Lue Wif Stengerin arvio Jazz Journalissa kokonaisuudessaan täältä:
ja Jazzwisen Kevin Le Gendren festivaalikokemus täältä:
Kuva: Maarit Kytöharju / We Jazz 2013, Kahden Miehen Galaksi
Review: We Jazz, Helsinki
Wif Stenger experiences the first ever We Jazz Festival in Helsinki, featuring a colourful array of sounds and venues with an emphasis on the visual A lively jazz scene has blossomed in Helsinki in the past decade – yet it has lacked a proper festival beyond the small, all-domestic Viapori island series and April Jazz in nearby Espoo.
The We Jazz series (9-14 December), curated by DJ/journalist Matti Nives, offered a strong visual element, starting with exhibitions of cover art, paintings, photos and films. These included a rarely seen 1971 ECM documentary featuring Wadada Leo Smith, See The Music – which could have been a motto for the festival. Drummer Teppo Mäkynen’s trio performed playful “3D loft sets” surrounded by 360-degree projections of animated films and a bemused, bespectacled audience. At the other extreme were two sold-out sets played in complete darkness by saxophonist Jukka Perko. He wove a spiritual journey, drawing on his experiences with Dizzy Gillespie, orchestral work, tangos, hymns and settings of Kahlil Gibran.
A vintage cinema owned by the filmmaking Kaurismäki brothers hosted drummer Olavi Louhivuori’s Oddarrang quintet. Accompanied by short abstract films, they presented their acclaimed new album In Cinema, with its forays into ambient, post-rock and psychedelia. The capacity crowd was transfixed.
The festival’s other venues were just as intriguing. They ranged from an 1870s Russian opera house to the Savoy, an acoustically warm 1930s Art Deco theatre, and an elegantly expanded Koko Jazz Club, the city’s prime jazz hotspot in recent years.
The final day, Saturday, brought a jazz brunch followed by a children’s concert and workshops at the Tavastia rock club. That featured a guest jazz fairytale by rapper Paleface – who recently starred on a bestselling album and tour with the Ricky-Tick Big Band. This time he was backed by saxophonist Linda Fredriksson’s playful “punk-jazz” Mopo – and overhead projections of live painting.
Mopo also played a grown-up evening set at Koko alongside another experimental trio, Black Motor (pictured), and trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, son of the late bassist Pekka. The city’s other best-known trumpeter, Jukka Eskola, appeared with his easy-listening Orquesta Bossa. Like drummer Mäkynen, he’s an alumnus of Helsinki’s most celebrated band, the Five Corners Quintet (2003-2010).
Indeed, all of its graduates played at We Jazz, including saxman Timo Lassy. He launched a new live album on Italy’s Schema Records with help from soulful US vocalist Joyce Elaine Yuille and Holland’s DJ Maestro, mixer of several Blue Note compilations.
The Five Corners veterans tended toward more crowd-friendly retro and danceable sounds. Yet there was also a strong contingent of dissonance-loving free players, such as Berlin-based guitarist Kalle Kalima, witty, minimalist drummer Joonas Riippa and skronky saxophonist Mikko Innanen – who’s played with the likes of Wadada Leo Smith and Billy Cobham. That experimental bent carried over to the foreign guests. They included American pioneers Andrew Cyrille and Greg Osby, plus Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, who led a closing-night stomp at the Savoy.
Jazz breaking news: Alexi Tuomarila and Kahden Miehen Galaksi get hot in Helsinki
Staging a six-day jazz festival ‘off season’, a couple of weeks before Christmas when gift shopping and office parties are in full swing, might seem like a risky undertaking. Yet the sold out gigs and palpable buzz of expectation crackling around Finland’s chilly but user-friendly capital made the point that this inaugural edition of WeJazz did the right thing at the right time. Furthermore, it did the local thing, placing several of the country’s groups under the spotlight, making the point that Scandinavia’s talent pool has considerable strength in depth. Black Motor was a case in point and gave a powerful demonstration of the ‘New Bottle Old Wine’ theory. Appearing at the atmospheric Koko club, the bass-drums-saxophone trio was joined by trumpeter Verneri Pohjola to play the music of the trailblazing Edward Vesala, one of several players who put Finnish jazz on the map in the 1970s. They potently captured the yearning, hymnal quality of his compositions while adding their own flashes of individuality, particularly drummer Simo Laihonen.
Also engaging was Mopo, another bass-drums-saxophone trio that brings a fair dose of playfulness and puckish spirit to music that bounces along quite joyously. Enjoyable as their set was, there were times when the hearty, twisty blues-rock riffs and punchy vocal choruses could have been rounded out by a touch more improvisation, especially from drummer Eeti Nieminen. He looks to have the making of a considerable talent. Sibelius Academy students AR Quartet could also evolve into something worthwhile if they conjoin a bolder personality to their technical prowess while the institution’s head of jazz, the saxophonist Jussi Kannaste, showed good chops in NY Connection, an incisive Finnish-American quartet co-led by drummer Jaska Lukkarinen and pianist Roy Assaf.
More internationalism came in the shape of the Tomasz Stańko quintet. The Polish trumpeter headlined a triple bill at the grand Savoy Theatre featuring inventive pianist Joona Toivanen and soul-jazz saxophonist Timo Lassy. Although Stańko’s shadowy, svelte lyricism was impressively sharp the group sound was somewhat compromised by the thin, spindly tone of Danish bass guitarist Anders Christensen. In fact, the limelight was stolen by Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila (pictured above top). His dazzling solos, full of pummeling attack and waspish shifts of harmony, drew the biggest rounds of applause. If that grand finale gig, clocking in at four hours, was a touch too epic, then the festival signed off with a small but perfectly formed surprise package: the charmingly aggressive organ-drums duo Kahden Miehen Galaksi (bottom left). Channeling anybody from Soft Machine to early Jimi Tenor via Larry Young, they constantly switched from terse, compact hip-hop backbeats to fluid, freewheeling grooves bathed in a sea of oddball sounds that sent a noticeable tremor of excitement around the heaving Kuudes Linja club.