November 1, 2003
When new elements are injected into their environment, improvising groups can take one of two approaches: let the newcomer adapt to their style, creating creative tension, or adapt to the newcomer’s style, thereby changing their whole sound. The three members of the Finnish trio Gnomus-keyboardist Kari Ikonen, guitarist Esa Onttonen and drummer Mika Kallio-all have their individual voices in their own projects, but as Gnomus they let other underused aspects of their musical personalities come forward, and in the process create a whole new voice. It doesn’t surprise then when they add guest organist Jukka Gustavsson, they allow another new voice to emerge, one tinged with humor and not a little bizarreness.
The Tampere Jazz Happening allows space for such meetings by having an audience who comes wanting to be surprised and challenged. The four meet in the restaurant Telakka, a space for sideshows apart from the main festival venue, and create an odd mix of ambient atmosphere, progressive rock, spoken word performance and free jazz adventure.
Gustavsson was a member of the almost-legendary 70s Finnish prog rock group Wigwam. Their star never ascended, but Gustavsson has built a respected reputation nonetheless. It is his personality that dominates the evening.
After a 15-minute opening improvisation by the trio that features Kallio’s lightly pulsing ride cymbal work, space-rock guitar flourishes from Onttonen, Ikonen’s synthesizer colors and a bizarre taped vocal collage of someone imitating Russian, Gustavsson enters and receives a warm welcome from the sold-out crowd.
His warm Hammond explorations push the group to open up into a long, expansive jam and lets Onttonen unwind a solo that moves in measured, deliberate steps. Soon Gustavsson takes the focus again with a poetical rant,
This live voice element pushes Gnomus in a new direction, for later they create the background to Gustavsson’s comical treatise on how an artist develops. For their closer, Gustavsson suggests the rhythmic pulse of the group by rapidly repeating the phrase “Kuka sanoo mitä? (Who says what?)” in hushed and hurried tones. Kallio takes his cue and launches into an undersated, brushed swing on the snare, eventually developing into a dialogue with the organ. Ikonen adds his own voice samples while Onttonen makes room for some subtle, almost-bluesy guitar licks.
This is not deadly serious music that weighs you down. Its let’s-start-here-and-see-what-happens attitude makes for a fun, lightening atmosphere. Gnomus could definitely create some ear-splitting sonic freak-outs, but that would be too predictable. They explore other moods, and their collaboration with Gustavsson shows just how ready they are, like any great improvisers, to let the moment move them.
Complete coverage of the 2003 Tampere Jazz Festival...
Tampere Jazz Happening: Speaking a Universal Language
Wibutee in Tampere: Club Music and Jazz Collide
Erik Truffaz in Tampere: Fusion for the 21st Century
The Bad Plus in Tampere: Cinematic Trio Images
The Electrics in Tampere: All-Acoustic Electricity
Kornstad Trio in Tampere: Improvisation as Negotiation
Scorch Trio in Tampere: If Hendrix and Coltrane had a Love Child...
Uri Caine's Bedrock 3 in Tampere: Too Many DJs
Gnomus & Jukka Gustavsson in Tampere: The Wit of the Improviser
William Parker's Healing Song in Tampere
Samuli Mikkonen in Tampere: Composed Moods and Spontaneous Energy
Louis Sclavis in Tampre: Memories of a Naples that Never Was