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Kalle Kalima and his Dance Suite for Domesticated Animals, Helsinki

Anthony Shaw By

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UMO Jazz Orchestra and Kalle Kalima
Korjaamo, Helsinki
September 25, 2009

When a guitarist attempts to compose for big band, there's an expectation of strong rhythmic motifs, but when the musician concerned is as suffused in contemporary idioms as is Kalle Kalima one gets much more. The big band in question is Finland's best (and only fulltime) brass ensemble in the country, the UMO Jazz Orchestra of Helsinki playing here under Kari Heinilä.


The setting for the show was instrumental in as much as it is the latest and largest multiple art center in the country's capital, hosting experimental theater, installations, rock concerts and more in the converted tram workshops, still sharing its premises with the current maintenance sheds for the city's rolling stock. Kalima himself seems equally at home sharing the stage with a big band as with smaller operational units, like the one with which he won the New German Jazz Award in 2008—Klima Kalima. In his work with this and his other smaller outfits, Kalima has earned something of a contrasting reputation for the darkness of his compositions combined with a lightness of touch and intention.


In this concert with extended accompanists, Kalima was obliged to pull out all the stops of his extensive contemporary electric technique, and used the occasion to delve into the nether world of a modern brass ensemble's soundscape. This included vocalizations among varying sections of the orchestra, occasional blowing and sucking on or around their instruments, as well as playing to the full range of the players' repertoire. Hence the excitement of listening to a seasoned selection of the country's best modern instrumentalists playing at the height of their own abilities was matched by the replete spectrum of sounds of an experimental guitarist whose own palette is in no way confined by technique. Kalima's sound is essentially delicate, often almost acoustic in the vicinity of Derek Bailey or maybe Bill Frisell, with an emphasis on phrasing and melody rather than timbre or volume. This enables the soloist to surprise the audience with his occasional sorties into the coarser regions of the instrument, which a more acerbic player like Frenchman Marc Ducret tends to miss.


Kalima's six pieces were collectively entitled Dance Suite for Domestic Animals, being part of a wider series of music at the art's center under the title Party in Art And Art in Party. Taking a near traumatic personal experience with farmyard creatures as his initial inspiration, Kalima's titles bear witness to his approach to the construction of the whole piece. Opening with "Mad Cow Limbo," then "Red Bull Tango" and concluding the first half with "Chicken Vindaloo," the music offered ample room for rigorous workouts by band soloists on alto-sax, clarinet, trumpet and tenor sax. The last section also included an extended contribution on tablas and congas from veteran percussionist Mongo Aaltonen, whose work has enlivened many local jazz and rock recordings over the years. Driving the rhythms in an Easterly direction brought yet another dimension to this thoroughly European musical event.



The concluding section included "Stock Market Crash on the Planet Boo Boo," "Eternal Unification of Two Guitar Cables," and "XL Swing with Fries." Here again were solid rhythms, glimpses of melody and in the second piece a hypnotic tranquility built between Kalima's guitar solo and band drummer Markus Ketola, underlining the value of sparseness among large agglomeration of musicians. Kalima reveals that he has absorbed a wealth of influences over his 35 years, citing particularly Frank Zappa, Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Mingus and Ligeti, not to mention his former local mentors and composers, bassist Teppo Hauta-Aho and guitarist Raoul Björkenheim. With a palette encompassing such variety it is truly inspiring to listen to a musician who has expanded his own resources into a composer's ample toolkit, and yet still retains his individual touch and style. Keep it up Kalle!


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