Finnish big band arranger and conductor Jussi Lampela has a full sound at his fingertips. His nonet swings on a tune called “Touch Red” – a held note hanging in the air ‘til the next half-beat; the brass in utter unison; the sax laying a low melody. Flutes layer themselves on top; the drums keep it sassy. It looks fun and effortless. Jussi’s take on the great American classics is respectful and affectionate.
What is the jazz scene like where you live?
I just moved a little further north in Finland, because of my wife’s work, and the fact that I can work from almost anywhere. But most of my life I have been living in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, so I’m speaking from that view:
Helsinki is a middle-sized city, with quite an active jazz scene. Many of the key players also take advantage of the European market.
We have two active jazz clubs with different profiles, and other clubs and restaurants also have jazz on steady basis.
You seem to have been trained in classical as well as jazz.
Alongside my jazz studies in Sibelius-Academy, I developed an interest on the classical side as well, but really started listening more to classical music after my studies. I am very fond of the French impressionists (Ravel, Debussy) for how they use the classical orchestra and all the colors they get out of it. Also, Olivier Messiaen for the harmonic richness. And being a Finn, I can’t leave out Jean Sibelius and his symphonies.
And of course, the great Americans who had bits of jazz in their music as well: Copland and Gershwin in particular. “Rhapsody in Blue” specifically, especially the original version for Paul Whiteman’s mixed orchestra.
What instruments do you play?
I am a guitar player originally, but as a composer I am trying to keep up some piano chops.
Talk about the personnel in your Nonet, and what particular strength each one brings.
Jukka Eskola – trumpet. Maybe the most professional musician I’ve ever worked with. Also one of the hardest-working musicians in Finland, working in many TV productions, touring with the biggest names in Finnish pop music and leading his own bands as well.
Ari Jokelainen – alto sax. A master in his instrument, with an immediately recognizable alto sax sound, which often reminds me of Cannonball Adderley.
Petri Puolitaival, Timo Rantanen, Ville Vannemaa – baritone sax/flute. Petri Puolitaival and Ville Vannemaa are the mainstays in my nonet, both much in demand in Finland for their mastery of variety of doubling instruments, and their virtuosity (Petri also plays alto sax). Timo Rantanen has only been once with my nonet. He is one of the masters of the classical saxophone in Finland.
Tero Toivonen, Tuomo Eerikäinen – French horn. Wonderful players from the classical music world, with an open mind towards jazz as well. Both have a day job in the Helsinki area’s classical orchestras.
Antti Rissanen, Kasperi Sarikoski – trombone. Two masters of jazz trombone, Antti Rissanen is now considered a veteran of the Finnish jazz life, and Kasperi Sarikoski is an upcoming talent. Kasperi Sarikoski is currently enrolled in Julliard, doing a two-year Artist Diploma in Jazz Studies on full scholarship.
Check out Kasperi’s interview here:
Miika Jämsä, Kenneth Ojutkangas – tuba. Two masters of the low-end notes, Mr. Miika Jämsä and Kenneth Ojutkangas. Miika is a member of the Finnish Army’s flagship orchestra, the Guards’ Band, and also a winner of an international tuba competition held in Lieksa, Finland in 2013.
Riitta Paakki – piano. A wonderful player with whom I’ve worked for over 20 years already. Also a professor of jazz.
Ville Herrala, Juho Kivivuori – double bass. Ville Herrala is the mainstay for my quartet, and is one of the most requested bassists of the Finnish circuit. Juho Kivivuori is also an exceptional and very versatile player.
Jussi Lehtonen – drums. A wonderful drummer also leading his own ensembles, and one of the driving forces behind the Koko Jazz Club, Helsinki’s premier club concentrating mostly on modern jazz.
Where would you most like to perform that you have not yet?
That’s a lot of places! We have had some interest in the German market, but taking the nine-piece band on tour would be quite a logistical nightmare…
What was exciting about performing the classic “Two Bass Hit”?
The sheer energy of the group! On “Two Bass Hit,” I decided to keep it quite close to the Miles Davis version, just to add touches of big ensemble color here and there, and let the band do their thing.
CD in the works?
Yes, tentatively it’s called “Live at Kanneltalo,” named for the venue in Helsinki where we held a concert series in 2013-2014. No release date is set for this CD yet.
What is your favorite track on it so far?
Hmm, “September Song” for just the song itself, I’ve always loved the song. And second, probably “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” also for the wonderful playing of the guitarist Teemu Viinikainen, and a great trombone solo by Kasperi Sarikoski. Again, not ready for release, but we’re working on it!
What unique rhythmic, melodic or harmonic techniques have you used to set the music apart from other ensembles?
Often I find myself trying to incorporate elements of my French idols (Ravel, Debussy and Messiaen), and I would consider my style as being quite mellow. I try to break the rhythmic flow by having strict rhythmic ideas contrasted by more freely-flowing ideas.
I love “Half Lament” – talk about that piece and composing it.
Some obvious Gil Evans-influences there. I remember trying to incorporate a visual image when I was composing it, and to move between a couple of different scenes.
How do you as a director help to develop each soloist’s vision?
By having more or less the same group of people that I also work with on other bands and occasions, I know each one’s playing style very well and really try to take that into account when composing and arranging.
How will you grow the Nonet’s presence in 2018?
I have plans to record a show we did a while ago with two fantastic singers, Maria Ylipää and Aili Ikonen, featuring my compositions. For the live gigs I have some plans, but no specific dates yet.
Thanks for the opportunity Debbie, your questions covered a lot of ground and at the moment can’t think of more! The pleasure’s mine!
For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/JussiLampelaNonet.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
(c) Debbie Burke 2017