UMO Jazz Fest 2007 in Helsinki, Finland
To take advantage of the Bio Rex space (and I'm not referring to the empty seats), it was not only practical but also obvious for the festival organizers programming that utilized the large screen above the musicians. Anssi Tikanmaki's Film Orchestra performed to the late '90s black-and-white film based on Juhani Aho's Juha, a classic Finnish novel. And Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger brought in an unusual international ensemble to perform to edited versions of two of film director Werner Herzog's anarchistic films, images with prophetic narration, entitled Requiem for a Dying Planet. Reijseger took snippets of the movies, which he originally did the full soundtrack for, and has created a live performance project which he's presented nearly a dozen times in concert. One's attention was easily and evenly divided amongst the images and the music: the depth of the message behind scuba divers under the visibly thinning Antarctica ice cap was as emotional as the unique musical hybrid occurring underneath the images. Along with Reijeseger's virtuosic and unorthodox if not extended technique and approach to the cello, his multi-cultural ensemble included Senegalese singer and percussionist Mola Sylla and the Sardinian voices of Cuncordu e Tenore de Orosei (a vocal quintet which had to literally improvise minus the one who got stranded in Rome and couldn't make the flight and gig).
Perhaps the set's climax came after the multi-media set came to a close. Two of the singers jovially performed an arm-in-arm traditional step-dance, another played a mouth (Jews) harp, and Reijseger stood up and lifted his cello as if it were an oversized guitar, heavily strumming it like Ritchie Valens, while interacting with Sylla's playing of the gorgeous sounding metallic-key kalimba thumb piano. For over an hour and a half, the group's evident camaraderie and entirely unique project was absorbed and appreciated by an enraptured audience with but the one brief pre-encore pause.
The other film-oriented musical project came from Markku Peltola's Buster Keaton Orchestra, who followed the screening of Juha but in the boomy, standing-room-only lobby area outside the actual theater. Images appeared on a much smaller screen placed above the makeshift stage and were viewed with obvious secondary significance. Acoustic guitarist and leader Peltola aptly described his music as "folk songs from an unexisting land." And as aptly, his music partially set to images was entitled Man Without A Past. Along with electric guitar (Tommi Laine), trombone/accordion (Kusti Vuorinen), trombone/percussion (Janne Tuomi), violin (Pike Kontkanen), bass (Timo Kaaja) and drums (Juppo Paavola, actually on drum box and a single cymbal)a Ry Cooder-ish twang to a dark Tom Waits aesthetic sliced through the Buster Keaton Orchestra septet's infectious Tin Hat-like approach and concept. Their less jazz-inflected lumbering double trombone-based grooves convincingly had music score written all over. Never rising above medium tempo, I couldn't help but think of the mesmerizing Hot Spot soundtrack (featuring Taj Mahal, Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker). Their music always seemed to strike a note of familiarity that sometimes could be pinpointed, such as the eerie resemblance of "Ihan Ensin Aivan Suoraan to "Spanish Harlem," and most other times simply coming across as a welcoming, accessible and fun listen much better suited for a bar than theatre lobby scene.