The jazz scene of Finland has its own character (edgy yet friendly) and energy (intense). The We Jazz label is one of its nerve centers. They record the Finnish badasses and they do a cool festival in Helsinki in December (except, of course, in 2020).
Timo Lassy is one of his country’s most popular and prolific jazz musicians. He may not be fully representative of the Finnish scene because he is a generation older (47) and more mainstream than most We Jazz artists. His claim to fame is a powerful, clarion tenor saxophone sound. Lassy is a born communicator, a crowd-pleaser. He grew up very far from Texas, but he is a soul brother of extroverted Texas tenors like Booker Ervin and “Fathead” Newman.
The format of his new album pushes him to the left. He appears in a stark duo with a free thinker, Teppo Mäkynen. Like most Finnish drummers, Mäkynen is not a timekeeper. He is a co-conspirator. In live settings (two at Finnish festivals, one in a Helsinki club), Lassy and Mäkynen find themselves in wide open musical space, where all bets are off and options are limitless. On “Calling James” and “Zomp,” they lay down blood-and-guts funk. “Hypno” is ambient and gestural. So is “Aero,” where Mäkynen uses electronics to make distant winds behind Lassy. But the centerpiece is the 15-minute “Liberty.” It begins with Mäkynen’s four-minute drum meditation. Lassy enters, dramatically asserting the simple anthem of the theme, repeating it obsessively, then spinning off it into ancillary rituals. By a long, gradual, inexorable process, Lassy’s lines become hoarse expletives and manic calls. It is a wildly exciting performance.
It turns out that Live Recordings 2019-2020 is representative of the best current Finnish jazz after all.