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Tampere Jazz Happening 2013

John Ephland By

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Saxophonist Mikko Innanen returned the following day in the first of a series of weekend afternoon sets at the Old Customs House Hall. It was 14:00 and time for drummer Stefan Pasborg's Danish/Finnish/Lithunaian quartet and their "Free Moby Dick" project. Amiably emceed by Pasborg announcing the program from behind his drum set, the loose-limbed and rambunctious drummer steered his group through a mix of reinvented rock numbers, all of them familiar no doubt to some adherents of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and the like. Beginning with what felt like a revisitation of Ginger Baker's "Dada Man," the heavy- handed double-sax frontline (which also featured tenor saxophonist Liudas Mockunas alongside Innanen playing baritone) played it straight, except when they weren't. Indeed, it was Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," along with "covers" that also included Wolfmother's "New Moon Rising" and the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" in this novel approach to both jazz and rock. Pasborg's big-band-like drumming spearheaded everything in a set that included spooky, spacey horn playing, shimmering cymbal work, floating unison lines, rolling beats, the teasing out of melodies with the occasional slowly building explosion. King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" was played close to the vest when it wasn't alloyed with some ferocious free playing from Mockunas, the band returning to the theme only to end gently. Not necessarily good enough to make you want to ditch the originals, "Free Moby Dick"'s journey into the past was yet another curiosity and unlike anything else heard in Tampere.

In what was the strongest day of music at this year's TJH, the temperatures continued to rise on this third day with one of the true highlights of the festival. The Swedish/Austrian quintet Swedish Azz, like the "Free Moby Dick" band, could be considered a repertory band. In this case, however, Swedish Azz is no newbie to this concept, the boys having been at reinventing Swedish 1950s and 1960s jazz compositions to the point of abstraction over and over again, often with hilarious results. Doubling on electronics, Mats Gustafsson curbed his robust baritone horn time and again only to proceed to act as a kind of backup man for vibes player Kjell Nordeson, tubaist Per-Ake Holmlander (himself doubling on cimbasso—a valve trombone with extended, vertical open horn), Gustafsson's electronics an oh-so-subtle complement to the electronics of turntablist/electronics man Dieb 13. Drummer Erik Carlsson threatened to undermine Gustafsson's affable physical stage presence from the rear with arm movements and crazed facial expressions that suggested a madman of sorts.

It all started with Carlsson's Elvin Jones-like robo drumming: loose, frenetic but uncannily still at times. The tuneful head carried no recognizable pulse, the first song brief, but allowing for Gustafsson's unique brand of choreography on baritone to help get things pumping. Introducing (and discussing) the series of Swedish songs that followed, Mats referred to the program as consisting of "forgotten and not so forgotten Swedish jazz" (hence, the sheet music?!), Gustafsson grimacing as he went on bended knee blowing and as he genuflected to his electronic platform. Lars Gullin's "Fedja" was then followed by a medley of sorts that included something with the title approximating "Adagio Con Espressione." The music, played at a slow gait and once again tuneful, featured Carlsson playing brushes in what became a gentle tuba feature for Holmlander, Carlsson's light touch on drums using a bow across everything from cymbals to bells serving as a kind of baton. Swedish Azz continued this combination of entertainment and inspired free playing using such device as swinging unison lines (with much playfulness), Nordeson's alternating two- and four-mallet playing, some rapid-fire, up-tempo swing with tuba basslines, and periodic explosions followed by relative calm. Gustafsson's animated self ever the congenial host continued to introduce other Swedish delights from Lars Farnlof, Jan Johansson, Lars Werner and Bo Nilsson, topping everything off with the traditional folk melody "Visa Fran Utanmyra." A royal treat to these virgin Yankee ears (and eyes).

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