Finnish Jazz. Interview. Seppo Kantonen

Foto: Maarit Kytöharju

Interview with Seppo Kantonen

Review to Tokka

Finnish pianist Seppo Kantonen is one those artist who could be defined a “musician’s musician”. In his long career he has been playing as a sideman in more than 150 recordings ranging through a vast array of styles and ensembles. But so far he dedicated just a little room for his own original projects. This piano trio recording titled “Tokka”, released by finnish label Texicalli Records, give us the opportunity to get a closer look to this prolific but leadership-reluctant musician.

Jazz Convention: Let’s start with the reason you choose Tokka as the name of your trio.

Seppo Kantonen: Tokka is the finnish word for reindeer herd. When we were forming this group with drummer Mikko Hassinen, we wanted to find a name that describes something like doing together, being in a group, stack, community. We also liked the sound and appearance of the word Tokka.

JC: This is your first Cd with Tokka. How and when did you form as a trio?

SK: Me and drummer Hassinen had been playing in various occasions and started develope the idea of playing our own material as a trio. When he suggested Ville Herrala on bass it felt right and we decided to go for it. We played our first gig in 2007. We have been performing besides Finland in Stockholm, Sweden and in Milan, Italy. Next march we are going to Mexico for EuroJazz in Mexico City.

JC: You’ve been involved in many different projects and ensembles. What’s for you the most comfortable and suitable aspect of playing in a trio?

SK: I’m quite happy from solo to any kind of larger combination. It’s always matter of finding your role or spot in sounding surfaces. Of course some combinations are more challenging than others: take for example solos or duos because you cannot hide behind anybody’s back in those contexts. On the other hand, I love to accompany other soloists and try to find new ways of interplay in every directions.

JC: Three men linked by a rope. That’s what appear on the cover of your last Cd. Can you explain us the choice of this painting and what kind of relation you share with the others members of the trio?

SK: The cover painting is one of my favorite artworks. It’s a painting from 1939 by finnish artist Otto Mäkilä intitled “They see what we do not see”. I found it very suitable for the album cover because of its aspect of mystery that always lays in good art. I cannot give you just one explanation based on the picture about relations between individual musicians. But now that you asked, it reminds me how situations vary in every combinations of two or more players and how sometimes somebody can be on the foreground, sometimes on the background, but in every position affected by other players’ presence.

JC: Can you explain for us the meaning of some of the finnish title of the tracks.

SK: I’d rather leave the names for the listeners imagination. In exception the title “Rumpatus” is a finnish-sounding nonsense word for “free-wheeling” or something like that.

JC: You are also a music educator. What can you tell us about music teaching situation in Finland?

SK: Music education system has long been kind of a pride in Finland. We have been able to enjoy the marvelous results of it, internationally. The paradox in it, anyway, is that there are more musically highly educated people than this country can employ as performing artists. This leads to the situation in which some less ,or nothing at all, performing people are taking teaching vacancies and I find it very dangerous when especially jazz-music is taught without performing history.

JC: Someone described you as a reluctant leader? Do you agree with this definition?

SK: More or less, yes. Maybe it’s because of my artistic history: years back I almost totally refused to do my own music because I wanted to explore as many as possible different music styles and combinations. The way to do it , I thought, was to “sneak in” from different groups of people belonging to various sides of the musical field. From this I have achieved great expierencies from pop to contemporary, from rock to jazz. But as a minus side it maybe led me to inability to longer term commitment and concentration to my own projects. It was until about 5 years ago when I changed my course.

JC: There is a promotional picture of Tokka in which you and the other members of the trio were fishing in a lake. Do you find any connections between art of jazz and the art of waiting that fishing requires?

SK: Not if you don’t see fish as ideas. Learning to wait patiently is always a benefit for everybody.

JC: In these years many words have been spent about a specific “nordic sound”. What do you think about this concept of music coming from northern Europe countries?

SK: Many bands coming from northern Europe have a definite, specific sound. I think it has something to do with clarity and transparency of the sound. But I have to say that I don’t see Tokka as a typical “nordic sound” band. It can be there in the ears of international listener but, as it is in so many things, the closer you are the harder it is to see clearly. In common I’m very happy that there is different and definite sounds in jazz depending of the origins of performer.

JC: Projects for your next future?

SK: The second Tokka album will be recorded during this year. Besides trio I have solo project, a duo with Mikko Innanen on saxes, an organ-drums duo called Two Man Galaxy and various projects as a sideman like Mikko Innanen Innkvisitio where I play electronic keyboards. So I hope these will keep me busy for quite awhile.