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From tram to tiny flat, offbeat settings for live jazz

Helsinki’s third annual We Jazz festival, which runs through Sunday, has earned a reputation for bringing improvisational music into unusual settings around the city.

Joonas Haavisto
Pianist Joonas Haavisto is inviting listeners into his small apartment for intimate concerts. Image: Jussi Mankkinen / Yle

The venues for Helsinki's third annual We Jazz festival include a moving tram, an old wooden villa owned by a loudspeaker company and the home of pianist Joonas Haavisto – a 30-square-metre flat in the Töölö district that does not include much more than his grand piano and bed. Haavisto is hosting three concerts there for 20-30 guests each.

We Jazz
Gathering in Haavisto's kitchen Image: Jussi Mankkinen / Yle

Meanwhile the Andorra cinema, co-owned by the filmmaking Kaurismäki brothers, is the venue for a silent film screening with live accompaniment by trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and his band.

Up-and-coming acts + Aaltonen at 80

Along with Pohjola, the line-up is dominated by other familiar names from the Helsinki jazz scene of the past decade or so such as Jukka Perko, Teppo Mäkynen, Timo Lassy, Antti Lötjönen and Jukka Eskola. These last four were part of the Five Corners Quintet, which scored European success before being shelved in 2010.

Mikko Karjalainen
Trumpeter Mikko Karjalainen accompanied Haavisto on Tuesday evening. Image: Jussi Mankkinen / Yle
Also in the spotlight are up-and-coming bands such as the Bowman Trio (winner of this year’s We Jazz Rising Star prize), will be recording a live album on Wednesday at the intimate Café Sävy and the Teemu Åkerblom Quartet, who play the closing concert at the Tavastia rock club along with Lassy’s quartet.

It’s not all youngsters – as the previous evening, saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen celebrates his 80th birthday with a show at Sävy. Aaltonen, who has played with international jazz stars and Finnish prog-rock bands since the 1960s, will be accompanied by this year’s Yrjö jazz prize winner, bassist Ulf Krokfors.

Iyer talks Saariaho and Sibelius

The only foreign stars are US pianist Vijay Iyer and German avant-garde multi-instrumentalist Gunter Hampel. His quintet appears on Saturday at Genelec House in the Arabia neighbourhood.

Iyer headlined Monday’s gala opening night show at Helsinki’s former Opera House, the gingerbread nineteenth-century Alexander Theatre.

Aleksanterin teatteri.
The Alexander Theatre dates back to 1879. Image: Yle
Iyer’s trio was following up on last summer’s Pori Jazz show, albeit to the beat of a different drummer.

Iyer, a Harvard professor who also records classically-oriented work, spoke with Yle’s Swedish-language news about topics ranging from Finnish composers such as Kaija Saariaho and Esa-Pekka Salonen, and his experience as a 13-year-old violinist in New York playing Sibelius, whose 150th birthday is being celebrated this week.

Stream or download the interview here.

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