Interesting programming for this last day of the Tampere Jazz Happening, all women-led ensembles. Skip to the end of this post for my rambling thoughts about that, but in the meantime, next stop the Pakkahuone hall…
Life and Other Transient Storms
Susana Santos Silva – trumpet, flugelhorn
Lotte Anker – saxophones
Sten Sandell – piano
Torbjörn Zetterberg – double bass
Jon Fält – drums
It’s a damn good title, life as a temporary bout of violent weather, yep, that works. And if any brand of music can represent the unpredictability of a storm, it’s unrehearsed improvisation. So imagine how happy I am when I bump into Lotte Anker in the hotel (I know, I know, name-dropper…) and she mentions that this will be the first time these five musicians have played together on stage. Should be good, I thought. Given the people involved, should be a lot of spontaneous energy, I thought. I was right.
It begins with the trumpet, then the soprano sax. They judder, twist and clash. It’s spellbinding. Add some perfectly-placed bass notes, and minimal touches of piano and drums… slowly the hall fills with free sound – unnerving and uplifting in equal measure. It’s a glorious racket, and despite the density at times there’s also a great feeling of space, every interjection, exclamation and punctuation rings out clear and momentary. It’s a powerful, and even muscular, start to the afternoon. At one point, Silva utilises some extended techniques, using the mouthpiece alone for a flute-like tone, passing breath directly through the valves, and so on. Meanwhile Sandell dishes out a casual masterclass in sparse precision, and Zetterberg provides high-pitched arco, bowing below the bridge. Anker underpins the passage with muted drones as Fält matches Sandell with percussive delicacy.
A mesmerising meeting between southern and northern Europe.
Maria Faust – “Sacrum Facere”
Maria Faust – alto saxophone, clarinet, voice
Kristi Mühling – kannel
Emanuele Maniscalco – piano
Francesco Bigoni – clarinet
Ned Ferm – tenor saxophone, clarinet
Tobias Wiklund – trumpet
Mads Hyhne – trombone
Jonatan Ahlbom – tuba
Have to admit that the name Maria Faust was new to me, so I had little idea what might be in store. I knew both Maniscalco and Bigoni from their trio recording with Mark Solborg earlier this year on ILK, but that was very freely improvised and the programme suggested a more composed approach to this set…
The first thing to strike me was the unusual texture of the kannel (a kind of Estonian zither) which gave the sound an immediate unique quality and Mühling seemed to form a very precisely balanced relationship with Maniscalco’s piano. The music itself started out folk-inspired, you might even say quasi-classical and with a touch of sonorousness from the tuba (more tuba, that’s the 3rd one this weekend!) and some rather stirring trumpet, it’s all quite emotional stuff – very rich and structured before suddenly dissolving into a passage of free playing.
The second piece again has a very clear theme, quite stately… then Maniscalco’s right hand goes walkabout, quickly followed by the rest of him (he’s a very physical player, his whole body moving up and down the keyboard) and once again, we’re free with just a tuba riff to keep us anchored.
Between pieces, Faust is disarmingly charming in her explanations (pretty sure she was swearing in Finnish at one point – a definite crowd-pleaser!): Sacrum Facere is a kind of song cycle and at its heart is her feeling that Estonia is slowly, tiny piece by tiny piece, losing its national identity, slipping away slowly into Europe – a feeling that probably most nationalities can empathise with to some extent. But don’t imagine it was all mournful melancholy – much of it was also quite joyous, with a peculiar kind of focused extemporary insanity.
Let’s say, classical themes for the improvisationally-inclined, which is to say, there’s plenty of architecture but be ready to have your ears bent a little (and for them to enjoy the bending).
Carla Bley “Trios”
Carla Bley – piano
Steve Swallow – bass
Andy Sheppard – soprano saxophone
Drawing on Bley’s 2013 “Trios” album on ECM, this was a surprisingly beautiful set of spare, almost minimalist chamber-jazz. “Surprising” not because Bley doesn’t usually serve up beautiful music, but because I wasn’t really familiar with her work and so had no idea what to expect (I know, my ignorance is boundless). Bley’s stripped-down, at times stark, playing; Sheppard’s sweet-but-not-saccharine melodies (a truly lovely and elegant solo during the song, “Healing”); and Swallow providing the structure with an often guitaristic tone on his electro-acoustic bass – all combined to a precise effect: quite simply, it was spellbinding, I felt entranced. And that was a very pleasant surprise indeed.
Hedvig Mollestad Trio
Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen – guitar
Ellen Brekken – bass
Ivar Loe Bjørnstad – drums
Morten Lunde – sound
It says a lot that with all the new (often great) music that is constantly coming my way, no matter the latest enthusiasm, the Hedvig Mollestad Trio have been constantly on my ‘playlist’ since 2011’s “Shoot!”. There’s something about the complex meters, the structural unpredictability, and the all-out guitar bombast that does it for me every time. And played live? They really take the songs up a few notches.
Songs included The Rex, Code of Hammurabi, Arigato, Bitch, some older favourites such as Ashes and gentler interlude The Valley and we closed on The New Judas with – I think – Sing, Goddess as an encore. Everything a fan could want and pretty much all with riffs that could be instantly appreciated by those unfamiliar… good set!
All three have that ‘sexy rock god’ stage persona going, add that to a fluid musicality, a predilection for tricksy rhythms (anybody headbanging to Bjørnstad’s drums will soon discover the layers of sophistication beneath the Zeppelin and Sabbath inspirations) and assymetric riffs and we’re approaching the kind of ‘jazz odyssey’ that Derek Smalls could only dream of.
I guess the jazz/improv world (like much of the rest of the world) is still male-dominated. Less so than in the past certainly, but it’s hardly gender-neutral all the same. But as much as I enjoyed the day’s performances (and I did, Hedvig Mollestad, Susana Santos Silva, and Lotte Anker were some of the big reasons for me to get off my lazy arse and travel to Tampere this year) the programming did raise a question for me that no one seems to be able to answer.
Where are the women in Finnish jazz?
On this final day in Tampere, the countries represented were Portugal, Denmark, Estonia, the US, and Norway. It’s not that there were no Finnish women musicians at all… The Thursday evening included Adele Sauros of Katu Kaiku in among the Young Nordic Jazz Comets, and on Friday, once Ulf Krokfors was announced as winner of this year’s Yrjö Award, we could hear the Iro Haarla Trio. And I know of Linda Fredriksson of Mopo. But that’s it. Three. Three female Finnish instrumentalists. I know Finland’s a small country but come on, there must be more women playing jazz and improv than that, surely?
Now, I’m English, and I live in Spain so maybe it’s just my lack of awareness (although I do take a particular interest in Finnish jazz – have done since coming to the TJH for the first time in 2003). But I asked a few people about this over the weekend – musicians, record producers, artist management types – and guess what? On being asked the question, “Apart from Iro Haarla – who is of course, a god(dess) on the scene – who are the women in Finnish jazz?” I was met with silence and thoughtful expressions. Interesting.
Given the incredible performances on this last day of the festival, and based on my listening and concert-going experience elsewhere in the world, I know that women have ALWAYS been able to play jazz and improvised music alongside (or ahead of) their male peers. So, I throw the question open to anyone reading this who cares: Where are the women in Finnish jazz?
(…and I really, really hope that I get a barrage of responses that show up my ignorance – that’d be great!)
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