April 27, 2011
The first official evening of the annual spring festival in this distinctly first-rate suburb of Helsinki featured the principal imported star Bobby McFerrin
and his VOCAbuLarieS show in the tented arena, while in the formal Tapiola Cultural Center, Piirpauke's much rougher concoction of global music was on display. Piirpauke is renowned, at least in Scandinavia, for having pioneered the integration of non-European musical traditions into a thoroughly western art form, although this has reflected the vision of one manthe founding member Sakari Kukko
. But since the start in 1974, the band has featured a constantly evolving roll call of foreign artists alongside top Finnish musicians, drawn from the whole spectrum of contemporary music.
Throughout its lifetime the band has followed Kukko's own evolving interests, which started with roots firmly in the Finnish 1970s progressive rock of Wigwam and Tasavallan Presidentti (via guitarists Pekka Reckhardt and Jukka Tolonen
respectively). From the original West African influence, Kukko has moved around the globe, physically and artistically, but always maintained a strong base in Finnish folk sounds. While local musicians came and went, the basic lineup has now coalesced around Kukko and Senegalese percussionist and singer Ismaila Sane, who has been with the band since the early 1990s. Success in the world music charts has come with the album Koli
(Rockadillo, 2010) which was a venture into territory both old and new at the same timewith more tracks penned by acclaimed Finnish composer Jean Sibelius than any band member, while at the same time embracing a more rhythmic, guitar-fed sound typical of its earliest years.
The evening's concert featured many pieces from this and a forthcoming album and, in keeping with this latest style, featured Finnish-penned pieces above others (Toivo Kuula and Konsta Jylhä included). The major exceptions were two pieces based on "The Nutcracker" theme created by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovski, but given a Senegalese-style Piirpauke treatment! The band playing in Tapiola Cultural Center reflected the stronger rhythmic sound of the last album featuring former Trio Tökeät musicians Erik Siikasaari on bass, Rami Eskelinen on drums, and contemporary nu-jazzer Kalevi Louhivuori on trumpet, but with one important exception: on that disc Kukko had used former punk guitarist Jukka Orma (ex-Sielun Veljet), but in keeping with the return to the band's original youthful style, Nicolas Rehn was the evening's featured guitarist. An up-and-coming local musician in his own right, Rehn added a delicate afro-eco flavor with his lightly processed guitar and very percussive, rapid strums, as well as his flowing new-age dreadlocks.
While catering adroitly to his audience's national preferences in selecting Sibelius' pieces "Romanssi" and "Ainola," Kukko's approach was in keeping with his original intentions: mixing contrasting styles and techniques and reaping the benefits resulting from the combustion. While on record these can sound rather formulaic, live they offer a heady catharsis of sound and color. Jarkko Lievinen's scintillating backdrop projections no doubt boosted this kaleidoscopic effect, but all credit is due to Kukko for carrying the flame of global jazz for so long, and on this evening, for working the collective groove so well that he nearly set alight the sedate wood-paneled environment of Espoo's elegant Cultural Center.