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.    

Thoughts About Henry Threadgill and Maria Schneider

I was both delighted and fascinated to read that Henry Threadgill has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters Fellowship for 2021, along with Terri Lyn Carrington, Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath and the broadcaster and educator Phil Schaap. 

I regard Threadgill as one of the most important figures in contemporary creative music and have written to that effect in a piece on this website, in a post which can be read here.  Threadgill’s compositions for his various groups, Very Very Circus, Make A Move, Zooid and 14 Or 15 Kestra are truly original and creative pieces of work that stand comparison with work in any form of music.  The reason I am fascinated by this award and avoided using the word ‘jazz’ above is that in recent years Threadgill has been at pains to argue that his music is not jazz and that jazz is a music of the past century when it was clear what jazz was and wasn’t.  We can find these statements in various interviews which can be read here and at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42pCOwN6Uf8.   Threadgill argues that the term jazz no longer has a clear meaning and that his music should be labelled as ‘creative improvised music’. 

By rejecting the jazz label, I do not think that Threadgill means any disrespect for the jazz tradition, rather that the use of the term jazz always creates an expectation of a certain kind of music which is different from Threadgill’s music.  It also means that his work is regarded as that of a jazz composer rather than that of a major composer in any genre of music.    

This discussion of whether much of contemporary jazz would be better categorised as creative music is one that is unlikely ever to be resolved.  I see the point and agree that Threadgill should be listened to by people who listen to contemporary ensembles such as the London Sinfonietta or Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, but also feel that Threadgill has followed a career strongly associated with jazz, for example through his membership of the AACM and his inclusion in his ensembles of players who are generally regarded as being members of the jazz community. Furthermore, for me jazz still means creative music. 

Nonetheless I think the NEA Jazz Masters Award is one that Threadgill richly deserves and I will be fascinated to hear what he says in his acceptance speech. 

I have also been listening to and really enjoying Maria Schneider’s latest album: Data Lords.  Schneider is also a brilliant composer and the pieces on this double Cd are excellent examples of her work.  When the Maria Schneider Orchestra spent two or three days in Birmingham a year or so ago conducting a workshop with Birmingham Conservatoire jazz students and giving a wonderful concert to a large audience in Symphony Hall, I was struck by the strong group feel in the players and their excitement about being members of the orchestra.  This comes across very strongly on Data Lords with each composition being a feature for one or two members of the orchestra, so that players such as Ben Monder, Rich Perry, Gary Versace, Frank Kimbrough and Donny McCaslin are beautifully integrated into the writing for the composition they are featured.   

This is definitely a jazz approach and, although Schneider works in other genres, e.g. writing arrangements for David Bowie’s last album, I am confident that she regards herself as a jazz performer. 

Incidentally Schneider received a NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship in 2019 and made a brilliant acceptance speech which you can access at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQBY5uYt2jM&feature=youtu.be&t=4318

One Little Known Fact About Spencer Davis

I was sad to hear that Spencer Davis had died at the age of 81.  I enjoyed what I heard of his music, mostly back in the 1960s, but I didn’t follow his career and therefore do not intend to write a tribute.  Indeed, I do not know enough to write a tribute. 

However, one small detail of his career has always interested me.  In 1960 he came to the University of Birmingham to study German and played the key role in establishing what was called The Rhythm Club.  In 1962 Evan Parker arrived in Birmingham to study Botany – he survived two years on the course before the lure of jazz and improvised music took over, and the university required him ‘to terminate his studies’.  Spencer Davis got to know that Evan was a saxophonist and invited him to join the Rhythm Club. Evan became an active member and regards his conversion of the basement of the Student Union Chapel into a jazz club as one of his finest achievements of that time. 

Evan and Spencer never actually played together, but had a friendship which fully acknowledged the differences in their musical directions. Of course, the most famous member of the Spencer Davis Group was Steve Winwood who along with brother Muff Winwood and Pete York were founder members of the group.  

In an interview with Philippe Renaud and Patrick Genaud in the French magazine ImproJazz (November 1994) Evan talks of how he would play at a jazz session at the Grotto pub off Hurst Street in Birmingham on a Saturday afternoon.  This was in the days of licensing hours and when a pub could stay open in the afternoon if there was a band playing.  Apparently, a few of the audience would be there for the music, but most were there for the alcohol.  Evan and Steve Winwood heard each other play in that period, and Evan retains a great liking and respect for Winwood’s music, from Traffic and Blind Faith onwards.  He also feels that the offer to record the pioneering improv album Karyobin with John Stevens, Kenny Wheeler, Derek Bailey and Dave Holland came about partly as a result of Steve and Muff Winwood putting in a word to Chris Blackwell, boss of Island Records. 

I used to think that Evan and Steve Winwood might have jammed together at The Grotto at some point, but I’m told it never happened.  If it had, I would have liked to have heard it.   So would Evan! 

A Filming Session with Paul Dunmall

Last Friday TDE Promotions/Fizzle set up a recording and filming session at Sansom Studios in Wythall area just outside Birmingham.  It was trio session led by Paul Dunmall with bass player James Owston and drummer Tymoteusz Jozwiak.   It was an excellent session with really strong interaction between the three players with the added interest of hearing Paul play different saxophones and flute.  He played the first two tracks on tenor saxophone, the third on alto sax, the fourth on C-Melody sax and the final track on flute.    

The film will be out in the near future on the Fizzle Facebook Channel and when the date of the launch is fixed, we will let you all know.  There will also be a Cd of the session at a later date. 

Paul has been recording a number of  Cds at Sansom Studios recently and, as well as recording with musicians, such as Mark Sanders, John Edwards and Liam Noble, with whom he has worked regularly over the years, he has started playing and recording with some of the younger players on the Birmingham scene.  Last week’s recording and filming session with James Owston and Tymoteusz Jozwiak is a case in point.   On other session yet to be released he has recorded with trombonist Richard Foote, guitarist Steve Saunders and drummer Jim Bashford.  

Paul is at pains to point out how many excellent young players there are on the Birmingham scene and how readily they adapt to free improvisation. 

We would like to review here three of the recent recordings.  They are on FMR Records and can accessed at www.fmr-records.com.    From January TDE Promotions launched a monthly series with the name Paul Dunmall Presents at the Eastside Jazz Club with Paul selecting a different band each month.  We had three great sessions up to March, but, sadly because of the virus, we will have to wait till some time in 2021 before we can start the series again.  In the meantime, it is great that Paul is able to document his activity through the recordings at Sansom Studios, thereby creating a huge legacy. 

CD Awakening Expectations FMR Records  CD580-0520 

The group that plays on the Cd is essentially that which appeared at the first session of the Paul Dunmall Presents series in January 2020.  It has Paul just on tenor sax on this occasion, Percy Pursglove on trumpet, John  O’Gallagher on alto saxophone, Chris Mapp on electric bass and Miles Levin on drums.  Paul had wanted a pianist on the live session, so added Elliott Sansom for the recording.  This was, I believe, Elliott’s first experience of improvising freely and he immediately made his mark interacting early on with Percy, and then with Paul later in the title track Awakening Expectations, and concluding the track with a beautiful solo with a classical and almost romantic feel.  The track is totally improvised and proceeds through a series of collective passages that alternate with solos from the horns, piano and drums.  Each of the horn players take a solo, two in the case of Percy, and each one relates back to the collective passage just before it and leads into the next.  Miles takes a fine solo that at the end drops down in intensity that leads into the most abstract of the collective improvisations.  The collectively improvised passages have a lot of variety, from the early passage that has a New Orleans front line feel to it, to the very abstract passage just mentioned.  Others have a joyous and exuberant feel. 

Track 2 Playing The Virtues 

This second track is significantly different from the first with the collective improvisation going further ‘out’, that is becoming more adventurous.  It starts collectively with the three horns interacting with each other with the piano, bass and drums silent.  Percy is very impressive in this section.  After quite a long section the piano bass and drums enter and the intensity rises.  Then there is a passage, again relatively long, with just the piano trio with Elliott becoming increasingly confident in his solo.  John O’Gallagher enters interacting with Chris on the electric bass; Chris gradually takes over with a bass solo.  This becomes quite abstract and Percy adds another texture with a series of single note punctuations.  The saxophones then enter and this more abstract approach gradually becomes more intense.  A similar pattern is followed for the rest of the track; Elliott solos again, Paul plays a great solo, there is an early peak with an interesting collective riff which seems to be bringing the track to an end, but then John comes back in with a great solo.  The track gradually winds down to its conclusion. 

CD: A Songbird’s Temple FMR Records CD572-0120 

This is a trio album with pianist Angelica Sanchez, an American/Mexican pianist who was on a short tour of UK, Paul again on tenor saxophone, but also alto flute on the final track, and Mark Sanders on drums.  It’s a very different album from the Awakening Expectations album.  It is totally improvised, but the music breaks down into solos by Angelica and Paul over Mark’s inventive drumming.  Both take quite long solos on the five tracks, and their styles fit together well so that there is a good cohesion in the music.  It is interesting to note that, although Coltrane is clearly the major influence on Paul’s playing, he has the ability to develop extremely logical solos where each phrase leads seamlessly into the next, a feature of his playing that reminds me of Sonny Rollins’ approach.  Moreover, Paul rarely repeats himself; he assures me that he has his licks that he will sometimes repeat, but I am yet to work out what they are.  Angelica has a similar approach and the New York Times description of her having the ability to ‘seek out the lyrical heartbeat in any avant-garde storm’ suggests why she fitted so well with Paul’s playing. 

CD: The Feeling Principle FMR Records CD589-0120 

This album sees Paul Dunmall with three well established improvisers: Liam Noble on piano, John Edwards on bass and Mark Sanders on drums.   It is another hugely varied CD which brings out another aspect of Paul’s and the other musicians’ abilities.  What strikes me about the three tracks is that a structure to the improvisations appears naturally and organically in each of the tracks.  In the title Track 1, for example, some way into the piece there is a momentary pause and then Paul accompanied by Liam comes in with a very different gentler focus.  Initially it seemed pre-planned to me, but I have been assured that it happened spontaneously.  A similar thing happens in Track 2, Full Waking Trance, where about two thirds into the track Paul again takes the music in another direction with gentle support from the bass and drums.  There is also a series of arcs to the improvisations with each arc starting gently, building up in intensity and finally winding down; this adds coherence to the music.   

There are also a couple of excellent albums in the can yet to be released: a quartet album with Paul and Neil Metcalfe on flutes, Paul on alto flute and Neal on regular flute.  They are joined by James Owston and Tymoteusz Jozwiak.  Then there is a sextet album with Percy Pursglove on trumpet, Richard Foote on trombone, Steve Saunders on guitar, James Owston on double bass and Jim Bashford on drums.  They are joined on one track by Elliott Sansom on harmonium. 

Triptychs in the Ten Acres of Sound Event

It was wonderful yesterday to be able to hear live music with live musicians in a venue with an attentive audience. This was the Tritychs event organised by Fizzle as part of the Ten Acres of Sound programme run by Artefact, the cafe/bar on Stirchley High Street.

The pleasure came, however, came from much more than the simple pleasure of hearing live music after a long gap. The music presented was of a very high standard and featured some of the best young experimental musicians in Birmingham. And the music involved the interaction between live instruments and loops and sounds created on laptops, presenting a vignette of a kind of futuristic approach to contemporary music.

It was extremely well organised by Artefact and Fizzle with three venues all within walking distance on the now fashionable Stirchley High Street. Audiences were organised into three bubbles of eight people who went together from one venue to the next. I, for example, was in the bubble that went from Venue B, the Anjuma Lounge, to Venue C, Artefact, and finally to Venue A, The Wildcat. All three venues are attractive small cafe bars serving excellent beer as well tea and coffee. The precautions taken against the virus were also impressive.

I will describe each gig in the order I followed them:

Anjuma Lounge: Sarah Farmer and Annie Mahtani

This was a duet between Sarah (pictured here) on violin and effects and Annie on laptop. Sarah created very interesting lines and added effects by occasionally scraping the bow on strings of the violin. Annie underpinned Sarah’s playing with ambient sounds adding in various samples of bird song and other sounds from the Stirchley area. This was a superb start to the evening’s music with some very special and unique music.

Artefact: Aaron Diaz and Chris Mapp

Aaron on laptop combined with Chris on bass and effects. What I particularly liked about this set was the way in which Chris’ lines on the bass were quite melodic and dovetailed really well with the wide ranging sounds that Aaron created in his electronics.

Wildcat: Georgia Denham, Anna Palmer and Andy Woodhead

Anna Palmer

A trio this time with all three focussing on electronic effects to create a stimulating range of sounds and textures. Both Georgia and Anna used their voices at times to add a new texture to the overall sound.

Each group performed three times with a different audience and it would have been fascinating to see how far each set varied from performance to performance. The musicans were clear that each performance was different.

Details of the full Ten Acres of Sound programme can be found at http://www.tenacresofsound.com