April Jazz Espoo 2009: Day 3 - 5
“ As jazz critic Jukka Hauru of the major Finnish daily wrote, 'this music reveals everything that is best under the contemporary jazz rubric--development, improvisational intensity, emotional variety, and more!' ”
Day 1-2 | Day 3-5
April Jazz Espoo
International Jazz Festival
Tapiola, Espoo, Finland
April 22-26, 2009
Friday was the night of major artists, hosting on three separate stages the Portuguese fado singer Ana Moura, local jazz pianist turned funk/soul crooner, Tuomo Prättälä sharing the bill with British hip-hopper Us3, and at the third venue (the Louhi Room) Garland Jeffreys with his Blues Night.
To my regret, and at the expense of my love of the doleful wail of Portuguese guitar, I missed the fado concert of Ana Moura. What is certain is that the audience included a clutch of performers from the same festival, one of whom probably made a discreet exit to start his own show shortly after the start of Moura'sTuomo Prättälä. Having served his time as a member and major contributor to both Quintessence (the Finnish one) and Ilmiliekki Quartet, Prättälä has now released two well-received solo albums, establishing himself as a singer and song-writer of material reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's work, in addition to his talents as pianist and instrumentalist. Performance in this large, noisy corporate tent would have been a challenge for a solo artist, so in addition to Prättälä's wealth of experience he had the support of a 7-piece band, including his old band-mate Verneri Pohjola.
Likewise the second band on the stage could draw on experience, this time that of one of its founder members, Englishman Geoff Wilkinson. Building on the success of its 1992 single "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasy)," which utilizes Herbie Hancock's piano from "Cantaloupe Island," Wilkinson has continued under the Us3 banner to provide beats on records with various singers and supporting musicians. Earlier, these often featured samples from Blue Note discs, but time has seen the development of a straight-ahead style of rap with Wilkinsona keyboardist, a scratcher and a bassist at backfronted by two New York rappers: Brook Young and Sene. These two worked each other and their audience hard, their efforts going down well with the gaggle of young dancers in front of the stage.
In the Louhi Room Garland Jeffreys also worked his audience and his four touring musicians hard with a varied menu of styles and skills. The man has sung with the likes of Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen, and the experience shone from under his pork-pie hat. His repertoire of sometimes sleazy, sometimes upbeat songs went down well with the late night audience, as the blues always does. He's a man of many sides with songs of just as many colors and moods.
This day started in mid-afternoon with a very reasonably priced children's concert featuring four women singing stylish a cappella with an obvious focus on youth. This concert was run concurrently with a second workshop provided free-of-charge to all comers. With its guitarist leader Marzi Nyman, himself no stranger to playing programs for toddlers, the festival organizers spread their attraction wide. However, it's only with the willing participation of the local populous that festivals like this can succeed. The way to ensure success is also to feature truly popular stars, which was the story of the main evening concert.
Salif Keita is known as "the golden voice of Africa," and his reputation is well established in this northern corner of Europe too. His concert in the main hall was sold out with an audience as varied as any metropolis might see. More than any Finnish spectator might expect, this artist provoked the typically passive audience to unusual excess: despite the formal concert environment, the set ended with dancingin the aisles and even onstage with the artists. His mix of traditional African instrumentation (djembe, kora, udu and more) with superlative vocal arrangements was clearly appreciated across a broad spectrum of listeners.
Equally renowned in its hometown is the Five Corners Quintet, a long established bebop revival band with a twist. The group's trademark sound is the work of its founder saxophonist Timo Lassy and his skill in rebirthing the style of the greats into the electronic agenot by adding electronics, but by finding inspiration in the beats and burps of electronic sound, and reworking it into an acoustic format. The tent audience was probably little interested in these technicalities, their groove-rooted gig being well received by all. Likewise veteran maestro Al Jarreau found a welcoming reception for a long set of his evergreen standards.