Freelektron ‘Live at Tenho’ LP (Jazzaggression) 4/5

This recording from Finnish duo Freelektron dates from a 2016 performance at Tenho Restobar Helsinki. The duo are drummer Ilmari Heikinheimo and multi-instrumentalist Jimi Tenor. Heikinheimo plays acoustic and electric drums, percussion and triggers while Tenor plays sax, flute, microKorg and even photophone! The vinyl version of the album is released in a limited edition of 250 copies.

Of the two musicians, the highly prolific Tenor has been around longer and played and recorded with a multitude of others including Kabu Kabu and Tony Allen. As well as being a musician he’s a visual artist and designer of his own instruments and stage costumes. Originally inspired by industrial music, Tenor started his recording career in 1988 with his band Jimi Tenor and the Shamans. He took his stage name by combining the name of his unlikely childhood hero Jimmy Osmond with his choice of instrument, tenor sax. His solo debut was in 1994, since then he’s made many albums in a variety of styles, smooth jazz-funk, heavy groove-based electronic music and collaborations with Afro-jazz musicians. A cultural magpie and child of the sixties this sensibility is reflected in whatever stylistic vehicle he happens upon.

Heikinheimo is the younger of the duo, born the year Tenor made his recording debut. As a member of the Afrojazz Quintet, he’s explored an interest in polyrhythmic drumming and rubato phrasing. Heikinheimo also played with Sound and Fury during their 2010 memorial concert for founding member and legend of Finnish jazz Edward Vesala, taking Vesala’s place on drums in the band. Heikinheimo has also worked with jazz improvisers Juhani Aaltonen, Jonas Kullhammer and Hjilmar Jensson. Not only does he play jazz but also Avant-Garde progressive music, notably with Alamaailman Vasarat.

Live at Tenho occupies an intersection between electronic and acoustic music. Some contemporary sounding rhythm and electronic texture combined with an almost nostalgic use of flute and sax. It’s an unlikely marriage but one that offers unique moments of harmony.

This is exemplified on the title track ‘Tenho’ the first four and a half minutes are occupied by Tenor’s airy flute accompanied by a percussive Eastern flavour. It’s that sixties sensibility I mentioned earlier, almost anything with a flute makes me think of music from 1969 or thereabouts. Once the flute is discarded the piece becomes tonally darker as Heikinheimo’s rhythms and Tenor’s electronic colours take the foreground.

‘Kaipuu Part One’ sees Tenor’s meandering sax weave its way around a series of pulses and electronic rhythms. There is an injection of humour into the yearning theme as the sax stutters and mimics the electronic rhythms in a surreal echo.

‘Kaipuu Part Two’ is the most free part of the album, Heikinheimo’s spare drumming competes with sounds akin to a bank of obsolete arcade games. The thing builds to a climactic crescendo but is pulled back from the abyss and held there with welcome structure provided by an organ theme before ending abruptly.

After listening to this album a couple of times I fished out my copy of Edward Vesala’s Nan Madol to try and figure out where these guys are coming from. Maybe I could hear part of Heikinheimo’s inspiration when Vesala alternates between light themes and more sombre tones and in the economy he used to punctuate the percussive space. Anyway, it gave me some traction for subsequent listens to the rest of this dramatic and inventive Freelektron recording.

James Read