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Slavic Soul-Surfing


In this Jazz Finland International series we bring you the people and phenomena around the 2017 jazzahead! trade fair. Finland is the partner country this year and our artists, festivals, projects and companies have a great exposure amongs the international professionals at the fair and festival. Let's take a sneak peek behind the scenes before the bedlam begins on Thursday...


Slavic Soul-Surfing

Dalindèo and Verneri Pohjola Group are some of the hippest jazz combos hailing from Finland at the moment. By the repertoire that these ensembles present at jazzahead! you can truly hear where they're coming from - if you know your Finnish pop-rock history...

Composer and guitarist Valtteri Laurell Pöyhönen has led his six-piece outfit Dalindèo for almost 15 years now. The group’s unique sound and relatable themes draw influences from composer giants such as Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin and Duke Ellington. Dalindèo’s fourth album Slavic Souls blends contemporary jazz with traditional Finnish tango and throws a bit of Aki Kaurismäki in the mix. Slavic Souls takes a somewhat darker turn than their previous works, like the 2013-released Kallio, which took us on a stroll around the Kallio district, the “Kreuzberg of Helsinki”. Pöyhönen seems to have a thing for neighborhoods that he resides or visits. Currently he - like many of the Finnish 30-something artists - lives on and off in Berlin and Helsinki, after extensive periods in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, London and Paris. Is the jazz scene any different in Central Europe, compared to the Nordics?
  - The cultural palette is of course more colorful in the major capitals and in Central Europe. Also the jam culture has deeper roots there, and making music feels more spontaneous in general. Maybe it has something to do with the Finnish distinction between professional and amateur-level art: In the Nordic countries the jazz artists’ performance fees are higher than in the rest of the Europe, so you don’t see a lot of professional musicians on a gig at a local pub in Helsinki. It may end up being counter-effective and alienate jazz from the everyday people. In Finland, jazz sometimes still carries a stigma of elitism. On the other hand, once you buy a ticket and go see a jazz concert in Helsinki, you get your money's worth, a well-prepared, high quality show - while in Berlin it can be anything, explains Pöyhönen.

Jazz to the people

Pöyhönen is known for his relentless work in bringing new audiences in contact with jazz, and he describes one of his personal goals as being able “to tell stories that speak to everyone in the language of jazz music”. How does he make it work then, in Finland? Both of his bands - or “small communities” as he puts it himself - Dalindèo and the currently on-hiatus, 17-member Ricky-Tick Big Band star in sold-out shows in Finland and their albums win music prizes and are being constantly aired on mainstream radio.
  - Actually it’s pretty rewarding to make new music in Finland. I would say my music has a lot of recognizable elements that nod to the Finnish songwriting traditions of the 60's. Back then the timeless tangos of Olavi Virta and the Finnish cover versions of the international hits laid a base for the Finnish schlager. The influence is still audible today, and Dalindèo has drawn a lot from that sound, especially on our Kallio album. Also when Ricky-Tick Big Band collaborated with some of the most interesting rappers in Finland to make the Burnaa album, the language wasn't even a question, it had to be in Finnish and to be more specific, in the Helsinki slang. Creative use of both music and my native language is definitely close to my heart and I think many fans feel that way too. So the secret is to trick the listener to enjoy classical and contemporary jazz by comforting them with familiar sounds - and surf guitars, everyone loves surf guitars!, Pöyhönen lets us into his magic. 

Dream stages

Dalindèo have already performed all around European and domestic stages, and their cinematic jazz seems to be at home both on big festival stages and intimate club venues.
  - If I could take Dalindèo anywhere, I would call up the proprietor of a shady hideaway joint in the 1920's in one of the European metropoles and tell them I had the perfect band and a time machine. Hell, I would join them, laughs Terhi Aaen, the agent of Dalindèo and Verneri Pohjola Group, both of them performing at jazzahead! on Thursday night. Aaen's company Creatika Agency has been working with both frontmen for years and knows their quirks and dreams.

Verneri Pohjola's new repertoire is a tribute to Verneri's late father Pekka Pohjola, who rose into fame with in the progressive rock-jazz scene in the 70's as the bassist of Wigwam, and later with Mike Oldfield, Jukka Tolonen and his own band Pekka Pohjola Group. Pekka also toured in Japan extensively.
  - Verneri's group I would definitely want to see in Japan!, Aaen says, and continues, - In Japan there's a big fan base for Pekka Pohjola. It would be exciting to see their response to Verneri's touching versions of his father's music. Hopefully that dream comes true in the near future!

Verneri Pohjola is one of the most important Finnish trumpeters at the moment. He has been in the international spotlight for the past few years, as his latest album Bullhorn was released on the British label Edition Records in early 2015. His new Verneri Pohjola Group performs the compositions of his father, and the recording comes out on Edition in June.

Jazzing ahead!

The soulful and expressive Verneri Pohjola Group and the eccentric Dalindèo are two very different combos to represent at jazzahead!. This is the third time in Bremen for Aaen, who runs her own company.
  - I have complete trust in the bands I represent and their music. I have no doubt about them charming their own jazzahead! crowd, and I believe their music speaks for itself. As an agent I feel I have succeeded, when I can help the artists take career steps to a direction where they feel confident and excited to go. There's more ways of measuring success than by counting the number of shows or the volume of sales - although they are of course also important. Sometimes success is reaching new audiences for the music, finding new and interesting venues, or getting to know inspiring people. The accomplishments reveal themselves after years of co-operative work with the artist. I like to have a clear blueprint of any project and discuss all areas of responsibility with the artist before we roll up our sleeves. With Verneri and Valtteri it has always been easy to move forward with our plans, Aaen explains, accompanied by Pöyhönen:
- I like having Terhi and myself running the show for Dalindèo, it's like clockwork. We both have our own, different roles. We also plan and bounce ideas of new artistic and promotional concepts together. It feels good to have mutual trust and support - this really is a team!

In addition to these two acts, Creatika Agency represents Verneri Pohjola Quartet, Ilmiliekki Quartet and trumpeter Jukka Eskola’s Soul Trio, whose debut album comes out on May 5th. To top the street-cred artist roster, the agency also handles the booking of Mopo, the fearless trio, who are currently working on their fourth studio album. Mopo showcased at jazzahead! in 2016.

Verneri Pohjola Group live at Finnish Night on April 27 at Hall 7 at 10.10p
Dalindèo live at Finnish Night on April 27-28 at Kulturzentrum Schlachthof at 00.10a
Meet Terhi Aaen, Creatika Agency at the Finnish stand EB40 or contact, tel. +358 40 5378407

See also the additional concerts:

April 28, at 6.00p Concert at Elbphilharmonie Kulturcafé, Hamburg
April 29, at 8.00p Club Night Concert at Karton, Bremen

Verneri Pohjola Solo
April 29, at 5.00p Club Night Concert at Karton, Bremen

Text: Raisa Siivola
Photo: Veikko Kähkönen