Tampere Jazz Happening
November 1-4, 2012
Here's another veteran jazz festival, and one which has been gaining increasing international recognition during recent years. This is a Happening with a personality. A distinct orientation to its programming, and a taste for the more adventurous aspects of jazz. The Finnish city of Tampere has traditionally been likened to Manchester in England, but perhaps Birmingham would be a closer comparison, with its deeply ingrained industrial past. Detroit could be another twinned city, and it's already a mirror home for a similarly longrunning and superior festival.
Everything is quite convenient within the Happening. The various stages are gathered in close proximity to each other, allowing a brief transfer in weather conditions that weren't quite as freezing as anticipated. No need to ride reindeers across the cobbles: we could just eat those seasonal creatures instead. The Old Customs House Hall provided the main stage, with a smaller space adjoining, Klubi chiefly hosting the late night part of the schedule. Across the street is the café bar Telakka, which was the main home to the indigenous Finnish acts over the weekend.
Thursday evening, November 1, was low-key, just sticking to Klubi and presenting three rapidly ascending young bands. All were prime players at Dublin's 12 Points Festival, an enterprising forum for young European outfits. The club encouraged clumps of standing viewers close to the stage, thereby immediately heightening the communicative excitement. Even so, the labyrinthine Klubi still had an abundance of tables and chairs scattered around on various levels for those who were happy to ease gently into these mostly rupturing sounds. Actuum opened with a severe jolt, operating at a highly detailed level of aggressive hyperactivity. The French quartet's absolute benchmark must surely be saxophonist Ornette Coleman
's classic quartet with trumpeter Don Cherry
. Alto saxophonist Benjamin Dousteyssier and trumpeter Louis Laurain held an inspired rapport, bolting frenetically, or splintering into the very room's essence of quietness. Bassist Ronan Courty and drummer Julien Loutelier were also precision engineers of dynamic tension-and-release. Other precedents called to mind were saxophonist John Zorn
's Spy Vs. Spy Coleman homage combo, or maybe reed multi-instrumentalist Ken Vandermark
at his freest.
The momentum increased further with England's WorldService Project
, which is already gaining a strong reputation, at least within the UK. Part of the nameless movement that encompasses Led Bib
, Acoustic Ladyland
, up to fellow newcomers Roller Trio
, this was rock and jazz that was not jazz rock in the old, 1970s sense. There's a tougher tone, a more adventurous groping of atonality, hardness and riffing complexity. Prog meets punk, Frank Zappa
and King Crimson
procreating Rip Rig & Panic
and The Pop Group. Keyboardist Dave Morecroft was the ringmaster, sonically and visually directing the band through a minefield of twisting, squirming, jolting and japing contortions. This was clever stuff, but never too smug. Roughshod barnstorming was the chosen method, heavy boots stamping all over charts of finesse. It's a youth thang, as WSP sustained great energy throughout a set that left the crowd breathless from concentration. No slackening was allowed. No pauses for thought. Until post-gig, of course; then the substance penetrated the collective mind.
Sadly, the home posse was somewhat disappointing after all of this nervy action. Finland's Big Blue (hailing from the small town of Jyväskylä) offered a much more conventional outlook on the jazz form, with a trumpet/piano/bass/drums lineup. The quartet was perfectly adequate, but maybe it should have played first, as a lesson in mesmerizing tradition, before the other two bands began to detonate jazz's outer walls. Anyway, this was an extremely strong starter night for the Happening, just a taster for the wealth of stellar sets to come.
The big-name Americans began to arrive on Friday, November 2, with sets beginning at 8pm. Performances alternated between the Old Customs House and Telakka, although the problem with the latter venue, as the weekend progressed, was that it had a tendency to reach its capacity very quickly, with droves of folks arriving from the much larger hall. This led to a severe bottleneck of crushed bodies, especially near the entrance. It was so uncomfortable that evacuation eventually became necessary.