The unexpected early November snowfall created a festive backdrop for the genuine bonhomie of Tampere Jazz Happening in Finland. In a compact arrangement of venues, homegrown Scandi-jazz took a prominent place in the 35th edition alongside the more international VIPs. Finnish Yrjö award-winners past and present, including the leading saxophonist Mikko Innanen, made up the personnel of the Finnish Jazz Federation Anniversary Orchestra, kicking things off with an absorbing set that captured something of the forgotten freedom-searching spirit of 1960s modal jazz.
On the Pakkahuone main stage, one of that mission's greatest exponents Charles Lloyd (above) excelled like you'd never seen him before, in an extraordinary performance of great warmth, poetry and emotional depth. His quartet (featuring the eloquent pianist Gerald Clayton) had the full audience in rapture, taking full advantage of the wonderfully crystal-clear sound acoustic. Which was just as vital for The Necks, the influential antipodean piano trio. If an acquired taste, they nonetheless put chamber ensemble improv under a microscope in an unusually brief one-hour set piece that might just have been one of the best cures for ADD. The New York saxophonist Steve Lehman's octet gave a stimulating showing combining compact New Music-influenced brass arrangements with acoustic-based sonic experimentation and atonal-edged bebop. Norwegian multi-reeds virtuoso Marius Neset's quintet featured a few top notch Brits – Jim Hart, Phil Donkin and Ivo Neame – in a pulsating set combining folk dance and fusion, featuring the towering presence of guest Swedish folk-prog cellist Svante Henryson.
In the more intimate Telakka club, the homegrown pianist Aki Rissanen – a new signing to UK's Edition label – mixed Zen funk and Bill Evans with his trio, highlighted by Teppo Mäkynen's uncanny electronica-influenced kit sounds. Donny McCaslin's quartet, who had made one of the best recordings of 2016 in tribute to Bowie, were disappointingly without a contemporary edge without both Tim LeFebvre and Mark Guiliana ie. half the Bowie band. French pianist Eve Risser (above) on the other hand was the big discovery of the weekend, with her eerily mesmerising, impressionistic arrangements for the White Desert Orchestra. The last day saw Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola astutely tackle the music of his father Pekka of cult 1970s progsters Wigwam, while Håkon Kornstad in his Tenor Battle band pulled off an unlikely juxtaposition of Neapolitan opera with Euro-jazz sax improv that reflected the entirely open-minded approach to booking at this International class festival.
– Selwyn Harris