Otso Kasperi Mielonen on jazz and discovering new musical territories
person by Fiona Smith
THE First Fortnight Festival is hosting the European Festival of Mental Health in January 2019 and so we have been checking out artists from Europe living, working and performing here. Otso Kasperi Mielonen is a Finnish-born, Danish-bred and Dublin-based bass player and composer.
He has several projects in hand, including a songbook entitled Emerald which he is performing with his band Sisucunda. Here Otso gives us his thoughts on the jazz scene in Ireland, news of his forthcoming shows and his favourite tunes…
Q. Can you briefly explain a little about your background in music and in general?
I was born in Oulu, Finland and then by the age of 4, my family relocated to Copenhagen, Denmark, where I lived for 16 years, before moving to Dublin myself. I got my first plastic electric guitar at the age of 3 and had from that day had an interest in music. It could play two songs and I loved it. It had one slow song and one fast song, that it played by a push of a button. Then at the age of 13, I picked up playing the electric bass, mainly because everybody else seemed to be playing guitar.
At the age of 18, I started playing upright bass, as I fell in love with the sound and aesthetics of jazz and improvised music. Copenhagen hosts a fantastic 10-12 day jazz festival every summer with 1200+ concerts all over town. This was where I was first exposed to jazz. Three weeks after picking up the double bass, I started playing in the Carlsberg Big Band. Meanwhile I was studying classical upright bass with Andreas Bennetzen for a few years. Then after moving to Dublin I started studying with Cormac O’Brien and Ronan Guilfoyle at the Newpark Music Centre (now Dublin City University).
Q. Is there much of a jazz scene and community in Ireland? It strikes me as a type of music where collaboration and improvisation is important…
Ireland has a good jazz scene, but it is a very small, but growing community. I’ve found that the Irish jazz scene and community is very open minded and that people are ready to experiment and try out new things. The people are not too bound down by traditions and conventions. Also the Irish hospitality really shows itself here, as the scene is very welcoming and takes you in with open arms.
Collaboration and communication is essential in jazz, often gigs are played with people that you’ve never rehearsed with before or maybe even met, which can lead to some very interesting “musical conversations”. Other times you might play with colleagues that you’ve played with regularly and still end up in new musical territories. Jazz is a genre that keeps you on your toes at all times.
Q. Your regular band is Sisucunda but you are also involved in an event called Hiras, which means 'Slow' - can you explain about your various creative outlets and what to expect from upcoming events?
Sisucunda is my main band that is an outlet for my own original music. In this band free and collective improvisation plays a key role, as the musical compositions are mostly brief melodies, that sets the vibe and style of the improvisation. Also storytelling is a big part of this band, as we try to recreate a bridge to the past, where the concept of music theory, form, etc… didn’t exist. Like shamans pounding their drums, singing stories and lores in their own time and manner. With Sisucunda we strive to make every performance a unique performance, as a story or poem is written especially for each occasion. The story is what ties the compositions and improvisation together and creates a red line through the performance. Sisucunda will be playing at the Arthurs Jazz & Blues Pub, Dublin, on the 14th of November at 8pm.
My second band, Hiras, is a band that I put together to explore the soft, slow and quiet areas of music. The city life is often quite busy and people are running around like ants, pursuing their dreams. Often the city life is very fast, compared to what we may experience in the countryside. I have myself always lived in cities, but whenever I visit the countryside, the quietness and slow pace amazes me. Then I came across the amazing Spanish bassist David Mengual, who had a similar kind of band: David Mengual’s Slow Quartet. I was amazed by their concept and wanted to explore this area of music further. Hiras played its debut concert in the Art Café, Dublin, on the 10th of November.
Q. Tell us about your musical composition projects and how you challenge yourself to be creative?
One of my most recent projects was a composition challenge. I challenged myself to compose 50 compositions within 21 days, which led to the songbook: Emerald. This was a very intense period of time, but I learned a lot about composition under pressure during this. Also these songs became the foundation of my band Sisucunda, where we almost exclusively play songs from the book.
Another project has a 30-day project, where I challenged myself to compose a piece of music a day, solely using the electric bass. On top, this piece had to be accompanied by a music video. The idea was to explore the sonic possibilities of the electric bass and see how one may compose only with using sounds of the bass. You can find the music videos with music on my youtube channel or just the audio on bandcamp.
Q. Name three songs, jazz or any genre, that you tend to listen to when you need to relax or uplift your mood.
Another Day by Finnish trumpet player Verneri Pohjola, this song just puts me in a great mood, especially when walking to work or school in the mornings.
Case of you by Joni Mitchell, the whole album is a masterpiece in my opinion.
Adios Nonino by Astor Piazzolla. This song has put tears in my eyes countless times. This song deals with the topic of loss, grief and hope. It is a wonderful piece of music, that gives me hope in love, life and the power of music.
Otso plays with his band Sisucunda at Arthur’s Blues & Jazz Club on Wednesday, November 14, 8pm.