Trying to categorise Finnish musician and producer Jimi Tenor is about as straightforward as Flight of the Conchords' tortuous epithet: how about lounge-exotica soul-jazz voodoo-funk space-rock? Looking at the stage at Cargo this evening, you could add digi-bongo to that too.
Over a dozen or so albums, there have been excursions into techno, big-band and cosmic jams. With his last two albums, he's stopped off at Afrobeat, recording with Kabu Kabu, a group of West African musicians now residing in Berlin. The result pairs Tenor's widescreen arrangements and Euro-centric jazz with the rhythm section and brass of what Kabu Kabu call ‘Explosive-Afrobeat’.
Tenor is shaman-like in his glittering purple cape, leading the band through tracks from their second, ‘4th Dimension’, taking on vocals, saxophone, shoulder-slung keyboard and flute. The set tends to fall one of two ways: much is furiously funky, with Tenor and the band as one locking onto a solid groove, like the Stax redux ‘Me I Say Yes’ and the stone cold funk of 'Mogadishu Ave.'. But there are times, when Tenor is allowed to indulge his jazz side, that it feels underwhelming and at odds with Kabu Kanu’s involvement. After the hard African rhythms of exhilarating opener ‘Aligned Planets’, ‘Global Party’, his jazz-fusion sonic imagining of the world ending and “the last night of fun”, feels anything but.
It doesn’t help that there’s an inattentive, half-full crowd, many of whom were here for the soulless Euro-funk support act. It's hard not to think that if this had taken place at, say, one of the Barbican's world music festivals, it could have been a sold-out night. Tenor’s eclecticism presents a challenging prospect: his falsetto is an acquired taste and the jazzier moments, often using his beloved 3/4 time signature, produces some unwelcome noodling. But there are more than enough glimpses of Tenor's genuinely unique brand of soul, jazz and silliness.
A frustrating, unpredictable, occasionally brilliant set from Finland's most popular, almost indescribable, bohemian bandleader.