Jukka Perko Avara Trio (Finland), MIJF Club Session at Bennetts Lane 9.30pm Wednesday 4 June 2014
I hurried from Here and Now and the Larry Carlton Quartet to finish the night with a Finnish flourish. Having been impressed by Carlton’s facility with his instrument, but not too excited by the material he chose to play, I was ready for adventure.
Well, I missed the first piece, but pretty soon I found myself thrown into the deep end of what seemed a very strange pool indeed, eased in by the wry sense of humour of saxophonist and band leader Jukka Perko. I did quite know what had hit me, to tell the truth, and felt as if I was treading water amid some strange currents for quite a while.
The humour was an ice breaker. Perko explained that their second piece, He Left the Road, was about a man who walked off into a forest swamp and wandered about for some time before returning to pretty much the same point — which was they way he often felt about jazz. There was some heavy breathing into the sax in this fragmented piece.
All three members of the trio made extensive use of pedals for sustain, reverb and playback of samples on the run. At times it felt almost classical (from Teemu Viinikainen on acoustic guitar), at others there was piercing soprano sax, then intricate electric guitar from Jarmo Saari. I felt during Guardian Angel that the music was so changeable that it was hard to keep up or adjust as it shifted in intensity and mood. The finish (no pun intended) was fast, loud and full of vigour.
After some humour directed at Swedish music being in a major key and the Finns requiring a switch to minor, there was a lyrical, folk-style piece with a dance feel before things turned darker.
During Water of the Black Trench — a reference to the last waters from melting snow flowing into deep pools that made the clear water appear dark — I was mesmerised and totally engrossed. Saari’s vocals, emerging into the mic from beneath his long moustache, were uncanny, unsettling and evocative. His voice and his electric guitar, with reverb and sustain, conjured creepy, icy things that were in keeping with the gravelly static coming from someone in the trio. This wonderful piece finished with what could have been the cries of birds followed by a tiny echo of the sax notes.
Praise the Lord for He Is Good (an old French mediaeval song reworked) offered a series of musical vignettes, each quite different. The unpredictability of this trio had me convinced that in the encore, Summer Hymn, the light, airy, melodic and pleasant feel would surely give way to something darker, but that did not happen. The floating, flowing feel of summer remained until the end.
Departing from the deep traditions of jazz from the US always offers potential for something completely different. I’d like to hear more of the Jukka Perko Avara Trio, if only to be better prepared for the unexpected. But somewhere deep in the black trench I decided I was no longer out of my depth.