February 2001

Jazz life in Helsinki

One live concert and the purchase of several recent CDs during a ten-day stay in Helsinki confirmed the vibrancy of the Finnish jazz scene. There aren't enough jazz venues to offer gigs for the incredible number of excellent young musicians but it is often possible to come across remarkable scenes.

One of these occurred one evening in that delightful traditional restaurant, Juttutupa, which lately has been offering music to its regular customers and occasional visitors. The band in question is known as Mr Fonebone, its frontline consists of bandleader-trombonist Antti Rissanen and saxophonist Mikko Innanen. The other excellent musicians were keyboard-player Kari Ikonen, bassist Tuure Koski and drummer Mika Kallio. Then came the surprise. I didn't recognise her and wondered who was the woman with a trumpet. As names were announced I realised that an internationally well-known musician had joined the young Finns. Ingrid Jensen is a name worth remembering. She is Canadian but has recently spent much time in Europe.

As soon as she started playing it became clear why jazz critics — British included — have been raving about this new talent. Helsingin Sanomat jazz critic Jukka Hauru later wrote (9 February 2001) about Jensen's individual voice. He described her sound as flexible, cool and unusually expressive.

Jensen's Finnish friends offered fine musical moments as well. Their compositions were extremely interesting and offered great vehicles for serious and playful improvisation and many moments of musical humour. To see musicians enjoying their playing creates a good atmosphere where the audience's reactions egg musicians on.

The gig at Juttutupa launched a tour which aims to promote Mr Fonebone's new CD, Mr Fonebone Live (Texicalli TEXCD3000), which features Ingrid Jensen. The audience in Juttutupa were treated to many compositions from this disc.

Another remarkable new CD is one by Jukka Perko & Hurmio-orkesteri, published by the legendary American jazz label Blue Note (LCC 0133). In addition to bandleader-alto saxophonist Perko, the musicians are Manuel Dunkel on tenor sax, Lasse Lindgren on bass and Teppo Mäkynen on drums. The band plays music associated with Olavi Virta, the late great tango and ballad singer whose career peaked in the 1950s. The music recreates many moods of that period in a modern jazz language — an amazing musical adventure. The liner notes are written by the legendary musicologist/singer/entertainer M.A. Numminen. He writes:

"This album is not merely a collection of curiosities for Finns already familiar with Olavi Virta. It will also have international significance in showing how jazz music can continue to go into new directions. Olavi Virta began his singing career with jazz evergreens. Had he decided to head for the States, he might have developed into something as legendary as Frank Sinatra. Fortunately, he never left but stayed in Finland. Small countries, too, need men of great talent."

From English musician friends I had already heard enthusiastic remarks about pianist Samuli Mikkonen's new CD. Mikkonen participated in the Polar Jazz project in London in May 2000, playing with trumpeters Kenny Wheeler and Mika Mylläri and saxophonist Ed Jones. On his new CD, Kom/Live (SMCD-2), Mikkonen plays with two leading Nordic musicians, bassist Anders Jormin from Sweden and drummer Audun Kleive from Norway. The result is electrifying and confirms the widely-held opinion that Mikkonen is one of the most exciting young European pianists.

Reading British papers on-line during my stay in Helsinki, I came across a review of a concert by pianist Jonathan Gee, another participant in the Polar Jazz project. Writing in The Guardian (10 February 2001), James Griffiths said: "As a pianist he evokes the spirits of Herbie Hancock, Claude Debussy and Bill Evans, carefully balancing a light-footed funkiness with a sensuous enjoyment of colour and dynamics. Even when he is tempted to play a million notes per second the effect is curiously meditative, and the rhythmic unpredictability of his playing never interferes with the groove."

Tapani Lausti
12 February 2001

See also:

Kenny Wheeler hits it off with Jan Simons

27 November 2000

Britain's jazz veterans join forces with young Finns

7 August 2000

Mika Mylläri stars in Pori Jazz

17 July 2000

BURN: "Dynamic project"

30 May 2000

BURN at Vortex and Bath Jazz Festival

29 May 2000

Northern Lights over Stoke Newington

26 May 2000

Wheeler and Mikkonen open Polar Jazz at Vortex

25 May 2000

Kenny Wheeler featured in Polar Jazz

14 April 2000

Ed Jones Quintet's adventures in Finland

June 1998

"A taut front line": Jones and Mylläri tour Scotland and Finland

February 1998

Ed Jones adds Finnish flavour to his jazz band by Chris Parker

January 1998

Finnish jazz benefits from more international contacts: interview with Mika Mylläri

January 1998


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