Jussi Kannaste (b. 1976) first grabbed the saxophone in his elementary school years and continued his studies with the instrument at the arts-oriented high school of Savonlinna. After graduation, Kannaste spent a few years studying at Pop & Jazz Conservatory before proceeding to the jazz department of Sibelius Academy in 1998. The young saxophonist’s talent and hunger to play were soon spotted: The Finnish Saxophone Society awarded Kannaste with the Josef Kaartinen prize in the autumn of 2001, and with the prize in his pocket Kannaste headed to Paris to spend a year as an exchange student.

After his sojourn in France, Kannaste's career took off quickly. In the following years, Kannaste-Ojajärvi Quartet (K/O/Q), formed by drummer Jussi Lehtonen, bassist Ville Huolman, and Olli Ojajärvi on the tenor sax side by side with Kannaste, became the primary group for him. This ensemble performed mainly Kannaste's compositions. Partly deriving from the challenging instrumentation, the quartet had a recognisable sound from the start characterised by unique melodic thinking and edgy, absorbing swing. In autumn 2004, Kannaste won the Jukka Perko Saxophone Contest and K/O/Q charmed many of Finland’s jazz critics on a tour organised by the Finnish Jazz Federation. The group also performed in Belgium and France on the Continent. K/O/Q’s first album, First Draft (Terravox), was released the following year, in 2005, and it was honoured with a Jazz Emma nomination in the Emma Awards.

Kannaste-Viinikainen-Riippa, a.k.a. KVR Trio, was originally founded when Kannaste won the Sony Jazz Prize in 2005 and started a new group for a Finnish Jazz Federation tour. The legendary trio formed by tenor sax player Joe Lovano, drummer Paul Motian and guitarist Bill Frisell can be named as a model for KVR's unusual line-up. Indeed, the influence of these veterans’ style from its flowing melodiousness to avant-gardish mode of expression can be heard in KVR’s music.

The sax, the guitar and the drums make an interesting line-up. The absence of the bass creates some refreshing challenges and paves the way for testing the conventional roles of the instruments. The role of Kannaste’s sax reaches from playing the melody to creating rhythmic effects whereas Riippa’s rich array of percussions transcends the line to the opposite direction by sketching some melodic patterns. This freedom from orthodox roles plus the members’ previous shared experience in playing together bring original and intriguing edge to the trio’s sound and result in natural and intimate communication between the band members. Due to the band’s long history KVR Trio has become the most important of Kannaste’s own groups, and the band has been crucial in shaping his own musical expression. The debut album came out in 2013 on Jaskaa label.

Also, worth mentioning of Kannaste’s other projects is Kannaste-Olding 4, a group started in 2002 with the Swedish guitarist, Hans Olding.

Kannaste graduated from Sibelius Academy with a master’s degree in 2005, and begun teaching in the institution in 2007. He has held the post of the head of the jazz department since 2009. In addition to teaching and leading his own groups, Kannaste is a member in many of today’s top Finnish jazz acts including Jaska Lukkarinen Trio, Antti Lötjönen Quartet East, NY Connection, Tonight at Noon, Mighty Mighty, Espoo Big Band and Ricky-Tick Big Band. He has also played with the following Finnish and international jazz greats: Olli Ahvenlahti, Juhani Aaltonen, Heikki Sarmanto, Dave Liebman, Jason Moran, Billy Hart and John Scofield.

ed. Annamari Innanen 1.3.2014