Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Global funk connections: Jimi Tenor

Finland. Land of pine forests, winter sports and vodka intoxication. Mention Finnish popular music and most folks probably think of nothing at all. Think a bit harder and they might come up with dance producer Darude, or rock band The Rasmus, Eurovison winners Lordi, or maybe even death metal acts like Impaled Nazarene or Children of Bodom.

Hardly the sort of environment that produces great funky music, you might think. Yet one of the best soul/funk revival bands in the world today, The Soul Investigators, hails from Helsinki. I'm sure I'll post about them at some later stage. Somewhat less cool but far more successful was the Bomfunk MCs, of "Freestyler" fame, led by a Jamaican/Finnish rapper.

But Finland's whacky funky auteur is Lassi Lehto, aka Jimi Tenor. Starting out in the 80s making industrial rock, he moved into an oddball fusion of lo-fi electronica and funky 70s jazz. I managed to catch the man in Melbourne a few years back and it was both brilliant and twisted. Switching between keys, sax and vocals, this skinny Andy Warhol-lookalike creates an eclectic sound that is free to incorporate Barry White sleaze, abrasive techno thumping, and jazz of exquisite beauty. Occasionally at the same time.

I'll say straight away that the Jimi Tenor discography is a mixed bag. Much of his stuff is really weird, some of it almost unlistenable. So caution is advised. But some of it is downright brilliant.

One of the brilliant moments is "Outta Space", from his 1997 "Intervision" album. It's a bit like a weird European take on George Clinton's intergalactic funk with the band Parliament, in its fat bassline and horn section. Tenor keeps the techno influences subtle, allowing the song to gradually unfold and expand. It's one of my very favourite songs - in particular I love the way he progressively ups the ante throughout the song, the groove and melody constantly evolving and getting better and better.

On a more laid-back tip, "Midsummernight" comes off his 1998 "Venera" EP.

"The Year of the Apocalypse" comes of 1998's "Organism" album, and displays his more electronic leanings.

More recently, Tenor has been collaborating with Berlin-based Afrobeat outfit Kabu Kabu. The below video for 2007's "Sunrise" starts out really weird but stay with it, its some real nice Afro-Latin-jazz.

Some Jimi Tenor trivia:
he is married to American soul singer Nicole Willis, formerly of The Repercussions, who has collaborated with Leftfield and most recently has released an album with The Soul Investigators.

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