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New Century, Same Genius: Ornette Coleman at JVC

Joe Zawinul
Ravi Coltrane

Mikko Innanen is the star of Finnish jazz. At least that’s how it appeared to me, while visiting Finland for three drizzly November days to witness the 24th International Tampere Jazz Happening. Before I left the U.S. for the festival, stateside journalists familiar with the saxophonist told me, “Lookout for Mikko.” And numerous Finnish jazzheads and journalists I spoke with in Tampere asked, “Have you heard Mikko yet?”

Of the three opportunities to catch Innanen at the 2005 Tampere Jazz Happening, I saw just one: a duo performance with his drummer pal Stefan Pasborg at Telakka, a cozy restaurant/bar that served as one of three festival venues. Employing saxophones in all sizes (and occasionally a whistle), Innanen staked his claim as the Finnish jazzman of import, battling Pasborg’s skin bashing with wails and melodic contortions that recalled the playing of Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. The set was easily more engaging compared with the tedium of another duo set played the previous night by soprano saxophonist Harri Sjostrom and pianist Bernhard Arndt. Billed as Three Meter Dog, Sjostrom and Arndt treaded through an hour of sparse free improvisation without hitting on the path to transcendence. With Sjostrom crying through his horn like a wounded bird and a restless Arndt switching between and applying brushes to the inside of his piano, the duo received only polite applause, while folks at the Innanen/Pasborg concert erupted with cheers and furious hand-clapping after the pair concluded an improvisation. Innanen took it modestly, issuing a boyish grin, saying “Kittos” (Finnish for “thanks”) and making jokes off mike before beginning another duet.

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