FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: April Jazz in Espoo, Finland

Bobo Stenson Trio

32nd April Jazz
(Various locations in Espoo, Finland 25-29 April 2018. Report by Ralf Dombrowski*)

Espoo is not far from Helsinki. The newly built suburban train line takes you there, so with musicians of the calibre of Ambrose Akinmusire or Bobo Stenson on the bill within such easy reach of the capital, there should be no concerns about raising a good audience. “It’s still a challenge, though” says Matti Lappalainen, who took over the artistic direction of the April Jazz Festival from his eponymous but unrelated predecessor at the beginning of the decade.

“We naturally want to have the halls full, so I’m trying to get a mix of international musicians and artists from Finland that will interest a lot of people.” In any case, he can’t complain this year. Most of the concerts he put on the programme for the 32nd edition of April Jazz were sold out. He’s earned the right to sit back and even relax a little; the mixture of style, modernity, popularity and local roots which the festival offers was a success.

Laura Mvula
Photo credit: Ralf  Dombrowski
For example, the UK singer Laura Mvula came to town. She filled the large hall of the cultural centre with her minimalist, arranged version of soul. Despite her jocular announcements, it tended to take itself a bit too seriously. Pianist Iiro Rantala was there with bassist Dan Berglund, drummer Magnus Öström and the Tapiola Sinfonietta performed the dedication programme E.S.T. Symphony with much dramatic emphasis.

Guitarist Marc Ribot with Ceramic Dog deconstructed the normality of jazz rock trio playing in an efficient manner, while pianist Bobo Stenson was more relaxed than he has been in a long while, with his long-standing trio alternating between multi-layered compositions which interlocked with each other, and just the sheer enjoyment of playing. Several of the Finnish projects referenced their own jazz and pop history in terms of content, style – or both. Among them were a clangorous quintet led by guitarist Raoul Björkenheim, which oscillated between a rebellious free roar and massive guitar/saxophone onslaughts in the EMMA modern art museum. The trio of saxophonist Mikko Innanen followed in the Haltia nature museum in the style of the post-modern late eighties Finnish folklore and re-interpreted a few folk songs through the prism of some quirky improvisation.

Ambrose Akinmusire at the workshop
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski
There were, however, two moments in particular when all that one could ever ask for coincided particularly well. New York trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire gave an explanation of the background of his art based on philosophical and emotional reflection in a workshop, and did more: he also presented it in concert in the small Café Louhi. His quartet, shifting between polyrhythms, the layering of sound and a remarkably controlled flow, gave an object lesson in how to present comtemporary music. Despite all the complexity in the music this group has its particular way of leaving all the intellectuality behind and giving everything to the energy of the moment.

The Imiliekki Quartet
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski
The Ilmiliekki Quartet around trumpeter Verneri Pohjola embodied the very spirit of April Jazz. This was modern chamber jazz; it struck a superb musical balanced between intensity and calm; it had its historic rootedness in the Finnish scene, but at the same time the concept was international; the band in Sellosali drew the audience in superbly.

So Matti Lappailainen can indeed be satisfied with April Jazz 2018 – as he sets to work to bring a similarly well-judged mix to Espoo next year.

(*) Ralf Dombrowski’s original German text appears on the Jazzzeitung.de website

Categories: miscellaneous

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