A Finnish Feast: Hundreds of Free Songs from Earth's Least Corrupt Country

Mark Sabbatini By

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Considering its 80th birthday is next year, Finnish jazz is awfully young at heart.

Finnish-American musicians aboard the M/S Andania brought jazz to the country in 1926, according to urban myth, but a strong presence and identity didn't emerge until the 1960s. Since then versatile musicians, strong government support and high-quality education has produced a breed of original and intelligent music in traditional and modern forms.

"Internationally renowned individualists aside, Finland has also produced a wide array of team players throughout the years," notes the Finnish Music Information Centre, in a description of the country's jazz history. "This is largely due to education provided by institutes such as the Sibelius Academy Jazz Department. Another important contributor has been the UMO Jazz Orchestra. Almost every one of our jazz greats has at point or another been a member of the only government-supported local big band. Today, Finnish jazz is defined by strong soloists, crafty composers and unrelenting ensembles of varying sizes."

Early pioneers include multi-instrumentalist Seppo "Baron" Paakkunainen, pianist Heikki Sarmanto, saxophonists Juhani Aaltonen and Eero Koivistoinen, and percussionist Edward Wesala, whose careers were boosted by "modern idiom and foreign connections," according to the center. The Oulunkylä Pop/Jazz Institute (now the Helsinki Pop/Jazz Conservatory) was founded in Helsinki in 1972, UMO Jazz Orchestra in 1975 and the jazz department at the Sibelius Academy in 1983.

"Those closest to mainstream jazz (today) include the technically brilliant tongue-in-cheek ensemble Trio Töykeät, pianist and composer Jarmo Savolainen who collaborates with several international artists, and Klaus Suonsaari who lives and works in New York," according to the center. "Of those combining various styles, the best-known are RinneRadio which leans towards acid jazz, Pekka Pohjola who draws on progressive rock, and XL."

There are numerous annual jazz festivals of varying acclaim, including the community- oriented Keitelejazz festival in the small central Finland town of Äänekoski I attended in 2005 as part of my "Back Roads Beat" series about lesser-known jazz venues and artists. As is the case with most modern countries, it's possible to hear a large variety of free songs by the festival's performers and others across the country through legal downloads offered by the performers, their record labels or various music organizations.

There aren't a lot of free downloads to be found among the pioneers mentioned above. Aaltonen's rich ballad "Lullaby" from his live 2002 trio album Mother Tongue can be downloaded from the Tum Records site. The label also offers a number of other noteworthy downloads detailed below, including a composition from one of Keitelejazz's best acts. Sarmanto has no easily located downloads, although vocalist Pauliina May offers three of his works done in Spanish at his request (also detailed below). Among the new artists above, Pohjola's "Try To Remember" is available from Prog Archives.com, although it's more synth-drenched soundtrack than progressive rock.

Similarly, pickings among the featured 2005 Keitelejazz acts are slim. One can watch video clips from Dave Weckl's European tours at his website, but since they're samples they don't count here. Guitarist John Abercrombie can be heard as a sideman on vibraphonist Monty Stark's "Comrades" at his website, but downloads of him as a leader are elusive.

But hundreds and possibly thousands of freebies can be found in the links below, mostly featuring recent releases in all styles from both longtime and new performers. Those appearing at Keitelejazz are noted first, followed by more general sites that frequently feature huge download collections and some general reference sites offering further guidance.

Ilmilekki Quartet
"ICO" from March Of The Alpha Males and 11 other songs from Tum Records


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