31 October 2008

Ensemble finery

It’s not every day we hear tell of Finland, so a juxtaposition of Ilmiliekki and Finnish education within 24-hours was notable. Ilmiliekki is a capable, young jazz band that is visiting Australia for Wangaratta and more. They performed for a private audience at the Finnish Embassy, and I was lucky enough to get invited. ArtSound was there recording, so the concert won’t remain so private. The other side of the equation was Finnish education in the context of Rudd’s education revolution, which was discussed on Radio National the following morning. The speaker was praising Finland as having the most successful education system in the world. Certainly, the jazz was capable and interesting and displayed good training, and the introductions in English (my take on the education system) were better than any of us would be likely to manage in Finnish.

This was jazz in the Euro tradition: elements of folksong and images of snow and mountains, and a clear link to the Western fine music tradition. I noticed the classical links mostly in the piano playing, which was more dense chords and close voicings and atonal as in 20th century fine music style, rather than linear piano lines which mimic sax. The trumpet was more of the linear style of scalar fragments and figures, but there was also play with strained and muffled articulations, bent notes and the like. His was a concern with purity of sound and this was shared by the other members: not flashiness, but unity and connection in the performance whole. The bass often enough played repeated, hypnotic patterns but also dropped into improvised straight feels. The drummer (on his fourth tour of Australia, so already a mate) played minimally at times, but also raised and sustained tension at other times by leading the busy-ness of the ensemble. It was this ensemble playing, rather than individual playing that defined the sound of the band for me, and this just seemed to fit the folk affiliation I mentioned above.

The band started with a tune by Tom Waits, bluesy in melody and harmony and played with simplicity but also with emotional strength. There were several originals: a Bb pedal piece, some folk-influenced melodies. A mate observed that only the last tune modulated: it was by Ornette Coleman. He was impressed that interest was maintained through the other tunes with simple underlying structures. But this, to me, is the extended, inward-looking style which I identify with Northern Euro jazz.

So, in summary, a very satisfying concert of considerable seriousness with capable ensemble playing. And a nice way to warm up for the chatter and drinks at the Embassy reception to follow.

The Ilmiliekki Quartet is led by Verneri Pohjola (trumpet) with Tuomo Prättälä (piano), Antti Lötjönen (bass) and Olavi Louhivuori (drums).

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