Monday, May 22, 2006

Alexi Tuomarila Quartet - 20/05/2006 @ Arts-ô-Bases, Brussels

In years past, I've spent Brussels Jazz Marathons walking, if not 42 kilometres, a fair few between venues indoors and out. No longer. I didn't go on either Friday or Sunday, and on Saturday I pretty much attended just this concert, even though I caught bits of things elsewhere. There's one BJM tradition that I'll probably always participate in, however: eating TUC biscuits. They're one of the main sponsors and hand out seemingly endless amounts for free and I eat seemingly endless amounts of it. I'm not sure how effective a campaign it is, though: I hadn't eaten any TUC since... the last BJM. Also, I missed the Eurovision finals, but it's sort of okay because half of the band is Finnish and I spent time talking to a Finnish couple. So I got my quota of Finland anyway.

Scarily, the last time I saw Alexi was exactly 364 days ago. Alexi's back in Finland now, but is going into the studio today to record his third Quartet CD, with familiar Belgians Nicolas Kummert on saxophone and Teun Verbruggen on drums (although Lionel Beuvens - whom I like more every time I see him - was playing tonight) and newcomer Finn Anntti Lötjönen on bass. He's also recorded a trio album with different musicians that's coming out on a Norwegian label later this year.

Alexi's playing has grown out of his natural reserve: there's a sense of abandon under that measured surface, and a particular brand of funkiness, too. He even stood up and made announcements! Loud! Nicolas usely handles speaking duties. I asked Alexi how come he's started talking on stage, he simply answered "Because I had to." He's a laconic guy.

Nicolas is still contributing some great tunes. "69-8," so-called because it contains 69 8th-notes, had a powerful afro-tinged beat set off by a percussive saxophone riff. For the first half, Nicolas relied on his smooth Garbarek-influenced tone, but later brought out a richer, breathier one, especially during a ferocious duet with Beuvens and on a shambolic-but-fun "Monk's Mood." By the time the theme returned for the close, it had been stripped down into a series of percussive exclamation points.

I'd never heard Anntti before, but he was brilliant (he's a part of this band and this one, which seems more avant). Never more so than during his only solo, taken on the concert's only true ballad: when he ended it by playing only with his left hand high on the neck, coaxing out extremely thin, quiet notes in an unorthodox manner, you could hear a pin drop. Modestly, he attributed the solo's success to it being the only time he didn't have to read the music.

A lot of the tunes were in odd meters, in seven, actually. The unnatural "counting" feel that often happens with odd meters was avoided by means both intentional and accidental. Intentionally, beats were added to the scheme here and there: three bars of 7 with a bar of 8 in their midst, for example. Accidentally, given the band's unrehearsed nature, there were some... let's call them disagreements, that created a fruitfully messy feel.