Label Watch: We Jazz

We Jazz, that stands for edgy, surprising jazz from the north. And also not. Since 2013 the festival has been held in Helsinki, since 2016 the label was founded. Matti Nives mainly publishes Finnish bands there. And acts as one of the most important networkers of the local scene.

A song is not a label. A single tune can hardly stand for an entire record label. But »Tremendoce« has what it takes to become an anthem for We Jazz. Check out that flute loop! Add a casual break beat, shimmering saxophones and synthesizers. Faintly heard in the background: a choir, Spiritual Jazz style. A strange little masterpiece, created by Otis Sandsjö. The tune can be heard on Sandsjö’s new album »Y-Otis 2«, out in July. The title numbering is Rap-style, the sound is one that seems only to be possible having been created in Scandinavia. Even though the masterminds behind it have been living in Berlin for years: saxophonist Sandsjö and bassist Petter Eldh. That’s just one of the contradictions this fresh new music has to endure. For lack of a better name, let’s call this music »Jazz«.

We Jazz: a name synonymous with edgy, startling Jazz from the North. Or sometimes with no-nonsense straightahead swing or ambient-tinged electronic experiments. »The ›jazz‹ in We Jazz is a lot of different things«, said Matti Nives. In 2013, a festival in Helsinki was established, the label of the same name started in 2016. Matti Nives’ main focus is on Finnish bands. Sought-after drummer Teppo Mäkynen (3TM, Timo Lassy) and similarly busy bass player Antti Lötjönen (Timo Lassy, Jukka Eskola) create for We Jazz. Also in the roster: a Dizzy Gillespie tribute by veteran sax man Jukka Perko and experimental projects by Mopo or Bowman Trio. Plus, there are the internationals like Sandsjö and Eldh, also Brooklyn baritone saxophonist Jonah Parzen-Johnson.

Matti Nives was born in 1980. A DJ, producer, label chef, festival curator, designer and editor. He used to listen to A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy; the addictive samples made him check out Jazz. »And then there was Ricky-Tick Records in Helsinki,« Matti recalls. »The label is single-handedly responsible for me ending up in the business. Acts like Five Corners Quintet, Dalindèo and Timo Lassy were proving that Jazz does have contemporary value. It’s happening here, in Finland, and it’s cool.«

Timo Lassy, the Soul-Jazz virtuoso, has long been a close friend of Matti Nives. Last year, together with Teppo Mäkynen he released the excellent duo album »Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen« on We Jazz. Mäkynen is another key figure at We Jazz, an all-round artist who is so much more than just a rough-swinging drummer: he is a producer, band leader, collector of exotic instruments and a highly talented songwriter. Matti Nives says: »My career is hardly conceivable without Teppo. He has carte blanche with us. He can record whatever he likes – we’ll find a way to publish it. Last year he put out three records on We Jazz, including two under the name 3TM. Teppo is THE We Jazz artist, a visionary guy. He thinks and lives music, every second.«

»The ›jazz‹ in We Jazz is a lot of different things« (Matti Nives)

»Lake« by 3TM, which also came out as double vinyl alongside the quiet ambient piece »Abyss«, does not sound one bit Scandinavian. Acoustic Jazz, subtly enriched with electronic overdubs. Post-Bop compositions that melt into Pop songs with a warm Industrial appeal. There are songs that demonstrate a perfect synthesis of saxophone and synthesizer sounds.

Sound details are important to Matti Nives, but: »Often, I only discover in retrospect how the albums relate in an overall context. The avant-garde side of our output might increase, but there will always be stuff in between: Mopo, for example, is quite free, but also very groovy. Also, I love the 7 inch format! We have a series meant for DJ, designed to feature more rhythmic songs.«

»Cutting edge music on vinyl« is the We Jazz motto. Nives is the producer of most releases. He is also in charge of cover design. »A label like ECM is respected for its design, there’s a larger concept behind it. A We Jazz record should tell its own story, but also show how it relates to the rest of the output. I would shy away from calling myself a designer, but at some point I accepted that I was. That adds another level of substance. That’s just my DIY mentality – I just wanted to learn to do everything by myself.«

Matti Nives remains creative, always up for unusual business moves. Two live albums have just been released, last year, he put out »Koma Saxo«, Petter Eldh’s new project. A vigorous quintet sporting three saxophones, best enjoyed live. »Our releases will probably never generate big returns, says Matti, »but we’re getting smarter about breaking even. There’s a huge difference between having 500 or 1000 copies of an album pressed.« Five-figure vinyl sales are certainly what creative geniuses like Otis Sandsjö or Teppo Mäkynen deserve. Because they are the ones creating the anthems of our time.