Adventurous Programming Returns to Tampere Jazz Happening


Tunisian oudist/vocalist Dhafer Youssef performs at Pakkahuone on Nov. 5 during the Tampere Jazz Happening.

(Photo: Maarit Kytöharju)

Finland’s 36th annual Tampere Jazz Happening (Nov. 2–5) once again took place in the usual comforts of three venues: the intimate, 400-seat Klubi; the acoustically resonant, 600-seat Tullikamarin Pakkahuone; and the cozy, 200-seat Telakka.

Everything started at Klubi on Thursday night with a series of shows and a celebration of jazz from neighboring, continental Estonia (just across the pond from Helsinki and Tampere). Three Spotlight On Estonia events showcased some of the country’s variety, beginning with the Kirke Karja Quartet featuring pianist/composer Karja in a mixed set of unconventional acoustic jazz. Vocalist/pianist/violinist Kadri Voorand performed in a duo setting with bassist Mihkel Malgand, the pair’s strong interaction spiced with a touch of electronics from the fiery Voorand. The evening’s music ended with the energetic jazz rock of Heavy Beauty featuring a quartet headed up by guitarist Jaak Sooaar.

All told, there were 10 events, in which, altogether, 25 ensembles performed. Every one of the shows was filled—if not to capacity, then close to it. American bands included Jojo Mayer’s Nerve, Steve Coleman’s Five Elements, New Zion with Hamid Drake; other groups were populated with various U.S. artists. One of them that served to be a top festival surprise was Dhafer Youssef’s “Diwan of Beauty and Odd” show. Tunisian oudist/vocalist Youssef was joined by pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Brewer and Philadelphia phenom drummer Justin Faulkner at Pakkahuone on Sunday.

With all three rhythm players in a semi-circle, Youssef energetically moved from player to player in intimate dialog, all the while playing his oud either ferociously or with great tenderness. The time signatures were varied and intricate. The band played as one, their kind of Mahavishnu Orchestra vibe perfectly melding with more North African and Arabic musics. Elements of swing swirled in the air. At one point, Youssef, who also contributed haunting, lovely vocals, was heard to quip between numbers, “I want our music to help bring peace to the world. That’s why I have American musicians.” After eliciting laughter from this packed house, he added, “It’s also good for commercial reasons” to more chuckles.

Other highlights included Swiss keyboardist/composer Nik Bartsch’s mesmerizing “acoustic zen funk” Mobile band, Nigerian drummer Tony Allen’s “Tribute to Art Blakey,” two bands from British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (The Ancestors, The Comet Is Coming), the experimental Fifth Man with British saxophonist Evan Parker and turntables (a band created especially for TJH), and veteran Finnish saxophonist Eero Koivistoinen playing a robust, straightahead quartet set at Telakka.

In addition to a good number of other significant European artists on hand, one in particular is worth more than a mention. Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola received his country’s top jazz award, the Yrjo Jazz Prize, Friday evening. The award, given annually by the Finnish Jazz Federation to a Finnish artist, is in acknowledgement of his or her outstanding contribution to Finnish jazz music. The ceremony, held in Pakkahuone, was capped off by an intriguing, engaging free-improv duo performance between Pohjola and longtime partner drummer/percussionist Mika Kallio. The following afternoon, also in Pakkahuone, Pohjola was guest artist with Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs’ trio featuring Finnish bassist Thorgrimur and U.S. drummer Scott McLemore in a set of Gunnlaugs originals that were filled with gentle cadences and waltzing vamps. Pohjola’s open horn, while usually bright, was also tempered to the band’s more melodic excursions.

Earlier this year (April 28) at jazzahead! in Bremen, Tampere Jazz Happening, and Artistic Director Juhamatti Kauppinen in particular, received the 6th Europe Jazz Network (EJN) Award for Adventurous Programming. The 2017 TJH edition clearly was no exception. Since 1990, the festival has been produced by Tampere Music Festivals, part of the Cultural Affairs of the City of Tampere. It’s a historic, growing European city, and a don’t-miss destination for culture and the arts. DB

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