Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for readers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

2

We Jazz: Moveable Feast Fest Theory

We Jazz: Moveable Feast Fest Theory
Josef Woodard By

Sign in to view read count
We Jazz, which also runs a young record label, is lean, mean, risk-embracing and ambitious, a fine role model for how a jazz festival can operate.
We Jazz Festival
Helsinki, Finland
December 3-10, 2017

Although Finland has long had a vibrant jazz life, both in terms of its musician population and support for music coming from America, Europe and beyond, there has been a curious lapse in terms of festival representation in the central city of Helsinki. The now 37-year-old Tampere Jazz Happening (in Tampere, Finland's second largest city) has earned bragging rights as Finland's grandest and most adventurous jazz fest, and the summertime Pori Jazz Festival has a more commercialized, party-time reputation. April Jazz, in Helsinki-adjacent Espoo, is more mainstream jazz affair. But Helsinki, home to many of the country's finest jazz musicians and the Sibelius Academy among other cultural landmarks and national highlights, has long been in wont of a jazz festival to call its own. Until recently, that is.

Enter We Jazz, still young but fast gaining its footing and ever-widening reputation. Celebrating its 5th year—generally, the first milestone achievement in the young life of a festival—We Jazz, founded and run by Matti Nives, is at this point a fairly modest but increasingly respected endeavor with some big ideas up its sleeve. One of the seminal ideas was to schedule a fest in an "off-season" jazz calendar margin, in mid-December, after the major fall festivals in Europe and before the holidays and the doldrums of January.

Most daringly, and as an indicator of a new breed of festival culture, which takes up the moveable feast model of how a festival can operate, with an ever-shifting array of venues for each of its shows. During my visit, over five days in December, the itinerary led me and comrades all over the city (a smallish, doable and uniquely, eccentrically charming city), from hotel rooms to vintage moviehouses, coffee houses, a gallery, a sprawling industrial area space normally a techno club (the Saturday night mini-festival-within-a-festival) and a former tram repair yard transformed into a cultural center. To say the constantly GPS shifting experience was dizzying, and refreshing, would be an understatement.

Fittingly, my own return visit to Helsinki opened with a walk to the waterfront on December 2, where a fireworks show lit up the sky over the harbor and near the Presidential Palace, as a highly public culmination of Finland's 100th Independence Day. The familiar strains of Jean Sibelius' "Finlandia," widely considered to be Finland's de facto anthem (despite the existence of an actual anthem) boomed out over the massed crowd, tellingly: this highly cultured, northern outpost of a nation holds as one of its national heroes Sibelius, its best-known composer.

For my first official festival encounter, We Jazz set up shop in two small meeting rooms at the Hotel Fabian, a first-time venue in the ever-expanding room roster of this restlessly mobile fest. Straight ahead guitar trio artistry of a surprisingly strong sort embraced the packed, small room courtesy of Milo & Moses, led by fluidly accomplished clean-toned guitarist Milo Mäkelä and drummer Moses Kuloniemi—both 15 years old, and going places.

Coming more from a contemporary and multi-idiomatic "new thing" perspective, the female group known as Signe presented what was, to these ears, one of the more exciting sets of the festival—and without resorting to obvious excitation or intensity agents. These tautly-connected quartet of vocalists—one being bassist-vocalist Kaisa Mäensivu, who has been studying in the U.S. recently—conjured up a compelling and malleable ensemble identity, moving between folk music links to classical and jazz sonorities, and more experimental touches. The sum effect was quite stunning, and ear/mind-opening.

A late Friday afternoon set in the cozy Coffee Bar Sävy showcased the engaging, drummer-led Jaska Lukkarinen Trio. The band featured the very busy, very flexible and project-hopping bassist Antti Lötjönen, and the hot, smart and versatile tenor saxophonist Jussi Kannaset, who, in his "day job" role as head of the Sibelius Academy's jazz department, led on a tour of the academy's expansive new building earlier in the day. Kannaset also later played, in electro-acoustic mode, with drummer Teppo Mäkynen's evocative 3TM).

A strange convergence of cultural reference took place as we moved to the second venue, the Dubrovnik Lounge and Lobby, in a large, deliciously kitschy compound owned by the famed, quirky Finnish cinema legends—and, indeed, living national heroes —the brothers Aki and Mikel Kaurismaki (with a filmography including Leningrad Cowboys, Matchstick Girl, The Man Without a Past and the brilliant new Aki-directed The Other Side of Hope). A combination pool hall and tiki bar upstairs and Dubrovnik nightclub and Andorra movie theater downstairs conspire to create a major hang zone one can sink into for hours at a time, with Kaurismaki-esque ambience by the gallon.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Jazztopad 2017: Concerts In Living Rooms Live Reviews Jazztopad 2017: Concerts In Living Rooms
by Martin Longley
Published: January 17, 2018
Read Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC Winter Jazzfest Live Reviews Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: January 15, 2018
Read Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano Live Reviews Carl Bartlett, Jr. at Jazz At Kitano
by Keith Henry Brown
Published: January 13, 2018
Read Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café Live Reviews Kurt Rosenwinkel at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: January 2, 2018
Read Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook Live Reviews Terence Blanchard at Christ Church Cranbrook
by Troy Dostert
Published: December 29, 2017
Read "Robinson Morse's Sound of Mind Featuring Peter Apfelbaum at FlynnSpace" Live Reviews Robinson Morse's Sound of Mind Featuring Peter...
by Doug Collette
Published: December 23, 2017
Read "Diane Schuur at Birdland" Live Reviews Diane Schuur at Birdland
by Tyran Grillo
Published: November 20, 2017
Read "Gabrielle Stravelli at The 75 Club" Live Reviews Gabrielle Stravelli at The 75 Club
by Tyran Grillo
Published: December 21, 2017
Read "Boston Roundup: Larry Carlton, Brit Floyd, and Doyle Bramhall" Live Reviews Boston Roundup: Larry Carlton, Brit Floyd, and Doyle...
by Dave Dorkin
Published: December 20, 2017
Read "Christian McBride and Tip City at Village Vanguard" Live Reviews Christian McBride and Tip City at Village Vanguard
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: December 5, 2017
Read "Jazzkaar 2017" Live Reviews Jazzkaar 2017
by Martin Longley
Published: May 29, 2017