Finnish jazz gains momentum at Jazzahead!
by Matti Nives :: 2011
Bremen’s jazz conference and showcase festival Jazzahead! saw a tidal wave of Finns this year with four Finnish acts showcased and a total of 11 companies taking part in the presentation of Finnish jazz. Fimic, Music Export Finland and the Finnish Jazz Federation collaborated in bringing the active members of the compact yet vivid scene together, presenting them all under a ”Jazz from Finland” banner.
The four Finnish acts who got through the tight Jazzahead! showcase filter were Elifantree
, Kari Ikonen & Karikko
, Kalle Kalima & K-18
and Markku Ounaskari
with Norwegian trumpeter Per Jörgensen
). In addition, drummer Olavi Louhivuori
and piano man Alexi Tuomarila
added a Finnish touch to the combo of Norwegian bass player Mats Eilertsen
Friday: Elifantree afternoon matinea shines bright, Kuára hits a homerun
Elifantree, a trio of singer Anni Elif Egecioglu
, sax man Pauli Lyytinen
and drummer Tatu Rönkkö
, is one of the foremost upcoming Finnish jazz groups at the moment. Nicely featured in the acclaimed UK jazz publication Jazzwise just in time for the showcase, the trio playd an early afternoon set with new songs and older favourites side by side. Elifantree hits like ‘Missa Inte Bussen’ resonated well with the audience, and newer compositions showed great promise for the upcoming second LP. Live, Elifantree display a rare kind of charisma and knack at building dynamic sonic narratives with their own voice. Given the challenging slot, Elifantree fared well in convincing those present, on their way to Dublin’s 12 Points festival the following week.
Another Friday showcase for the Finns was Kuára, a trio recording for the famed German ECM label. Their showcase appearance was an exceptional one in its own right. You rarely see such energy being released from an all-professional showcase audience as in this case. Singalongs are equally surprising for music as subtle as theirs, but somehow Kuára managed that as well. Interaction, on both peer level and with their audience seems to be their forté. Expect a string of international dates very soon.
Saturday: Kalima, Ikonen & co. successfully present new material
On Jazzahead! Saturday, the tastemakers were treated to another two performances easily characterized as success stories. Pianist Kari Ikonen adds the rhodes and the moog into his instrumentation in the sextet Karikko with fine results. Partially clashing with Kalima’s timeslot, Karikko’s showcase began a brief but effective hot streak of Finnish jazz for the day. Building their set around new soon-to-be released tunes, Karikko is indeed a musically medusaic formation, who forge a very distincive sound with nuances galore in their jazz. Judging by the reaction at Jazzahead!, it’s easy to predict that the international sextet will continue to gain momentum.
Second up was Kalle Kalima and his K-18 ensemble, who introduced a unique sound spiced up by Veli Kujala
’s quarter-tone accordion on their TUM Records album Some Kubrick of Blood
. This time around, they were channeling David Lynch
with a new programme, to be captured on tape in Berlin immediately after the Jazzahead! performance. The eeriely floating jazz of Kalima & co. received a good crowd, especially thanks to the band’s promotional team’s high activity including handmade promotional kits.
Finns in jazz on the way up
An event like Jazzahead! seems especially handy for operators pushing acts into the international live circuit. Charles Gil
from the company Vapaat Äänet confirms this: ”I had several good meetings and secured a set of actual gigs at major festivals during the event, which doesn’t usually come easily”, says Gil who represents Kalima’s K-18 among other acts.
The Finnish Jazz Federation’s newly appointed Chairman Petteri Klintrup
agrees, having made his first Jazzahead! trip, and adds that an ongoing dialogue is of the essence in raising the awareness for Finnish jazz internationally. ”Everybody’s here in one location during the weekend, so it’s the perfect place to network with other nationallly functioning associations and international organisations at large”, says Klintrup, whose Jazzahead! team seemed to have a particularly good rapport with the fellow Nordic representatives.
While Turkey was the first ever country partner at Jazzahead!, one should not be far off in hoping that Finland would be in the pipeline with this level of activity (only matched by Norway plus hosts Germany and partners Turkey this year). If the traffic at the Finnish booth, especially during cocktail hour, is of any indication one could predict a figure in the low end of 2010s for the partnership.