BY Matti Nives
Discovering the young trio Mopo was one of the most remarkable musical joys of 2012 for many, and the band went on to get nominations for Finland’s major music prize, Emma. Terms like ’punk jazz’ and adjectives such as ’energetic’ have been firmly in place when discussing their merits, but this is a clear-cut case where such articulations fail to convey much of the raw sonic joy at play.
The band is fronted by Linda Fredriksson with her baritone saxophone plus whistles and percussive debris galore, and she is a steadily upcoming instrumentalist working in the Finnish scene.
“With Mopo we have this great chemistry based on our friendship,” Fredriksson says. “There’s nothing artificial at all about the way we operate, and it comes from somewhere deep within. We have great mutual trust between the three of us, and everyone contributes to the music in all parts of the process.”
Big words, sure, but for anybody who has listened to their debut Jee! (Texicalli Records, 2012) or seen one of their live shows, this is nothing to doubt. Even scene legends such as the multi-functional gesamtkunstwerk M. A. Numminen have been deeply moved by the dense dynamics and sheer lack of pretense of Fredriksson & co.
“Wow, that was something else,” enthuses Fredriksson about meeting Numminen and hearing his compliments. “Growing up, he was one of the artists I respected the most.”
The chromosome issue
Fredriksson’s early steps as a musician echo the ethos of somebody, who yearns to be positioned slightly left of the mainstream – a somewhat fitting mindset when thinking about Mopo’s music.
”I don’t remember it precisely, because I was only nine years old,” says Fredriksson, ”but in school, I initially wanted to play the clarinet. Then I realised that everybody else did as well, and decided to go for something else – the saxophone.”
An overtly obvious theme with Fredriksson is her gender in the very manly world of jazz saxophone players, not to mention those tackling the big one, the baritone. “I’m not that interested or focused in the gender thing,” Fredriksson shrugs. “It’s not like I discovered Candy Dulfer and decided to pick up the instrument or something,” she laughs. “It was all about the music.”
At the same time, there is a hint of natural resonance there. “I can still say that I wouldn’t mind if more young girls would be inspired and find out that they can also play music like jazz, even if it mostly seems a masculine undertaking.”
Several shades of sax
Fredriksson may be one of the three wheels in Mopo, Finnish for ‘moped’, but the other end of the ensemble spectrum is well represented in her musical schedule, too. She occasionally tours the world with the European Saxophone Ensemble, and is the current Finnish representative of the outfit, which brings together players from 12 different countries.
“The Belgian organization Met-X had the idea of putting together 12 sax players from 12 different countries, to create new music and take them on tours,” Fredriksson explains. “It’s an unusual combination and my role is more of a rhythmic one, since I play the baritone. What’s great about it is of course meeting all those fabulous players and communicating with them through music and personally as well as learning something new musically because of the unusual setting.”
Another big band featuring Fredriksson is the Ricky- Tick Big Band led by composer Valtteri Pöyhönen. The ensemble brings together several A-list Finnish jazz players to execute a musical vision deeply rooted in no-nonsense Ellingtonian swing. “That’s like one of the best gigs ever,” says Fredriksson, a fairly recent addition to the band’s roster. “It’s amazing how the band sounds and the line up is just great all the way.”
In addition to the aforementioned trio and big bands, Fredriksson manages to find time for playing in modern funk act The Northern Governors, who record for Blue Note.
The positive energy evident in Fredriksson when she plays is also there in her general aura. Typically for most contemporary jazz freelancers, it is essential to maintain a busy schedule via well-disciplined time-keeping. Does it influence creating?
“I wouldn’t say so,” Fredriksson thinks. “True, it’s not always easy to automatically switch into the playing mode, but when inspiration comes, it’s a magical feeling. I think there’s something spiritual in that moment, something rather revelational.”
Matti Nives works as a freelance music publicist, writer and DJ for his company We Jazz Ltd, and is also part of the organising team of the Flow Festival.