by Ian Mann
August 13, 2015
A cooking session in every sense of the phrase. Lassy is a tenor sax specialist with a big, soulful, powerful sound and an impressive fluency as a soloist.
Brecon Jazz Festival 2015
Timo Lassy Band, The Memorial Hall, Christ College, 08/08/2015.
One of the hot tickets at this year’s Brecon Jazz Festival was this late afternoon performance at Christ College by a quintet led by the Finnish saxophonist and composer Timo Lassy. The Helsinki based musician was invited to perform at Brecon after Pablo Janczur, director of Orchard Media the operators of Brecon Jazz Festival, was blown away by a performance by the Lassy band at the Jazz Ahead event in Bremen, Germany.
Thirty nine year old Lassy is a musician rooted in the hard bop sounds of the 50s and 60s, a tenor sax specialist with a big, soulful, powerful sound and an impressive fluency as a soloist. He first made his name on the jazz scene in Amsterdam before returning to his native Finland to work with the Five Corners Quintet and with the singer Joyce Elaine Yuille. He has also recorded five albums as a leader, the latest being “Love Bullet”, a recent release on the Must Have Jazz imprint of the German label, Membran.
“Love Bullet” features the same core instrumental configuration that appeared today plus guest appearances from Five Corners trumpeter Jukka Eskola and vibraphonist Panu Savolainen. Today’s line up featured album personnel Georgios Kontrafouris on Wurlitzer and piano and Abdissa Assefa on percussion plus a young rhythm team of Ville Herrala (double bass) and Ville Pynssi ( kit drums). These last two replaced bassist Antti Lotjonen and Lassy’s long term associate and leader of the Five Corners Quintet Teppo Makynen (drums) who both appear on the album.
“Love Bullet” also provided all of today’s material which began with the other four members of Lassy’s band playing the introduction to “Green Pepper Strut”, one of seven Lassy originals on the album. The tenor toting Lassy made a grand entrance, brandishing his saxophone to the audience. Suited and booted he joined he joined his equally sharply dressed colleagues in a group that also paid homage to the sartorial elegance of the hard bop era. The retro feel was enhanced by the sight of Lassy blowing his tenor into a vintage RCA microphone.
As its title suggests “Green Pepper Strut” was an energetic piece with a straight ahead jazz cum funk feel but with the Ethiopian born Assefa providing a welcome element of exotica via an array of percussion that included both Latin and African instruments- congas, shells, shakers, cowbells etc. Lassy took the first solo, blowing hard above the patter of Assefa’s percussion. Kontrafouris also introduced himself on the Wurlitzer, the instrument adding a distinctive element to the band’s sound and, much like Assefa’s percussion, helping to differentiate it from vintage hard bop . Lassy then returned for a second tenor solo, as if to remind everybody just whose band it was.
Next up was “Waltz Unsolved”, one of two tracks on the album to feature the sound of vibes. After Lassy had stated the theme the first solo went to Kontrafouris and there were also well received features from percussionist Assefa and kit drummer Pynssi.
“Love Bullet” itself saw the music sliding into soul jazz territory with a seductive, subtly funky rhythm providing the backdrop for a warm toned tenor solo from Lassy. The album version features Savolainen’s vibes but tonight we were treated to a brilliant bowed solo from the baby faced bassist Ville Herrala followed by a closing solo tenor sax cadenza from leader Lassy.
“Hip Or Not” was a brilliant and infectious recapturing of the classic Blue Note sound with solos from Kontrafouris on Wurlitzer and Lassy, really digging in on tenor. The recorded version features Jukka Eskola on trumpet, the Lee Morgan to Lassy’s Joe Henderson.
“Stay Close” was introduced by a solo passage from the Athens born Kontrafouris at the Wurlitzer and was a slow blues that Lassy helped turned to into a ballad with his warm, soulful tenor playing. The piece was played by a quartet of tenor, keyboard, bass and drums as Assefa left the stage for a well earned rest.
The percussionist returned for “Undecided”, another piece that saw Lassy really digging in tenor. The recorded version finds him sharing the soloing with guest trumpeter Eskola.
Lassy described “Fast Fabio” as a “blues in A flat”. It was apiece that certainly lived up to its name with a rapid, tricky, bebop styled theme that even recalled Ornette Coleman at times. Solos came from Kontrafouris on Wurlitzer and the impressive Pynssi at the drums plus a dazzling solo saxophone fanfare from Lassy.
Lassy introduced his excellent band for a final time as the quintet launched into their final number, the high energy shuffle of “We Jazz Theme” with Kontrafouris leading off the solos and paving the way for a positively towering tenor solo from Lassy prior to a gentler coda.
The quintet had played virtually the whole of the “Love Bullet” album, albeit in a different running order, and the music was very well received with business at the CD stall in the foyer correspondingly brisk. The band have since played a well received show at London’s Pheasantry venue with glowing reviews coming from both the London Jazz News and Marlbank websites. Stephen Graham of Marlbank likened Lassy’s playing to that of Dexter Gordon and Assefa’s to that of Don Alias, both very valid comparisons.
This had been a very enjoyable gig but nevertheless there were one or two aspects that left me feeling slightly disappointed. I have to admit that although the concert was advertised as a “no nonsense cooking session” I was still expecting something with a more contemporary slant, mainly because we’ve come to expect this from Scandinavian musicians. On the other hand at least Lassy and his band didn’t serve up all the usual chilly Nordic jazz clichés.
The album also features Kontrafouris playing organ and it would have been nice if he could have doubled up here, his Wurlitzer sound was distinctive but I would have appreciated something of the wider variety of textures that he offers on the album.
Finally, the Memorial Hall is an intimate and well appointed performance space, recently refurbished and seating around 180 people. Photographer Bob Meyrick commented that it reminded him of the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton. I like it as a venue and feel that it has probably been underused by Brecon Jazz Festival in the past. However today it was almost unbearably hot and I had difficulty in really concentrating on the music. I’m not usually a big fan of air conditioning and I don’t know if the Hall is fitted with it but anything that would have lowered the temperature today would have been welcome.
It must also have been very uncomfortable for the musicians who must have been baking under the glow of the lights. The back of Lassy’s jacket was streaked with sweat, testament to the power and energy he put into his performance. A cooking session in every sense of the phrase.