Two travellers meet at a cozy cafe in Helsinki. Olavi Louhivuori, the composer, drummer and bandleader of Oddarrang, has just returned from a brief visit to Berlin. Linda Fredriksson, the saxophonist and one third of Mopo, just spent two weeks in Tanzania in Africa. The trips were inspiring, they say, although Fredriksson was caught something resembling malaria – a condition from which she has luckily now recovered.
Oddarrang and Mopo are both set to release new music soon, as well as to perform at Bremen’s Jazzahead in April, marking an important step forward for both groups looking to expand their horizon.
”You just simply have to play outside of Finland”, Louhivuori says. ”These clubs here are quickly played out.”
Oddarrang, one of the various Finnish artists in the UK-based Edition Records’ roster, has been a solid export for some years now. Working with a rising international label has given the five-piece a push they have capitalised on by playing several tours in the UK plus beyond. The band is currently working on Laboratory, their fourth long player and second for Edition.
”Our sound now is bigger, perhaps wider than before”, Louhivuori analyses. The visual component has been a key feature for the band incorporating post-rock-ish elements into a sound that originated somewhere in the broad realm of jazz some ten years ago. The cinematic feel of their music culminated on the previous Oddarrang album, In Cinema, complete with a series of short films commissioned for the project. Their next release has taken shape during a series of live shows last fall at Helsinki’s Lavaklubi.
Mopo's Linda Fredriksson (left), Eero Tikkanen and Eeti Nieminen demonstarting their band name (which means "moped" in Finnish).
”I think there’s something Finnish about your sound”, Mopo’s Linda Fredriksson offers. Louhivuori accepts the suggestion, yet both agree that their position is naturally outside of the hard nucleus of what is generally called ”Finnish jazz”.
”For me, Mopo has represented something fresh from the get go”, Louhivuori counters. ”I always thought you guys were creating your own scene and offering a welcome alternative to the sometimes too academic world of jazz.”
Indeed, from their debut album Jee! (2012) onwards, Mopo has brought to the mix something quite unique – be it their releases or their far-reaching live concepts, such as performing tours for young children at schools or doing 24 gigs in 24 hours.
The band took home the Emma prize for the Finnish jazz album of the year in 2015 with their sophomore effort Beibe, and next, the trio will serve as a backing band for Finnish singer-songwriter Ville Leinonen on an album set for release in May 2016. The third Mopo LP will hit the streets in early 2017.
”For me, Mopo has been an important vehicle of breaking free of the boundaries and pressures of being a jazz musician”, Fredriksson says. ”We just do what is natural and forget the rest.”
The result is a highly personal trio sound which, not unlike that of Oddarrang’s, is ”jazz” in a very broad sense of the word. Both Fredriksson and Louhivuori hesitate when being asked to describe their musical styles – perhaps a testament to the fact that the two groups offer a true challenge for anybody looking to pin them down.
”I suppose genre tags can be useful sometimes but I’m clueless with regards to what the music should be called when thinking about what it actually sounds like”, Louhivuori concludes. Fredriksson nods.
Jazzahead! Festival takes place in Bremen, Germany on April 21.–24.