Tuesday, August 4, 2009

All That Jazz

Finally, here comes my report from Pori Jazz festival. I don’t even remember how many times I’ve been at Pori Jazz. It’s become a tradition, and it surely is the best Finnish summer music festival I know.

Jazz started already before arriving at Pori. My dad introduced me to Chuck Mangione, a flugelhorn player whose song Feels So Good was quite a hit back in 1977. This wonderful, melodic piece of jazz is influenced by pop, r&b, and funk.

Chuck Mangione: Feels So Good (YouTube)
Another artist was The Crusaders, a group that has worked in the area of jazz-funk fusion. The band (originally called The Jazz Crusaders) made a long career releasing more that 30 albums. Their most successful song was Street Life from 1979.

The Crusaders & Randy Crawford: Street Life (YouTube)
The Crusaders at MySpace

Pori, an idyllic town on the west coast of Finland, has been known as Finland’s jazz town for decades. Pori Jazz festival has taken place every year since 1966, and based on the ticket sales it is the biggest festival in Finland and one of the biggest in Europe. Pori Jazz has always had international artists involved – artists such as James Brown, Sting, Paul Simon, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie have performed at Pori Jazz.

The thing about jazz in general is, that even though jazz is considered to be one of the two forms of art music (the other being classical music/opera), it receives very little financial support from Finnish cultural funds. Savonlinna Opera Festival gets a lot of money, and smaller sums go to folk music festivals, for instance. It seems that jazz is expected to manage on its own, like pop, rock, and heavy metal. Well, looking at Pori Jazz list of performers, it’s clear that jazz does not manage on its own – it seems to require heavy support from soul, funk, r&b, and a range of other genres many of which actually have very little to do with jazz. Last year’s megastar in Pori was Santana. Sly & The Family Stone also paid a visit to Pori quite recently, and so did Ziggy “Bob’s son” Marley. A couple of years ago Pori Jazz even lured audience to Kirjurinluoto arena with hip hop – Jay-Z performed.

The sad truth is, all this results in thousands of people coming to Pori to listen to anything but jazz. That is probably not the original purpose of this festival, but it may be the only way to keep the Jazz alive – and alive it is, although you are not going to see jazz bands as main performers in Pori very often. Luckily, you can still hear a plenty of jazz at the festival, and you can even hear a plenty of jazz for free. Pori Jazz grants every year numerous free admission concerts to anyone who’s interested. During the festival, there are 2-4 free concerts every day. Those concerts include several international artists and the best of Finland’s jazz talent which means you don’t even have to pay to see virtuosity.

This year’s headlining artists were Erykah Badu, Duffy and The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Booker T. Jones was also one of the big names. When it comes to these artists, Pori Jazz is a great place to go camping because you can hear the main concerts quite well to Pormestarinluoto camping site. I only managed to hear one song from Duffy, but from Raphael Saadiq’s gig I heard many songs. Saadiq’s soul/r&b music sounded really good. It even made me want to check out his records. There was definitely a lot of Stevie Wonder in Saadiq’s material.

Raphael Saadiq at MySpace

Speaking of Stevie Wonder… Mr. Wonder seemed to be everywhere at Pori Jazz, even though he certainly wasn’t there personally. During the time I spent at the festival, I heard about five different acts perform Stevie Wonder’s music. Motown’s 50th anniversary had certainly something to do with this. Stevie is of course a musical genius in his own right. I’ve recently come to like his music very much, and I’m just getting started…

This year isn’t only a celebration of Motown’s 50th anniversary – it is also the year of swing legend Benny Goodman’s 100th birthday. American clarinet virtuoso Ken Peplowski performed with some talented musicians under the title “Ken Peplowski’s Benny Goodman Contennial Celebration”.

Ken Peplowski at All About Jazz

Another wonderful moment was seeing Tuuli Taul and Eyolf Dale, winners of Nömme Jazz contest, perform a set. Norwegian Dale played the piano and Estonian Taul took care of the vocals. Taul’s performance was delightful. She performed some cool scat singing, and it was really interesting to hear her sing many songs in Estonian – several of which she had translated herself. Estonian language sounds really peculiar to any Finn. You see, Estonian is the closest relative to Finnish language which causes some words to be exactly the same in both languages, but the overall impression of Estonian being somewhat strange...

Tuuli Taul at MySpaceEyolf Dale at MySpace

Dutch tenor saxophonist and flutist Andy Declerck played some really good modern jazz with Finnish guitarist Kari Antila. Together with an a-class rhythm section from Finland, these guys form a band Andy Declerck & Kari Antila Group. Virtuosity is an important part of any jazz experience. As you might guess, Declerck and Antila are some of the most well-respected musicians of their home countries.

Andy Declerck at MySpace
Andy Declerck homepage
Kari Antila at MySpace

For some reason, the Pori Jazz organization wanted to add some Finnish indie pop to the cavalcade this year. The idea sounds excellent, of course. Regina and TV OFF played a concert, although I didn't see it. When another Finnish pop band, Belle Who (previously unknown to me) played their set on Radio Nova stage, I recognized one song. I had heard it in the Finnish TV commercial for Grey’s Anatomy. The performance wasn’t bad but the music didn’t quite impress me. I read somewhere that Belle Who intends to be Finland’s Lily Allen. In my opinion, that can’t be very good… Well, I bet many people will like that stuff. Belle Who released a debut album earlier this year.

Belle Who at MySpace

One of the most memorable artists I saw on Radio Nova stage was Hazmat Modine, a group from New York. Their music wasn’t exactly jazz, although many of the traditional jazz instruments were in use. Hazmat Modine’s music was best described as ethno. There was a lot of blues influence, some oriental sounds and even reggae there. The most distinctive feature of Hazmat Modine was the masterful use of different harmonicas, including diatonic and chromatic harmonicas. There was also a tuba involved. Tuba is a fun instrument - it looks like it just landed from outer space…

Hazmat Modine at MySpace

Helsinki Pop Jazz Conservatory showed some of its coolest talents by presenting its Motown band, Par Avion. These young men, wearing Blues Brothers costumes and sunglasses, performed Motown’s greatest hits, other soul/pop classics from the 60s, 70s and 80s, including hits from the Blues Brothers movie. The guys (and one girl) put on a great show with a lot of fun. OMG, I wanna be in a band like that too!

I think I’ve pretty much been swept away by jazz now. I’m not saying I’m going to abandon my endless bubblegum, power pop and 70s semi-progressive hard rock listening activities… Still, I think I’ve realized something important about jazz, as well as soul and r&b, and the use of jazz, soul and r&b instruments in other genres. First of all, I want to learn more about this area. Also, there is a reason why there are many Charlie Parker and Phil Woods CDs on my desk, and a beginner’s DVD that introduces a certain woodwind instrument… It seems that I’m actually going to realize one of my musical dreams/ambitions – sooner than I ever expected, I might add. And that’s not even all. I can’t begin to guess what I’ll be doing a few years from now…

Wanna join an r&b band? Psychedelic rock band?