Henri Texier, Denys Baptiste, Ghost Note and AEC heat up 37th Tampere Jazz Happening

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The 37th edition of what is a key date on the European jazz festival calendar does not want for ambition. Or tradition. Over four days Tampere's 'happening' strikes an enviable balance between current events in improvised music and the underlying roots whence they spring, which is brilliantly epitomised by a show-stopping ovation-winning gig by French double-bassist Henri Texier (above). He is on stellar form.

The septuagenarian leads Sand Quintet, the latest in a long line of dynamic small groups, and Texier's immense life experience as well as talent – as a youngster in Paris he played with Bud Powell, no less – pours into music that has fine solos and interplay, but retains a melodic richness akin to the richest folk music. The themes, often haunting laments, are memorable and strong resonances of non-western music, particularly North African and Indian, colour much of the material, none more so than the classic Texier composition 'Amir', which adds to the anthem-like character of the set. In the large Pakkahuone concert hall the band achieves a club-like intimacy.

Interestingly, Texier makes a point of acknowledging the 'sixth member' of the quintet, sound engineer Charles Caratini, who has been mixing the bassist's work for years, and the question of aural attention to detail and adventurous sonic manipulation surfaces throughout the festival. Technology is something of a running theme among the three bands from Austria, the country Tampere has chosen to showcase this year. Trumpeter Mario Rom's Interzone has darkly atmospheric pieces steeped in the mist of his reverb-laden brass; Elektro Guzzi transfers house and techno grooves to a guitar-led trio, while Kompost 3 has a new take on a patented fusion vocabulary. All of the above engage a lively audience at the smaller standing venue Klubi, which is a smart fit for the obvious dance implications of what they do.

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American ensemble Ghost-Note (above) takes that one step further. The Snarky Puppy splinter group led by drummer Robert Searight and percussionist Nate Werth is an ear-poppingly funky proposition that strikes a chord with the crowd from the downbeat. It is the latest iteration of a model that includes such as Headhunters, Tower Of Power and Groove Collective, insofar as the horns and rhythm section are in a state of near-constant effervescence that makes for a climb-the-walls ambiance. Another US artist with a direct connection to pop culture is trumpeter Josef Leimberg, known for his work with Snoop and Kendrick Lamarr, among others. Shaped by edgy backbeats and trippy modal vamps his set has fine moments, above all Tracy Wannomae's sax solos, but the whole isn't greater than the sum of the parts, and suggests Leimberg is a work in progress. The work is interesting, though.

With regard to artists coming into their own after many years at the coalface British saxophonist Denys Baptiste's Late Trane project (pictured below) goes down a storm and Finnish drummer Olavi Louhivouri excels with The Net Of Indra, which is a supergroup consisting of two Euro jazz legends, his compatriot saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen and Swedish double-bassist Palle Danielsson. The quartet is completed by the excellent Norwegian trumpeter Eivind Lenning, who shines in a setting where Ornettish themes alternate with lengthy unaccompanied solos. Coleman's influence can also be heard in other Finnish groups such as Maxxxtet who play the homely restaurant Telakka, just opposite the concert hall.

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Showcasing Finnish bands is an important part of the festival's remit and a roof-raising performance from Mopo, a tremendously likeable trio with a knack for blending zestful danceable tunes with expressive improvisations, is a TJH highlight. The lively ensemble, which features baritone saxophonist Linda Fredriksson, is joined by special guest, multi-reedist Mikko Innanen, her former tutor, who broadens the tonal and rhythmic palette of the music, creating the novel spectacle of a twin baritone frontline at one point. Arresting sounds of a different order fill the air when the mighty Art Ensemble of Chicago plays a set in which Roscoe Mitchell's no-compromise soprano explorations are dominant. But the searing lament 'Odwalla's Theme', with which the band closes, gets audience members swinging in their chairs. Emma Salokoski & Ilmiliekki Quartet's sublime folk-based set also has the crowd swooning, but the sense of congregation achieved at Tampere Jazz Happening is well in tune with the civic life of the city.

It is the sauna capital of the world, a fact enjoyed by visiting musicians, some of whom happily avail themselves of the cosy cabin backstage at Telakka. Furthermore, the city is growing in stature on the festival circuit and will have the honour of hosting WOMEX 2019.

Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Maarit Kytöharju

For more info visit www.tamperemusicfestivals.fi/jazz and www.visittampere.fi visittampere.fi