EST Symphony and Akinmusire energise and engage at Espoo's April Jazz

It's 10 years since Esbjörn Svensson's death on 14 June, but EST's odd afterlife continues. Listen to their new archive album, EST Live in London, and their radicalism has gone, absorbed into the youthful appeal of GoGo Penguin and the rest. What's left is the lyrical beauty and propulsive energy of Svensson's music. April Jazz's opening night in the Finnish city of Espoo continues Magnus Öström and Dan Berglund's refusal to abandon that legacy, with their latest EST Symphony gig under conductor Hans Ek. The seasick lurch and swoon of the Tapiola Sinfonietta's strings on 'EST Prelude' soon gives way to Berglund's buzzing bass urgency on 'When God Created the Coffeebreak'. Svensson's own arrangement of 'Dodge the Dodo' is the most forceful, till Sinfonietta and soloists combine in a roar approximating an amped-up EST. Quiet smiles between Öström and Berglund show their bond with their late friend lives on.

Espoo is a new city, with flat, geometric lines which become beautiful in the borderless buildings, woods and water of Tapiola Garden City, the district where April Jazz is based. The sensation of light and space suits a festival coinciding with the end of Finland's long, bleak winter. Ambrose Akinmusire's night here also feels like a fresh start, as he plays music first heard by his quartet at soundcheck. His trumpet begins on an airy, sky-blue frequency of difficult strangeness, shared by pianist Sam Harris. He then becomes the strong, soft thread through varied sounds channelled towards a constant destination. A high-energy Justin Brown drum solo becomes the dense gravitational core of quartet music of pummelling speed, Akinmusire's hotwired New Orleans phrases fragmenting as if in a hall of mirrors. His progress conjures an eerily exact mental image of an intrepid traveller flanked by jagged, German Expressionist mountains, sometimes piercing and sometimes falling into the melee. During a long encore solo, the fragile human breath behind such magnificent, searching music is movingly clear.

Finland-Bobo-Stenson-Trio-dombr

Veteran Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson hits similar heights by stealth. There's a friendly yin-yang to the way his more youthful drummer Jon Fält's prowling challenge is absorbed by his meditative mastery. You could miss his undemonstrative presence in his own band at times, till he circles a phrase's implications, and mesmerises. Espoo Big Band symbolise the city's own jazz resources. Their last album, Lauma, was released by Blue Note, and a new jazz suite by conductor Marzi Nyman contains a capaciously unpredictable soundworld, from a heartbeat murmur of piano and trombone to antic, barroom raucousness in 'Espoo Blues'.

Saxophonist Mikko Innanen is similarly impish in a gig at a nature reserve, where back-projected Finnish landscapes accompany his trio's non-nationalist refashioning of regional anthems, as when a tuba combines North European and New Orleans syncopation. Espoo Museum of Modern Art is packed for Raoul Björkenheim's quintet, the audience rewarded for their stoicism by being subjected to assault by eyeball-painted ping-pong balls. Björkenheim's trumpeter Verneri Pohjola soon reappears leading Ilmiliekki Quartet, whose intricacy sustains controlled, aloof interest.

The highlight, Akinmusire apart, is though the jams at April Jazz Club, where bop ballads warmly soundtrack drunken conversation. Altoist Ari Jokelainen's pure-toned melodic directness and the watchful enthusiasm of guitarist Tuomo Dahlblom stand out. In the very small hours, even Akinmusire jumps up. Such unfussy potency characterises this festival's music.

– Nick Hasted
– Photos by Ralf Dombrowski

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