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Tampere Jazz Happening 2018: Warmth for winter

Mike Collins By

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Tampere Jazz Happening
Tampere, Finland
November 1-4, 2018

In Finland, as winter begins and the clocks change, the city of Tampere, a couple hours north of Helsinki, hosts its International Jazz Happening over a long weekend. The world comes to Tampere, and Finnish jazz gets to showcase its place and connections to the world. It's a tried and tested formula, this was the 37th edition

Proceedings began in the main hall of the Old Customs House on Friday night by celebrating Finnish jazz, with the presentation of the Yrjö award, Finnish jazz's highest accolade, this year to drummer Jussi Lehtonen. His quartet launched the festival programme with impeccable, driving post-bop; a blistering modal workout and then showing their range with an affecting lilting ballad, "Lullaby."

The main programme continued with restless spirit, veteran French bassist Henri Texier, and his latest project Sand Quintet, playing a set of originals drawn from across his near 50 year playing career. Old favourite, the North African flavoured theme of "Les Là-Bas," launched racing swing and dynamic soloing. On "Sand Women," the front line of Sebastien Texier and Vincent Lê Quang unfurled a chanting motific theme over the leader's pulsing bass and Gautier Garrigue's skittering drums. "Pale Green Man" was a throbbing rocky blues. Texier's energy and drive seemed to make this set burst with life.

Then Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim cast a spell playing music from his ECM release Helsinki Songs. It was meditative music, with constantly shifting moods. A languid statement of a hymn like theme, Kristjan Randalu's piano skittering around it, gave way to an urgent pulse and built to to an intense climax, driven by Markku Ounaskari's drums. "Sol's Song" was an affecting, country tinged melody. A singing, melodic bass solo from Mats Eilertsen emphasized how much each member of this band brought. This set glowed warmly in the memory throughout the weekend.

Josef Leimberg's band took the atmosphere into different territory, heavy beats and broken, stuttering bass brought the vibe of urban America and were a platform for incendiary soloing from Leimberg and reeds-man Tracy Wannomae. The beats continued after hours as the action transferred to the stage in Klubi, another bar in the same building. Starting in the early hours, Ghost Note, the brain child of Snarky Puppy alumni, drummer Robert Searight and percussionist Nate Werth, they delivered a blistering set. They seem to have taken Snarky Puppy's DNA and pumped it up, creating an explosive and wildly entertaining set.

It's hard to imagine a bigger contrast between the the tightly coiled funk grooves of that late Friday night show, and the spontaneous sound of Net of Indra, Saturday's first band back in the main hall in the afternoon, a quartet assembled by Finnish drummer Olavi Louhivuori , bringing together greats of European and world jazz; sax man Junhani Aaltonen, bass legend Palle Danielsson and trumpeter Eivind Lønning. Melodic scripts bound together episodes of free, spiraling exchanges and intense scrabbling crescendos. Lament like themes were stretched over bubbling and tumbling accompaniment. It was a high-wire act executed effortlessly.

The Happening's programme is as wide ranging stylistically as the membership of ensembles is diverse. Kaja Draksler's Octet were up next drawing its personnel from seven countries across Europe and blending voices, strings and reeds with the leader's piano and compositional invention. She drew on classical, opera, free improvisation, traditional music and more to create settings of the poems of Robert Frost. Wordless vocals and atmospherics from strings coalesced around tone-poem lines; ghostly lyrics rose through the mix; a burst of Handel erupted through the swirl of group improvisation. It was a remarkable set, creating an enchanted soundscape that lured the listener in. ¿Que Vola? followed, with a rhythm heavy set, a battery of Cuban drummers pitted against dark, intense horns led by French trombonist Fidel Fourneyron.

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