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 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!


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.


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.
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