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Tampere Jazz Happening 2014

Henning Bolte By

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Tampere Jazz Happening
Tampere, Finland
October 30—November 2, 2014

On the way from the airport to the city of Tampere you pass by Nokia, situated fifteen kilometres west of Tampere, the Scandinavian city famous for its gumboots and cables, and famous for its mobile phones. For a while 'Nokia' was synonymous with mobile phone. When you arrive in Tampere you can immediately recognize the industrial character and history of the town. The Finnish territories were industrial late-bloomers but when the industrial revolution started, Tampere was at its centre. The city rapidly grew into a Finnish Manchester, hence its nickname Manse, and even now the term Manserock referring to the local style of rock music.

Tampere

Tampere is located between two lakes, Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi, differing in level by 18 meters. Tammerkoski, the rapids connecting them, have been an important power source throughout history and are currently used to generate electricity. Today the city has a population of 222,000, while the greater area is home to approximately 364,000 people. As a centre of heavy industrialization, technological development was accompanied by severe social struggle. The worker unions were strong here and in 1905 the Bolshevikhs even held a conference in Tampere's workers' house. In 1917, after the Russian October Revolution, Finland gained its independence as Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin had promised in 1905. In the same year Tampere was at the centre of a bloody Finnish civil war that left its traces in the town. The days of heavy industrialization have gone and a new phase of urbanization as in other parts of Europe has started. Part of that phase is the redefinition of buildings (and many institutions) of that era. In the industrial past, education and arts in Tampere were not only highly developed, but also had their very own character and profile compared to that of (the capital) Helsinki. Tampere has a more leftist, progressively forward pushing character and image. That also goes for music, theatre and other art forms.

Jazz Happening

The 33rd annual Tampere Jazz Happening played three venues: Telakka, a smaller workshop of an old shipbuilding company where the groups from Finland played their concerts, and two venues at the old Customs House with the Tullikamarin Pakkahuone, the big hall of the Customs House, and a smaller club section called Klubi. The festival offered 24 concerts within 4 days with groups from Norway and Sweden (6), Great Britain (3), the Netherlands (2), the US (3), India (1), Mali (1), and Finland (7).

Opening on the first festival night, Telakka presented an exhibition of photographs of Jan Granlie, former chief editor for Norwegian magazine Jazznytt. The exhibition's photographs were taken from Granlie's recent book "My Favourite Things—Jazz Photos 2004—2014." The photos not only present special, recognizable, and surprising views, but also tell a story for insiders as well as for curious visitors of a number of European festivals. The collection is likely to trigger a lot of smiles in the first group and wonder and questions in the second. Among the documented festivals are Bodø, Clusone, Hagenfesten, Jazzkar Tallinn, Kongsberg, Moers Festival, Molde, Nattjazz Bergen, Oslo, Stockholm, Polarjazz Svalbard, Punkt Festival, Umeå, and Vossa. Tampere is especially well-documented in its rich variety of music through the years.

A press conference was held prior to the full day programmes on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Festival press conferences can be pretty redundant and boring, but Tampere presented something that was worthwhile, quite informative, useful, and motivating. Japanese trumpeter Takuyo Kuroda from Brooklyn, the Finnish drummers Mikko Hassinen and Teppo Mäkynen, and two British artists, pianist Django Bates and dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, were interviewed in a way that gave them a good opportunity to tell something interesting about their work and their approach—an excellent preparation!

Thursday

The festival opened on Thursday night at the club (Klubi) of the old Customs House, with British band Partisans and Norwegian power band Elephant 9 with Swedish guitar man Reine Fiske. Partisans which is Phil Robson (g), Julian Siegel (reeds), Thaddeus Kelly (b) and Gene Calderazzo (dr) unbelievably have been playing for almost 20 years straight now and can be considered the instigators and motor of a new jazz era in Great Britain. The band works in a tight format of its own, having absorbed and redefined essential elements of electric jazz and rock idioms of its forerunners. Elephant 9 is a younger band tapping into the same vessel, but as a heavily sprawling jam band build around the organ of Ståle Storløkken. It was a well-chosen sequencing considering the audience was mainly made up of young people. Partisans, highly dynamic and stirring, led its audience along clear lines of demarcation and progression into the jam to come. Partisans familiarized them with its sharp and sparkling idiom. Elephant 9—with the heavy rhythm section formed by bassist Nikolai Eilertsen and drummer Torstein Lofthus—took some time to warm up before going into overdrive, sprawling and exploding. It was the tension built up from the high predictability and suspension the band was exploiting. It was utmost thrilling to experience how the band found its way to circumvent and suspend the moment of sheer explosion, again and again, and to see the band complete quite a wild ride with a long ending—even for this band's standards. Maybe it was the Tampere factor.

Friday

The second and third day had two slightly overlapping streams of concerts, one at the bigger hall of the old Customs House, and one at Telakka, a quiet, intimate space in an old shipbuilding workplace where all bands from Finland would be performing.

The Yrjö Award, presented by the Finnish Jazz Federation, is the most prestigious award in Finnish jazz music and the biggest acknowledgement a jazz musician can receive for his or her work in Finland. This year it was presented at Tampere Jazz Happening. It was awarded to drummer Markku Ounaskari. The ceremony was followed by a short concert by Ounaskari in duo with reedist Jone Takamäki.

The material Yrjö prize is a work of art, made by a local artist from the city where the Jazzpäivät takes place in that particular year—this year the sculpture "Kaksi vasenta kättä ja yksi oikea" ("Two left hands and one right") by Anssi Kasitonni: "A bad drummer has two left hands, an ok drummer has one left and one right hand, and an excellent drummer has two left hands and one right hand." The Varjo-Yrjö, a shadow Yrjö, granted by Finnish Broadcasting Company Yleisradio, was given to the Turku-based jazz society Flame Jazz association for uplifting the jazz culture in the city. Jussi Fredriksson received the decoration. In addition, the Jazz Federation presented the Andania Award for his jazz oeuvre to Juha Söder, former long-standing Chairman of the Federation, and a long-term powerhouse in Finnish jazz business and education.

Ubiquitous The Thing (Mats Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Paal Nilssen-Love)is presently one of the tightest groups, with the sharpest profile, and most distinctive identity in the European scene. Audiences know what to expect and can rely on it. A key characteristic of the group are its berserk sound storms that are based on a highly repetitive, nearly formulaic, and almost ritualistic approach, emerging from energy outbursts and wild rushes with the impetus and urge to break through sound barriers and reach some stronger or deeper reality. Operating along this line The Thing's opener Theme For Alfie had some great breaks and swirling pieces of rock. They went on in full blast, finishing with a stretched rendition of Don Cherry's "Golden Heart." Not only jazz has travelled long distances around the world, fusing into other cultures' music. So did the Vikings more than a thousand years ago. The Thing's Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, who comes from the nearby Swedish town of Umeå—as an introduction to its second piece "Walhalla in Mississippi"—alluded to both parties' possible meeting on the banks of the Mississippi river in Memphis, Tennessee. With well-played, weighty seriousness, Gustafsson fabulated about his distant ancestors in the Caribbean delta, referring to the recent "news" (World News Daily Report) on the unearthed remains of a Viking knarr boat in the Mississippi that suggests the Norse pushed their exploration of America a lot further than historians previously thought. A story told in typical mysterious and mystical jazz style. The Thing played a strong, pretty varied, and enjoyable set.

Young, Kobe born trumpeter Takuya Kuroda from New York created a contrast with his lighter approach of soul jazz based music. In recent years Kuroda has been involved in the band of successful singer José James and this year made a promising Blue Note debut himself with the album Rising Son, recorded with James' band of pianist Kris Bowers, bassist Solomon Dorsey, drummer Nate Smith, and outstanding, young trombonist Corey King. Tampere saw him with his touring band of Takeshi Ohbayashi on keyboards, Rashaan Carter on electric bass-guitar, Adam Jackson on drums, and trombonist Corey King from the original line-up of the recording. The album's sound with its spacy, elastically rebounding hip hop beats, undercurrent murmuring bass lines, and two warm, brilliant horns with an interplay of catchy melodies were anything but equalled during the live setting. The horns did their great work, but were impeded rather than carried and propelled by the rhythm section with a sound too thick, having a grinding effect on the music.

From an European point of view, the Indian subcontinent, with its highly developed musical tradition, lies between Kobe in Japan, and Brooklyn in North America. The Indian tradition was made accessible and highly enjoyable in Tampere by great master musician Zakir Hussain, joined by his colourful troupe of two-sided stick drums (Deepak Bhatt, Vijay S. Chavan), frame-drum (Abbos Kosimov), sarangi string instrument (Sabir Khan), and bansuri bamboo flute (Rakesh Chaurasia, nephew of the famous Hariprasad Chaurasia). Zakir Hussain's deeply rooted, multi-stylistic versatility enables him to take various audiences on a journey spiced with playful allusions to their own musical habits. In Tampere he thereby not only bridged differing cultures of listening and experiencing sounds, but also got his audience deeper into the circles of Indian music, which resulted in a magical and musical celebration full of joy and light.

Finnish performances at Telakka

The festival had two nights with Finnish acts at Telakka. The first night: a percussion trio called Kallio Slaaki, a quintet lead by bassist Jori Huhtala, and an almost exotic octet of remarkable drummer Teppo Mäkynen, called Teddy's West Coasters. Telakka is a quiet, intimate place with a wooden interior, long tables, and an almost domestic, relaxed atmosphere. It was packed both evenings with an expectant audience in a good mood.

Kallio Slaaki is a threesome of top-class Finnish drummers, filling the stage with their three drum sets, and an assortment of percussion instruments. Last year, Mika Kallio, Mikko Hassinen, and Anssi Nykänen released their debut album, Polymania for Percussion (Fiasko Records, 2013) on vinyl. Visually and sonically the performance resembled some zealously tinkering mine-workers in their subterranean small work space. They were conjuring some dwarfish magic by producing a lot of good sounds full of appealing coherences but did not turn it all convincingly into a captivating narrative.
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