Elifantree at Birdland, Helsinki

Anthony Shaw By

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Helsinki, Finland
June 16, 2010

Birdland is the latest jazz venue to open in Helsinki, and as one can expect from a location that is as central as it is conventional, the fare is typically close to the middle of the road. However, in an attempt to woo an audience from outside this field Finland's entry to the 2008 Nordic Jazz Comets competition was invited to perform its usually enervated, intriguing brand of pop-jazz. The band, additionally, brings the kudos of having been voted 2009's Concert of the Year by Stuart Nicholson in The Wire.
A gig by Elifantree is an assault on the senses, but not only in the physical sense. The band comprises a saxophonist and a percussionist, both male and both well versed in the rigors of all-out testosterone sound, who are equally matched by a female, whose vocals dominate the band's ethos, as well as the surrounding ether.

Anni Elif Egecioglu is of Turkish and Swedish origin, and there is little in her initial demeanor that hints at her power. When her vocals commence, though, it's clear that an equal portion of the creative input is hers, if not disproportionately so. She is the band's point of access with the audience, and with her songs of recriminations, aspirations and intentions, she evokes at the same time the sounds and subtleties of Joni Mitchell as well as the passion and intensity of Janis Joplin: on the one hand, begging and beseeching and, on the other, wailing and whispering. Her style can be operatic or intimate but, as often, is more shamanistic, leading the band in its slowly building, convoluted musical trances.
The trio's sound is highly rhythmic, with Pauli Lyytinen's sax chucking out blips like an inspired Morse-code operator, and Timo Rönkkö pounding his drum set with demonic precision, while Egecioglu sways and slaps her thighs in a shaky delirium. But the tunes evolve through equally pastoral vistas when the glockenspiel takes center-stage and the drums become a rattle of tinkling tin, or Egecioglu picks up her cello. Even the lime-green, harmonically moaning, whirling plastic tube "instrument" seems to blend effortlessly with their soundscape.

The songs, however, are central to Elifantree's show. Words bubble from Egecioglu like a child's dreamtale, not always intelligible but fully charged with emotion. The experience is almost gestalt in its extremes of both power and delicacy, something of an aural hallucination. Despite this potential weirdness it seems to make sense, even if the audience under the photos of Parker, Monk and company looked pretty perplexed at times. But isn't this what one pays for in a jazz club— at least once in a while?

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