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Tampere Jazz Happening 2014

Henning Bolte By

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Guitarist Bill Frisell played a lot of programs through the years and presented a brand new one, Guitar In The Space Age, at Tampere. This time it is not music influenced by or music for, but a revaluation or even celebration of the originals themselves. It is in fact a guitar duo program with Greg Leisz, the high calibre rhythm section of Tony Scherr on bass guitar, and Kenny Wollesen on drums. They play classics like "Turn, Turn, Turn," "Surfer Girl," "Rebel Rouser," "Reflections from the Moon" and also Ray Davis' "Tired Of Waiting For You," classics that ignited and influenced every youngster of that time who picked up a guitar to conquer the world with the new space ship sounds paradigmatically laid down in the piece "Telstar." "Telstar," written and produced in England by Joe Meek and performed by The Tornados, became a number one hit in Great Britain and the US in 1962. Frisell was 11 years old then. Telstar featured a Clavioline, a keyboard instrument with a distinctive electronic sound. The story of Joe Meek and his sound engineering is an interesting chapter of music culture as such.

Frisell presented no nostalgia show. He rendered the richly undulating sounds with his frolic smile, visible enjoyment, and mild understatement. As usual, Frisell did not load it semantically or symbolically. It was honest and almost like a good concert of classical repertoire. He presented it as a gift of pure music, music from the past he can strongly relate to. The reception was a bit mixed, maybe also depending on age, not really controversial but differing in degrees of interest and pleasure. It would be interesting to know how next generations will look back on the internet era 30 years from now.

Tampere Jazz Happening added a special touch to its programming by inviting legendary dub-poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and his equally legendary collaborator, the Dennis Bovell Dub Band. LKJ's poetry involves the recitation of his own verse in Jamaican Patois over dub-reggae, usually written in collaboration with renowned British reggae producer/artist Dennis Bovell. LKJ not only expresses his experiences as a British citizen of Jamaican descend. His poetry-music also formulates and fosters identity, alertness, and defense in a social-political perspective: 'all oppreshan can do is bring/ pashan to di heights of erupshan/ an songs af fire we will sing/ ... sen fi di riot squad quick/ cause wi runnin wile/ wi bittah like bile' (from "All Wi Doin is Defendin"). It is 'functional' music and verse of significance still grounded in and directly connected to everyday life of a social and ethnic group—a connection that is absent in greater parts of present popular music as well as in radical attitudes and approaches in music. Also in this festival environment the performance of both the band and LKJ had a differing cutting edge, serving as an important counter to mainstream media. The music felt independent and was gripping, the words sharply stating. LKF toasted with a calm, stoic, steadfast and incisive voice that cannot easily be removed, redirected or silenced—an impressive performance.

Sunday

The last day had four heavy bands: the big ensemble of Finnish saxophonist Mikko Innanen, a Dutch-American double duo or quartet, the all American E-collective of Trumpeter Terence Blanchard and Norwegian-Bulgarian Balkan bunch of Farmers Market.

For those not so familiar with the Finnish scene, the appearance of sax man Mikko Innanen's 10+ ensemble was nothing less than a revelation. The orchestra he gathered with a doubling of all instruments (plus himself as saxophonist) included twelve musicians from among the best of the Finnish jazz scene, offering a broad stylistic range and an energetic dynamism full of quick and surprising turns: saxophonists Mikko Innanen, Jussi Kannaste and Pauli Lyytinen, trumpeters Jukka Eskola and Verneri Pohjola, trombonists Jari Hongisto and Juho Viljanen, pianist Seppo Kantonen, bassists Ville Herrala and Eero Tikkanen, and the two drummers Joonas Riippa and Mika Kallio. Mikko Innanen (1978) is one of Finland's most active, versatile, and prolific musicians. He was listed as a 'Rising Star' in the baritone saxophone category in this year's Down Beat poll. Musically Innanen feels at home and is experienced in a great variety of styles and approaches.

The ensemble rendered a perplexing, gorgeous variety of 8 pieces, starting well-mannered and orderly while introducing its great sound, and finishing with a wild, relentless oompah ride dedicated to Vattenfall, one of Europe's major electricity generators and largest producer of heat. In between beautiful Ellingtonian glows, Harry Carney-like excursions, Out of The Cool suspense, a dark and frightening funeral march, all with mighty soloing and a piano escapade boldly rushing through all desirable style areas with joyful ease. The ensemble could not only compete with the ICP orchestra that performed the day before, but was also a serious match for younger, larger top-class ensembles in Europe.

Tampere even dared to program a unit unknown until then: the world premiere of Perch Hen Brock & Rain, a quartet formed by two highly profiled duos: reed player Ab Baars and viola player Ig Henneman from Amsterdam, and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock together with drummer Tom Rainey from New York. It resulted in a richly instrumented line-up with clarinet, shakuhachi, tenor and soprano saxophone, viola, and drums. Without a doubt a promising potential to look forward to. Doubling the way of playing of one duo would not make so much sense and would not work (out) productively. These four musicians had to find a way to relate to each other by playing in a way that gave birth to something new. Ab Baars, who frequently had an initiating role, exposed his 'abs,' producing sounds as entities in their own right, in a space within a space. These sounds were distinct and pure gestalts, demanding nothing but challenging plenty. The audience was treated to a lot of mutual mirroring, sound expansion and layering, confluence, (de)cresecendos—an intricate game with its very own poetics, augmented by some Messiaen traces. This modus operandi culminated in the last piece with shakuhachi, tenor sax, viola, and drums. Announced as "we will play a little something," it lead into a sensitive, miraculous murmuring. A captivating start in Suomi.

It couldn't have formed a bigger contrast with the subsequent E-Collective of trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Blanchard is a highly skilled, virtuosic musician and merited composer. His E-collective gathered a group of known talented, young musicians like pianist Fabian Almazan and guitarist Charles Altura. Unfortunately, Almazan's keyboard too often had a tinny sound and Donald Ramsey's cheap sound on the bass guitar, together with Oscar Seaton's bass drum, had the same grinding effect on the music as described for Takuya Kuroda's band. And this was no intended trashy sound or old fusion sound recycling. Altura's soloing in this sound bed lasted far too long which altogether had a dulling effect. No doubt there was musical substance, but it was drowned and spoiled by an unattractively reverberating sound.

Conclusion

Two concerts at Klubi were attended but not reviewed: the night concert of the group Tamikrest from Mali on Friday and the—hilarious and powerful as ever—closing concert of Stian Carstensen's Norwegian-Bulgarian bunch of Farmers Market.

The programming showed well-spread and balanced variety and variation, was a good European representation, and offered some good insights into the characteristics, mentalities, and dynamics of the Finnish scene. The festival schedule and time were convenient, compact and audience-friendly. The stage changes and reorganisation in-between the acts were amazingly effective and smooth and the number of concerts and short distance to/between the venues made the experience clear and doable. The festival's organisation owes a remarkable combination of pro-and reactive capability, effectiveness and relaxed caretaking. Their hospitality was extraordinarily kind, attentive, generous and caring.

Telakka is a wonderful place, but it's a bit difficult to really get 'inside' and share the atmosphere with the Finnish audience celebrating their musicians and groups, when commuting between the Old Custom House opposite and Telakka. Maybe this needs some (more) 'hyvää' practice.
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