sylla, the trio's folk-like musings spanning the worlds of classical, African and jazz improvisation with ease, their playfulness both calming and musically affecting. Here was yet another example of jazz's global reach, this time where the sounds of Senegal met those of the Netherlands and found a resting place in a land of make-believe called Tampere.
Closing out the performances in the Old Customs House Hall (there were no shows in Telakka the final day) was Jack DeJohnette
on keyboards and trumpet, played a variety of songs that mixed bebop-ish flair with some world-music touches and elements of funk, everyone given ample room to stretch, the four distinct voices a kind of classic combo of jazz instrumentation.
Unfortunately, this late-afternoon set was underwhelming, and, apart some spirited soloing up front, a let-down from all the music that had preceded it. In fact, DeJohnette himself sounded tired, sluggish even. DeJohnette's band played top- notch material, original music when they weren't playing covers like their encore performance of Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin.'" That said, the band's version of this song, for example, sounded perfunctory, perhaps just a copy of what they'd played a few nights previous. After being refreshed by so much else here at TJH, DeJohnette's "sound" somehow sounded dated, less relevant, lacking in anything approaching even a simple surprise. As I looked around at the level of enthusiasm in the hall's crowd, the sight of a child asleep on her mother's shoulder toward concert's end seemed an apt metaphor. If you know Jack, you know that isn't his way.
A fitting end to this year's edition of Tampere Jazz Happening was turned in with a midnight show by the Finnish band Jarmo Saari Republic. It was a tantalizing mix of rock with hip hop, world music, samples, funk, not to mention social commentary (e.g., a slice from Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech). Indeed, it was a fun, genuine cocktail of improvisation and the arranged, nothing terribly deep, but immediate nonetheless, well-played and interesting just the mix you want when reaching others but still being yourself, whether you were dancing on Klubi's well-worn wood floors or leaning against that great L-shaped bar, soaking it all in. The band's double- drumming, courtesy of Sami Kuoppamaki and Olavi Louhivuori, didn't sound like two drummers but one super drum (and not redundant at that) with eight arms and legs. The emphasis was on the beats, syncopation, rhythm, the groove.
The opening number in 7, for example, was an insistent, subtly volcanic one one, Abdissa "Mamba" Assefa's quick-cut percussive touches, the sampled basslines from Heikki Iso-Ahola, and steady guitar chords from the leader ripe for the dancing, partying crowd. Perhaps paradoxically, it was a music that was easy to follow in a complex way. And, as with everything else that was played and heard (including, no doubt, the few shows this reviewer missed), Tampere Jazz Happening was once again in the ears, hearts and minds of everyone on hand to help complete the circle and make it all come alive. And that they did.