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Tampere Jazz Happening 2014

Henning Bolte By

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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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