| [one final note]
winter 2000 / 2001
|Music Witness® @ TAMPERE JAZZ HAPPENING 2000
Tampere, the second largest city in Finland, has hosted an adventurous jazz festival since 1982. Performing artists from all over Europe and the USA have included Arthur Blythe, David Murray, Joseph Jarman, Muhal Richard Abrams, Sonny Sharrock, Abdullah Ibrahim and Anthony Braxton in the 1980s and Henry Threadgill, Leroy Jenkins, Don Cherry, 8 Bold Souls, John Zorn, Ornette Coleman, Joe Maneri and Cecil Taylor in the 1990s.
The 2000 Program roared into life on November 2nd when Jack DeJohnette presented his solo Rumpuklinikka (Drum Clinic) in an intimate jazzclub space filled with attentive listeners. Playing a cohesive and melodic drumsong for over an hour with exquisite control of dynamics and touch, his personal approach to rhythmic patterns saturated the time. Afterwards, in response to questions, he talked about the essential mastery of playing softly with strength, loudly with relaxed looseness in the limbs, of pitch developed over time spent making music on the piano and vibraphone and in composition studies. He also made sure the audience knew the names of drummers who inspired him in Chicago, mentioning especially the great Vernel Fournier.
The next evening's concert was in the large hall with a superb sound system and a generous, clearly lit stage with its circular backdrop screen displaying color changes coordinated with the music in different ways for each group. Jack DeJohnette appeared again on drums and piano in duo with his longtime improvising partner from England, John Surman, master of reeds and composer.
Then the big stage filled with the uncontainable music of Taraf De Haïdouks (Band of Brigands) from Romania. Those souls curious to know the source of the new klezmer revival in the USA and the old recordings on which it has been based need search no further than contact with one live outburst from generations of the gypsy tradition. The entire group breathes music as a way of continuous and contagious living communication of the essential nature of the song of human feelings right now, then, and forever. Flamenco heartstring cries from the caves of Andalusia, inter-layerings of dancing blue sounds following caskets in New Orleans, and pre-dawn calls from minarets in Central Asia vibrate in the personal delivery systems of each of these musicians and in the voices of the older lautari, griots whose song achieves direct speech. Everyone present and past is contacted as well as those to come and, literally, this music never stops.
Three sets the following afternoon changed the pace to a quieter chamber-music interaction. Bassist Barry Guy and violinist Maya Homburger, both virtuosos, developed intricate duets and solos often based on composed materials and texts.
The Austrian alto-saxophonist Max Nagl's Quintet offered original compositions in carefully balanced acoustic modulations of sound.
Electronic generators surged and sucked among the plucked and stroked strings of Zeena Parkins' harp and Elliott Sharp's guitar. The power dynamics and color blends of their personal string sounds were expanded with digital dancing on footpedals, dials, and computer keys. Clearly, it's now a 21st century for the ears. The eyes, however, can see at least one long sympathetic string stretching from the pointing, slippered toe and brocaded pant leg of our hippest harpist through her black-garbed partner's fingered fretboard transformations on a long line strung way back to elaborate sonic chambers in Haydn's Vienna.
The big hall filled again shortly afterwards for the evening's opener: KRØYT, a Norwegian Trio well known in Scandinavia and Germany. Built around songs sung in English by the smoldering Kristin Asbjørnsen as she paces barefoot on an elevated runway, two cool guys - Øyvind Brandtsegg profiling on vibes & computer and Thomas T. Dahl on electric guitar back her up. Crouched before the group at the front of the stage, Ottle manipulates a video camera and laptop computer to project re-fractured images of the performers on the big round screen behind as smoke rises and huge loudspeakers groan under full utilization.
Using up-to-date media capabilities, KRØYT declares its struggle towards and away from contact with love. Filter out the electronic overlay with dynamic backdrop projections and it isn't hard to hear basic folk music roots of brave, lonely young people in a north country making songs about personal isolation in a new century that nobody feels quite at home in yet.
Derek Bailey, the inimitable English guitarist, had to cancel at the last minute, so Susie Ibarra was called upon to step up once again into a challenging percussion situation. Instead of a Duo, she was suddenly on her own before a full house on Saturday night with the drums, cymbals, and little instruments she brought plus the tympani and gongs she called for to expand her kit. No music Witness who heard her live in the David S. Ware Quartet, in William Parker's Quartet and Orchestra, with her own Trio, or in the beautiful percussion Duo with the late, great Denis Charles could doubt her ability to deal with a challenging situation.
The audience glued itself to the great range of integrated colors she was weaving and to her personal mastery of the spectrum of touch Jack DeJohnette had just declared was the basis of it all. Plenty of sinuous power was always ready in reserve. The beautiful drama of one young woman creating an extended, intimate connection between the most elemental family of tactile sounds and a large hall filled with expectant new listeners was greeted with enormous appreciation.
When Edward 'Kidd' Jordan, the tenor saxophone legend from New Orleans, tossed his cap across the stage while preparing to play, it stuck on the corner of Virginia-based Joel Futterman's grand piano as though it had been hung on a hook. This was a clear signal that the Southern Extreme Trio couldn't miss tonight. Solidly set up in the middle behind the drums was the veteran field marshal from Mississippi and founding member of Chicago's AACM, Alvin Fielder. Whatever Jazz Happening may mean in words, the music was indisputably happening at midnight downtown in Tampere, Finland.
Each member of this Trio loves to play, loves to listen and respond to each other, and loves each unique journey to a place deep in the interaction of human feelings new and fresh to everyone in the room. Jordan's call may be rolling onwards from a zone in which I heard John Coltrane stand and deliver at the Village Theater in New York, a few months before he passed on. This is music blown from the toenails way out beyond the tenor instrument. It is open, searching, free and deep.
Like his contemporaries, the Romanian lautari who sang the night before, Jordan's horn delivers direct, universal speech declaring the truth and blessing of standing together in this moment tonight alive on this Earth, dedicated to those who stood here before and to keeping it open for all the young ones coming on.
Sonic colors keep changing as Joel Futterman thunders the piano strings from the keyboard, plucks them from within by hand, moves to soprano saxophone and flute sounding with the tenor and then back to the piano again. Coordination master Alvin Fielder demonstrates throughout how drums can in so many ways push, pull, move, clarify, separate, join and drive the ensemble through new territory in the dark.
The audience thundered back in rhythmic applause. Mr. Kidd, his kind face gleaming, magnificent white eyebrows raised, asked them in a gentle, smiling voice, "Where were y'all when I was 25 ?" And then they lifted off again. It was the best of real USA togetherness, incandescent in northern Europe. Open improvisers, playing together totally and joyfully, trusting each other's contributions throughout, sharing every discovered gift with legendary generosity. Look, you can still hear it!
Late Sunday morning, a wilting Witness was taken to the famous Ruhaniemen Sauna on the nearby lakefront with its looming spruce trees and spirited native crows. Air temperature was 8°C (45°F) in a light rain. The beach is one immense, wet, striated glacial boulder easing into frigid water. The wooden sauna room is not large, but well populated by Tampereans of all ages on three racks going up, feeling good together. Serious and powerful saunistas ladle water on hot rocks producing major blasts of steam. When the penetrating heat becomes unbearable, you can follow a smiling grandmother barefoot out over the stone beach towards total immersion in the lake outside. Three cycles through hot sauna and cold lake dissolve and exorcise physical and mental stress.
Between jetlag and showtime, one might not have quite known one's location. But now, cooling down on a bench overlooking the misty lake, it all becomes absolutely clear to the real you - "This must be Finland!"
And it's just in time to reload, set up in the main hall and deal with the Finnish improvising Big Band, Sukhan Ukha. This must be the name of some Viking vessel assembling in your ears, whose 12-man crew of individual voices was nurtured on Stevie Wonder, Sun Ra and the recently departed jazz explorer Edward Vesala.
Antti Hytti seems to use his big acoustic bass as a steering oar for the crew's energy. Raoul Björkenheim's keening electric guitar cries high over burning saxophones and trumpet while the vocalist, Jukka Gustafsson calls out shore sightings with great, cracking humor in totally convincing English. A freshly purified Witness found himself grinning throughout, grateful to be hearing yet again from another group of musicians in another country who love playing together and are most eager to share their harmonic adventures, discoveries, and victories.
The Happening staff at Tampere has a long history of treating the music and its creative artists with consistent respect and care. Its practiced coordination is capable of keeping all aspects of a complex production running smoothly forward without fuss. There is also a sustaining sense of occasion as the City gathers in live music from many countries to inaugurate the Finnish winter. It was an inspiring pleasure to experience how new music can be brought together in such a setting, among such people.
All original art 27 1/2 x 39 1/2" (70 x 100cm)
made during live performances in Tampere, Finland
25 November 2000
©Jeff Schlanger, music Witness® 2001.
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