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Tampere Jazz Happening 2010: Day 1, November 4, 2010

John Kelman By

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While it's a four-day festival, the first day was a relatively low-key affair, opening with a screening of Wonderland—a film collaboration between director Nicholas Humbert and video artist Martin Otter—at one of the festival's three venues, Klubi. Humbert is, perhaps, best known for his 1990 film, Step Across the Border, a documentary featuring guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Fred Frith and focusing on the New York avant-garde scene of the 1990s. Wonderland imagery was in stark black and white, with two square images side-by-side that sometimes flowed between one another, but more often remained distinct and separate, connected in only the most impressionistic of fashions.

Impressionism was, in fact, the driving concept behind the film, which also featured the music of Das Kapital, a group whose best-known member is guitarist Hasse Poulsen, also a member of French reed man Louis Sclavis' Napoli's Wall (ECM, 2003) project, seen in performance at the Canadian Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville, in 2004. The music ranged from edgily grooved to abstractly free, though its connection with the imagery varied from successful to questionable. The success of the film was also, however, affected by the venue in which it was screened. A busy club, there was a lot of noise from people elsewhere in the club—eating, drinking and, most significantly, talking—that made it difficult to become completely absorbed in the film, so it's not entirely certain if the problem was with the film or the venue.

From left: Simo Laihonen and Kusti Vuorinen, of Tampo
After a short break, the festival's opening night featured two young groups from the area. Both were heavily based on groove, but the first act, Tampo, was more successful, marrying aspects of Finnish folk tradition with rock, reggae and even lounge grooves. Opening as a duo featuring accordionist Kust Vuorinen on pocket trumpet, and drummer Simo Laihonen on wooden flute—dressed in long white robes with hoods or turbans—it was, perhaps, an odd way to introduce its set, if only because it was so different from the rest of the music that followed. According to Laihonen, after the set, the group normally wears wooden masks sculpted by Vuorinen, rendered impossible by the decision to start with the horn/duo. Its serene, interactive and hauntingly beautiful ambience contrasted with the entry of the rest of the group.

With Vuorinen switching to accordion, the music turned to more hypnotic dance music, driven by Laihonen, percussionist Janne Moilanen and bassist Nuuta Vapaavuori's unshakable grooves. Electric guitarist Pentti Dassum, who also played keyboard and electronic percussion, channeled a mix of Jimi Sumen and Raoul Björkenheim ,with more than a hint of noise improve at times, creating curiously paradoxical music in its blending of various styles and musical parameters. With one album to date—the self-titled, 2009 Helmi Levyt debut—Tampo is a group that, at this point, possesses more promise than delivery, but time will tell if it has what it takes to evolve into a group with a more singular voice.

The Irrationals

The Irrationals closed out the evening with a more energetic set that combined Balkan dance music with gangsta attitude, courtesy of singer Tyko Haapala. Led by saxophonist Antti Hynninen, who will be appearing on Sunday with the Ricky-Ticki Big Band, and driven hard by drummer J Salonen and bassist Pekka Rajamäki, the group's harder-edged rock textures came courtesy of guitarist Janne Kasurienen and keyboardist Totte Rautianeri, but it was Hynninen's muscular saxophone work that gave the group its distinction. The group went over well with the predominantly young, party crowd, but was ultimately more entertaining than compelling.

As a precursor of things to come, it was something of a curious opening night, but with the second day packed with a combination of Finnish acts like Markus Holkko Quartet and André Sumelius Quartet at Telekka, and Jazzmob and American artists James Carter and John Medeski's Heaven on Earth at Pakkahuone, Tampere Jazz Happening is clearly about to kick into high gear.

Visit Tampo, The Irrationals and Tampere Jazz Happening on the web.

Photo Credits

All Photos: John Kelman

Day 1 | Day 2 | Days 3-4

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