Estonian Jazz Showcase

Talinn, Estonia

The Estonian Jazz Showcase takes place as part of the Tallinn Music Week, a huge, daunting, but wonderfully ambitious festival of alternative music.

Apart from the jazz showcase on the Friday of last week, I caught heavy rock gigs, Gabriel Prokofiev’s turntable concerto with DJ Switch and a local orchestra somewhat in the style of UK’s Heritage Orchestra, the Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta, and the wonderful I Wear* Experiment, a vibrant electro trio who may be Estonia’s entry into the next Eurovision Song Contest. They deserve to win it!

Kadri Voorand

Kadri Voorand

Most of the bands were from Estonia and the Nordic region, but there were bands from many other countries, UK, USA, Australia and others . What is impressive is the commitment of the Estonian government to the project and the way they see contemporary music in all its forms as a key part of the establishment of a strong identity for the country. The president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, opened the conference, played a DJ set and attended part of the jazz showcase. As well as the music programme, there was an extensive and very informative conference with panels, interviews and discussions.

The jazz showcase focussed predominantly on the contemporary end of the music with bands making extensive use of electronics, particularly to manipulate the sound of instruments or the voice. This gave priority to textures, sounds and interaction between the players rather than on the building interesting lines in solos as in bop or related styles of jazz. As such, the showcase fitted well into the overall mood and ethos of the festival and proved, for me at least, that contemporary jazz belongs to and fits in well with the larger alternative music scene, and can draw an audience that listens to different styles of music. Also striking was the confidence and maturity of the bands from Estonia. Estonia is a small country that has in its post-Soviet era developed a strong identity, partly Baltic but also strongly Nordic.

The venues used in the Tallinn Music Week are excellent. I particularly liked the venue for the opening concerts, the Kultuurikatel, the former power station that now makes an atmospheric space with its massive height, brick walls and remnants of its former activity.

The jazz showcase took place in Vaba Lava, another fine space in an area developing clubs, bars and restaurants. It consisted of 12 bands, each playing a 25/30 min set; use of two venues in the same club meant that there were only very short breaks between each act. Eight of the bands were Estonian, one was Finnish, one Lithuanian and two were mixed groups from Nordic countries. Interestingly, half of the bands were led by women. As mentioned above, the emphasis in the majority of the bands was on free-ish interaction, use of electronics and only in the two final acts was there anything resembled the jazz tradition. This slightly odd placing of two more mainstream acts at the end of the evening was for me the only issue with the curation of the programme.

A Sheep Got Waxed

A Sheep Got Waxed

Seven acts stood out. Vocalist Kadri Voorand’s set with her quartet brought together strong and witty vocals from Kadri and an excellently integrated band. Kadri also appeared in Voorand/Koikson/Sooaar/Daniel, a quartet with two singers blending jazz and folk music in their arrangements of songs by Estonian choral composer, Veljo Tormis. Guitarist Jaak Sooaar also opened proceedings leading Heavy Beauty, a group that featured the wonderful sound of the bass saxophone of Lithuanian Liudas Mockunas. I loved the freedom of A Sheep Got Waxeda Lithuanian sax-guitar-drums trio that uses a lot of effects on the saxophone. The Finnish group Elifantree were perhaps not as exciting as when I heard them in Finland; they seem to be having problems with the sound. Nonetheless this is a very interesting group. Maria Faust’s Sacrum Facere, a drum-less octet led by Estonian Maria, played a very delicate, almost third stream set with strong solos from Maria on alto sax. I also enjoyed the set from singer Ingrid Lukas, which also featured four dancers.

Estonian celebrates the 100th anniversary of its establishment as an independent country in 2018. Let’s hope we can see some of these bands and others in the UK in that year.

Categories: Live review

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