Tampere Jazz Happening 2020

The annual Tampere Jazz Happening took place over last weekend (29th October to 1st November) with live audiences – socially distanced of course – and a good quality live stream that remained online for several days after the event.   The festival has been running since 1982 in the attractive city of Tampere in southern Finland.   

It is usually an international festival, but this year as a result of the pandemic it presented a totally Finnish programme and thus provided an excellent snapshot of the burgeoning Finnish scene, which is one of the strongest in Europe.  It was also good that the programme presented representatives of various Finnish jazz generations, from saxophonist Juri Aaltonen still contributing solos with a strong spiritual favour at the age of 85, to younger players such as drummer Amanda Blomqvist who played a solo concert. 

Quite a few of the players played more than one concert: trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, for example, played in three concerts and saxophonist Timo Lassy played in two concerts and sat in on one number in another.  Bass players Antti Lötjönen and Jori Huhtala were also much in demand. 

For me, the most impressive and enjoyable concerts were the two duo concerts, one with Timo Lassy and drummer Teppo Mäkynen, and that between Verneri Pohjola and pianist Tuomo Prättälä.  The Lassy/Mäkynen set moved between a spirituality reminiscent of Coltrane’s mid to late periods and an attractive funkiness.   Verneri Pohjola was particularly impressive in his duo setting where he made use of electronics to manipulate the sound of his trumpet.  This fitted well with the keyboard solos of Prättälä, and made an interesting contrast with his acoustic playing here and with other groups.  Pohjola has a beautiful tone on the trumpet and his solos move between gentle passages that have elements of Finnish folk music to very intense passages that draw on free improvisation as well as the jazz tradition. 

I enjoyed the Iro Haarla Quartet playing some very attractive compositions that I assumed to be originals by Haarla and the excellent solos of saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen.  I remember hearing him play in a feature on Finnish jazz at the London Jazz Festival a few years ago and both then and in this performance, I really liked his tone on the tenor sax and the lyrical nature of his solos.   

However, the most impressive of the band performances seemed to involve a three-horn front line or a two horns plus guitar frontline.  Joakim Berghäll’s Dark Roast 006 project had the leader, Linda Frederiksson and Max Zender doubling on baritone saxophones and bass clarinets to create a rich blend of sound. 

Then Antti Lötjönen’s Quintet East had Mikko Innanen on baritone, alto and soprano saxophones, Jussi Kannaste on tenor and baritone saxophones and Veneri Pohjola on trumpet.  The group followed a rather formulaic pattern with lengthy solos from the horns, but these solos were excellent as were the textures created by the horns in the ensemble passages.  The compositions were good too.     

Mortality featured a front line of Pohjola , saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen and guitarist Jere Haakana playing the music of singer songwriter Tapio Ylinen; they captured the gentle beauty and sadness of the Ylinen’s compositions written to commemorate his wife’s death. 

I’m afraid the concerts seem no longer to be online. 

In conclusion as a person interested in language, I can’t resist mentioning my fascination with the sound of the Finnish language which was of course used in all the announcements.  I don’t speak it and I am always intrigued by the fact that there seem to be very few, if any, shared vocabulary with English or other European languages.  Finnish is a member of the Uralic language family, and has little in common with Indo-European languages.    

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