Renewed April Jazz Festival brought the spring joy to Espoo, Finland

JoStance EsaPaavolainen

The 26th April Jazz Festival (25.-29.4.) continued the strong jazz heritage of its late founder Mape Lappalainen with streamlining features. Excellent Finnish and international artists were seen at the Cultural Centre of Espoo near Helsinki.


Many of the artists presented brand new materials and several album releases at the festival concerts.

This year April Jazz was introducing also a format where movie meets music in a new way. In the opening night of a new festival venue Kino Tapiola, a new film by Saara Cantell, ”Stars Above”, was shown. The soundtrack version was made for April Jazz: the audience heard only the dialogue of the movie, the movie music was composed and played live by Sid Hille.

The renewed April Jazz Festival produced more harmonized and topical festival program with better arranged festival tent facilities for performers and audience. The April Jazz Festival started with fantastic concert by Avishai Cohen and ending with Lighthouse’s ingenious chamber jazz – and in between twenty performer groups. The Festival was a very nice experience with many-sided jazz music and performances.

At the Festival the major international attractions were among others the Israeli double bass player Avishai Cohen, the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, the Grammy awarded singer Patty Austin, Alto saxophonist of the year 2011 by Downbeat’s critics poll, Rudresh Mahanthappa Sandhi band, Gwilym Simcock-Tim Garland-Asaf Sirkis Trio, Columbian Harpist Edmar Castaneda Quartet and Afro-Cuban All Stars conducted by Juan de Marcos.

AfroCubanAllStars EsaPaavolainen

Not to mention the excellent Finnish performers and bands: Ebeli in Concert, Elifantree, Espoo Big Band, Iiro Rantala: The History of Jazz – Special guest Adam Baldych, Jazz Workshop, Jo Stance, Jukka Eskola Quintet w/ Strings, Ketola Rewired, Klima Kalima, Leffa goes Live w/ Cantell & Hille, Tuomas Wäinölä Band, Värttinä and Verneri Pohjola Quartet feat. Jukka Perko.

The famous Israeli bass player Avishai Cohen is known for combining nicely the sounds of his homeland with many-sided and versatile jazz rhythms. Avishai Cohen, an artist praised by the critics, has also amazed the international audiences with his singing skills.

Two years ago this bassist-composer decided to add himself a small challenge and started to sing as a soloist in the group. He sings in four different languages: In English, Spanish, in Hebrew and in Jewish Spanish. His tranquil, beautiful and wistful voice fits perfectly with his melancholic compositions.

AvishaiCohen AprilJazz

The April Jazz Festival started brilliantly with the synthesis of Avishai Cohen Trio. Cohen’s Trio presented European rhythm jazz at its best with fusion of his folk music roots, jazz music and classical music. Israeli folk music sounds nearly like Nordic folk music. The concert was full of energy, speed and charm ending with peaceful harmony and charming classical music.

I have never seen such skilful handling of bass player like Cohen using, enjoying and getting totally different sounds out of his bass. Also trio’s young pianist Omni Mor and young drummer Amir Brsler were playing fantastically pieces like Seven Seas and Besame Mucho. The audience applauded strongly and Cohen’s Trio had to play two extra encores.

The Ambassador of Norwegian jazz, legendary saxophone player Jan Garbarek, is known world wide for his unique sound. Already at the beginning of his career, at the end of the 60’s, Garbarek made a great impact to the jazz audiences with his characteristic way of playing. From those days on the critics have referred to him and his quartet with the words “The Big Four”, a group that defined what Norwegian improvising music is.

The bold use of echo, minimalistic sounds and the rugged scenery of silence became the strongest trademarks of Garbarek, but also of the ECM record company. In 2005 Garbareks record, In Praise of Dreams, was Grammy-nominated for the best Instrumental Jazz Record.

The Concert of The Big Four – ”De Fire Store” lasted over two hours. The first sounds were like echoes from Norwegian fjords. Some pieces sounded like Norwegian folk songs. The whole concert was like a dialogue between the musicians and not many solos – Garbarek’s style. The drummer Trilok Gurtu had fine solo with unusual sounds and scatting. The concert was somewhat lengthy but of special jazz with the own style of Jan Garbarek.

Jo Stance is an ambitious soul project of talented vocalist Johanna Försti and jazz drummer-producer Teppo “Teddy Rok” Mäkynen, both known from several top notch groups in the Finnish jazz scene. Rough soul deep to the bone. This humble soul diva has been compared to Aretha Franklin on many occasions. Mäkynen is one of the wizards behind many distinguished jazz collectives in Finland, such as Five Corner Quintet.

Even the notorious NYC’s Daptone crew has denominated Jo Stance as a favourite.The live group consisted of the finest classiest jazz players: Timo Lassy, Jukka Eskola and Petri Puolitaival in horns and Rokka Merilahti on guitar and Tero Palo on bass. Försti’s charismatic energy made the audience really enjoying her rough soul performance.

The Finnish skilful pianist Iiro Rantala, called sometimes ”enfant terrible” for his varied versions of jazz music adaptations, presented at April Jazz Festival his interpretation of ”History of Jazz”. Rantala digged deeper into the roots of jazz. J.S. Bach was the first jazz musician of the world, at least if one asks Iiro! That’s why the concert starts with variations of Goldberg’s variations.

With Iiro as locomotive the journey went through the golden twenties, decade of ragtime, and next to bepop, cool jazz, hard pop and modern jazz all the way to the future of jazz! As a companion on the saga, Iiro Rantala played with the Polish violinist star, Adam Baldych and front row’s saxophone player Jukka Perko.

The whole Iiro’s performance was very witty and brilliant including Goldberg’s adaptations’ fast fuga or bebops swirls and George Gershwin music and ragtime. This concert was fully entertaining and enjoyable history of jazz story by Iiro Rantala,

The Espoo Big Band (EBB) is one of the finest jazz orchestras in Europe. The orchestra was founded in 1970 by Mr. Martti Lappalainen, who was also the founder and leader of the April Jazz festival for decades. It became known for its young talented musicians and ambitious concert programs. It started to work professionally from 1981.

Since it has been on stage at several international jazz festivals including Detroit, Miami, New York, Montreux, Antibes, Budapest, Montpellier, Umbria, London and Paris.

Various jazz giants, who have featured with The EBB throughout it’s history, include Freddie Hubbard, Slide Hampton, Thad Jones, Bill Watrous, Ray Anderson, Diane Schuur, Art Farmer and Carla Bley, The New York Voices, Maria Schneider, Ray Charles, Kevin Mahogany and Trilok Gurtu.

EBB Concert was conducted by Antti Rissanen with Special Guest of Grammy awarded singer Patty Austin, which was a powerful and pleasant combination of brass band music, songs and stories of old time jazz memories and favourites The repertoire consisted of the material of Ella Fitzgerald.

Austin AprliJazz

For more information on this and future April Jazz Festivals see www.apriljazz.fi

Esa Paavolainen