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Jazz this moment and the next


Jazzpresso series continues with thoughts about what is "new" in jazz, and its internationality. Master-of-none festival promoter and radio-dj Matti Nives keeps bringing new phenomena and ideas into the Finnish jazz scene year after year, and this time he speaks his mind about showcases and "new Nordic jazz", after his visit to the 17th Young Nordic Jazz Comets showcase at the Umeå Jazz Festival in Northern Sweden on the 27th of October. 

Original text: Matti Nives
Translation: Anna Innanen

“This song is about a guy who wanted to ride his tractor to Rantsila. You see, in Finland there is this town called Haapavesi…” This is how drummer Okko Saastamoinen introduces his group OK:KO’s piece ‘By Tractor to Rantsila’ to the bewildered Swedish audience. The meandering and no doubt very spontaneous introduction works as a perfect ice-breaker: warm ripples of laughter echo among the audience.

We are in Umeå and the crowd listens intently when OK:KO show how youthful broad-mindedness and mature musical vision can be brought together in an exemplary way. The bar is set high right at the outset of the annual Young Nordic Jazz Comets showcase event.
With the idea of competition having been, wisely, stripped of YNJC, one knows to expect a jazz night that is both pleasurable and qualitatively uneven. OK:KO and the Norwegian Megalodon Collective – who, by the way, also made an appearance at last year’s Flow Festival in Helsinki – sound ready for international leagues. While I would not book the representatives of Sweden, Iceland and Denmark to my own event quite yet, listening to them is far from unrewarding; on the contrary.

One of the key points to bear in mind when attending YNJC – or basically any young band’s show – is to understand that we are talking about a process, a something that is still in the making. I am much rather in the crowd listening to these diamonds in the rough than witnessing a 90-year-old legendary trombonist rack his brain for the name of the drummer he is sharing the stage with that particular night. Both of these scenarios actually happened in Umeå.

Is this age discrimination I am talking about? No, rather an attempt to catch a glimpse of what is coming next; where the rising generation is taking jazz as we speak. This calls for patience and systematic engagement, but fascination usually fuels one’s efforts quite naturally.

But what is really new, then? This eternal question surely has no correct answer. I believe that in addition to creating new by to reforming the idiom of jazz, something new and different can come out when musicians find their own unique voice within the framework of tradition. A glossy veneer of cross-over never works for me. I find that sometimes a new take on an old standard – a take that crystallises the core of the original in a fresh way – makes the best new jazz.

Truly notable art peers beyond current trends; it says something about today and yesterday but it also envisages the future. In my opinion, a good young jazz group is simultaneously its present self and a reflection of what it will be in the future. As a matter of fact, the strongest feeling of ‘here and now’ can sometimes be evoked by experiencing someone’s a vision of the future.

“Modern man is always outside the mainstream”, said M.A. Numminen. This is how saxophonist Evan Parker once put a related idea: “If you want to know what the next Albert Ayler will sound like, just bear in mind that he will not sound anything like Albert Ayler.”
Progressive artistic ideas are too often confused with the rebelliousness of youth and brushed aside. For such moments, the aforementioned Albert Ayler had the perfect words of consolation: “People don’t like it now, but they will.”