May 2000

Polar Jazz kicks off

"Normally I don't like modern jazz", a member of the audience at the Barbican foyer owned up to bandleader Ed Jones. However you describe the historical category of the music on offer on Sunday (21 May), the audience - the woman quoted included - loved it. Some people who had accidentally wandered in and heard the music came forward asking if there were any CDs availabale. Yet another reliable sign of great music being performed was that the musicians visibly enjoyed each others' contributions.

This is how this week's UK-Finnish jazz "extravaganza" — as pianist Jonathan Gee describes it — kicked off. Gee's colleagues on the gig were Ed Jones on tenor, Mika Mylläri on trumpet, Steve Rose on bass and Winston Clifford on drums. The quintet played several well-known standards, from an intense delivery of Bronislau Kaper's "Invitation" to a rousing version of Herbie Hancock's "Canteloupe Island". The programme also included several gorgeously played ballads. Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" was a good example of the quintet's ability to move between ferocious blowing and a more lyrical touch. Winston Clifford's vocalising on "Bye Bye Blackbird" stirred the audience into another wave of wild applause, and during Winston's front-stage peformance, Mika added to the jazz culture of surprises when he sat down at the empty drum set and offered a competent rhythmic backing.

On Tuesday, 23 May, the rest of the participating Finnish musicians will fly into London. Under the title Polar Jazz, they will be part of the afore-mentioned extravaganza. The week will offer unusual combinations of musicians. The venue on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be Vortex Jazz Bar in Stoke Newington. On Wednesday (24 May) trumpeter Kenny Wheeler will be joined by the Samuli Mikkonen Trio, on Thursday (25 May) the Mika Mylläri Quintet will be joined by saxophonist Ed Jones, and then on Friday (26 May) Ed Jones and Mika Mylläri will put together their quintets in a ten-piece drum 'n' base band. These concerts will among the last chances to experience the unique atmosphere of the Vortex Jazz Bar, before David Mossman takes his club to Hackney later this year.

The ten-piece band can also be heard at the Bath International Jazz Festival (27 May). Finally on Sunday, 28 May, saxophonist Jari Perkiömäki will be joined by the Jonathan Gee Trio for an afternoon FreeStage concert in the Barbican.

The media has already been taking notice. John Fordham wrote in The Guardian (20 May) about Ed Jones "as one the UK's most distinctive saxophonists in a forceful post-Coltrane manner". Fordham continued that for "three nights at the Vortex, and then at the Bath Jazz Festival, Jones is collaborating with musicians from Finland to produce fresh contemporary music that draws together loops, samples, drum 'n' bass, funk, hard bop and hip-hop". Fordham went on that "Wednesday features local trumpet star Kenny Wheeler performing with one of Finland's fastest-rising young pianists, Samuli Mikkonen, and on Thursday Jones himself joins a regular trumpet partner, Mika Mylläri, to investigate some unusual angles on the reinterpretation of Gil Evans". Fordham desribed the Friday gig as "a meeting that will unleash the most radical explorations of contemporary musical forms".

In Jazz UK, Ed Jones told Brian Blain the tale of "organising these concerts with these amazing Finnish musicians". In the interview, Ed said: "I think every musician should have a go at organising gigs - even if it's only in a pub. It's good to see things from the perspective of all those people who keep the scene going, and if all this is successful it would be nice to think that in the future we could break down some of those barriers with European players and let British audiences hear how varied they really are."

Indeed, the concerts at Vortex and in Bath will not finish the current collaborative project. In future the aim is to incorporate musicians from other European countries. This collaborative project is the result of earlier encounters between Ed Jones and Mika Mylläri and their fellow musicians. The idea of bringing together musicians from different backgrounds seemed enticing as jazz is music that thrives on surprises and unexpected influences. When Ed first played with Mika and Finnish trombonist Mikko Mustonen in 1997, new collaboration was born. It was all wonderful fun and the quality of music and mutual rapport encouraged Ed and Mika to continue their collaboration. They have performed together all around Britain and Finland.

See also:

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

January 1998


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