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Tampere Jazz Happening 2013

Tampere Jazz Happening 2013
John Ephland By

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Tampere Jazz Happening
Tampere, Finland
October 31-November 3, 2013

It all started with a whimper. Or, rather, a quiet, almost serene drum roll. You knew things were going to eventually explode, but, of course, the getting there was half the fun. The Danish drum duo Toto was working in tandem in what was to be the eventual drum suite of all sticks and no cymbals (apart from hi-hats). The main floor of the rustic, atmospheric, funky Klubi was full as were the outer layers of seats, with most fans standing, the two drummers in a kind of face-off, Tobias Kirstein and Toke Tietze evoking images of a Max Roach/Buddy Rich showdown. And with the occasional, sneaky insertion of electronics, this packed house responded to the occasional techno flourishes with smiles and not a little ass-wiggling.

These were the opening salvos to the 32nd annual Tampere Jazz Happening, presented by Copenhagen Jazz Festival and once again uniquely programmed by Artistic Director Juhamatti Kauppinen and impeccably organized by award-winning Executive Director Minnakaisa Kuivalainen.

Indeed, this drum piece was probably a typical tour de force, a kind of unleashed but modified Elvin Jones-type demonstration transmogrifying into a more Ginger Baker-type climax before settling into what became a kind of cadence, these two skin heads lowering the temperature ... only to stop.

Alternating between two conveniently located sites on either side of a pedestrian square—a square that also includes such landmarks as an "American Hotdog Stand" kiosk and a truly notable "Passion Bar" neon window sign for anyone more inclined to skip the music and get right down to business—this edition of the Happening continued its tradition of housing alternate and not necessarily opposing groups and styles. The venues, which also included more intimate Telakka, are a fascinating mix of old architecture and design, with lots of wood, and, in the case of Klubi, two stages, the larger of the two known as the Old Customs House Hall, built in 1901 (both old red brick buildings). Telakka, due to its cozier confines, most often resulted in shows there were all packed- house affairs that meant if you wanted a good seat or to even see the musicians performing, you were best to get there way ahead of schedule. A large video screen was installed upstairs to accommodate those who insisted on seeing what they were hearing but who were unfortunately unable to find a suitable resting place on the main floor. Of the two sites, Telakka's quarters, not to mention music, lent a kind of sporting event vibe to the proceedings.

As for the second of three Danish acts that first night (commencing on Halloween, for those interested in tricks and treats), songwriter Maria Laurette Friis offered a unique mix of vocals, electronics and overall mood- and scene-setting. Ethereal, dreamy and at times quite lyrical, Friis' chops-busting controlled explosions were a study in contrast. In this solo performance, her piano provided an elegance that in itself was a jarring, if subtle, contrast to the experimental bombast.

Girls in Airports closed out the first night presenting yet another Danish take on what it means to play "jazz," this quintet displaying their own sense and sensibilities of controlled explosions. Theirs, however, operated on a level that remained pretty much just below the boiling point. A sustained low-key romanticism spread over long pieces draped in delicate moods had some critics suggesting their usual pop sheen operated in the realms of lounge music. This writer heard something slightly more menacing even as it occasionally suggested sounds and grooves approaching a slightly surreal display of make-out music. The compelling, slight rhythmic shifts and low-moving pulses, combined with the minimalist sax musings from Martin Stender and Lars Greve (hints of Pharoah Sanders and Sam Rivers slipped in between the smooth phrases) and the electronic keyboard shadings from Mathias Holm Jørgensen presented a marvelous demonstration of group cohesion, the level of musical conversations intimate and remarkable, the group's sustained modulated energy a paradoxical display of soft music with an edge. Their encore, beginning with percussionist Victor Dybbroe's simple yet effective turn on wood blocks, set the stage for the group's most dynamic and robust grooves and "song" delivery. What was implicit with everything that came before was now made manifest, the music's otherwise introverted qualities realized in an extroverted less-than-controlled explosion. Throughout, the band's understated grooves comingled with a crowd that found not a few women swaying their hips, raising arms, dancing to and fro.

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