UMO Jazz Fest 2007 in Helsinki, Finland
Suonsaari is an excellent and sensitive cymbalist as he displayed here. Iivanainen, playing more of an aesthetic role and rarely interacting with the other two, didn't serve as a distinctive voice per se, though his stylistic playing proved best suited in the role of providing a Frisell-ian like tapestry of background textures and colors. The trio's organic strengths were particularly though only temporarily lost during the guitarist's only occasional solos, which came off as asides. It was as if two groups suddenly were playing simultaneously, one with drums and tenor and another for unaccompanied solo guitar. And any Aaltonen listening experience is incomplete without his marvelous flute playing; fortunately one of the seven tunes featured his emotional, breath-heavy fluttering technique on "Desire" (which will be officially released late this year on Nordic Trinity's sophomore effortEternal Echoes). Completely self-taught on the instrument, he has created his very own ("wrong as he admits) embouchure and voice, which screams and whispers to be heard by more ears.
On the same night, opening the festival, was Swiss-born NYC pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, fresh on the heels of her solo CD Signs and Epigrams (Tzadik). Her set featured eight of the CD's ten compositions, newly improvised for this, her first-ever performance in Helsinki. She naturally flitted in and out of tempo with dexterity with her inside/outside piano technique, plucking and manipulating the piano's strings (utilizing at times several objects to alter pitches and to create sounds not customarily associated with the, given, orchestral capabilities of piano), and creating a mystical performance. Full of unexpected surprises at every turn, every turn coming as frequently as Monaco's Grand Prix, her modern classical flair in repertoire and jazz-like freedoms fueled spontaneous decisions through each heavily improvised piece.
As opposed to Cecil Taylor's approach, Courvoisier relies less on clusters and more on single notes, some which come at lightning speed, others resonating through the performance space. The rhythmic bouncing of her playing are likened to rainfall, after water ricochets off leaves, rooftops and objects en route down to the ground while being altered by varying wind shifts, creating sometimes a more dense water drop rate or, conversely, a more spaciously separated effect. This helps distinguish Courvoisier's usage of notes and chords from Taylor's more customary relentless thunderous blows and runs that are less about the single effects of a note and the space around it, and more concerning the overall momentum and the larger whole that each note is but a mere part of.
Her "studies for piano (titled "Epigrams 1-3 on the CD), offer more relaxed yet intricate exchanges of a playing keys-to-strings approach and dialogue that was revisited and recreated on two occasions through this live solo set. At one point, she placed a bouncing object on the strings, creating in essence a rhythmic shadow and partner when playing near or below middle-C. Replicating a loose steel guitar string played with a slide, it was as if a conversation occurred between various string players, from piano to detuned slide dobro guitar, kora and one or two other various incorporated string instrument(s). All those sounds miraculously were coming from the two hands of one person, and without the usage of overdubbing or samples, an admirable and musically successful feat that was genuinely and generally appreciated by all those in attendance. The festival had officially gotten off to a running start.
Another New York-based pianist (actually Woodstock), Marilyn Crispell, was featured in a highly- anticipated set that held double honors of being the only act to play outside the Bio Rex as well as serving as the festival's pinnacleand appropriate enoughcloser. Her closely-knit "Finnish trio", featuring bassist Teppo Hauta-aho (he's worked on and off with Aaltonen and Vesalaup until the latter's passing in 1999since the late '60s and has since played and recorded with Evan Parker and Anthony Braxton) and the youthful Olavi Louhivuori (drums), performed in the heavenly locale of Temppeliaukio Church, one of Helsinki's most famous architectural attractions since its late '60s construction. Built into solid rock (hence its nickname "Church of the Rock"), the visually stunning space is naturally lit through narrow glass panels between the church's interior wicker-like circular dome ceiling and its steep rock walls; likewise the acoustics were mostly naturally amplified, making the set musically as it was visually spectacular.