Samuli Mikkonen (b. 1973)
Pianist and composer Samuli Mikkonen was born in Jyvaskyla, Central Finland, and started improvising on the piano at the age of 3. Mikkonen has devoted most of his life to developing his own musical voice on the grand piano.
His main band at the moment, Kuára, is an acoustic trio with drummer Markku Ounaskari and saxophonist Trygve Seim. Their first record for ECM Records, produced by Manfred Eicher, and featuring another Norwegian, multi-instrumentalist Per Jorgensen, was released in November 2010.
Kuàra in concert, Vienna 25th January 2017
In addition to Kuára, Samuli Mikkonen has released 4 records of his own, and plays on some 25 others.
Sometimes called ‘the most Finnish-sounding pianist of his generation’, critics have identified elements of Finnish folk music, Bill Evans, Sibelius, Keith Jarrett, 20th century classical, and the European jazz tradition documented by ECM in his musical style.
Mikkonen first appeared in the Finnish jazz scene in the mid-90’s, and has since then worked home and abroad with a growing list of collaborators and different projects. Around the turn of the millennium, Mikkonen led a Scandinavian trio consisting of him, bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Audun Kleive, releasing a live record called ‘Kom Live’ in year 2000.
He has played sideman gigs for Kenny Wheeler, Mike Gibbs, John Zorn and Wayne Krantz. He also appears on the 2014 CD Daraludul Yow by Senegalese singer Julia Sarr, well known in the Paris world music scene.
In Finland, he has been the pianist of choice for world jazz outfit Piirpauke and jazz/improvising artists Sonny Heinilä, Sakari Kukko, Mika Mylläri, Pekka Pylkkänen, Jouni Järvelä and Jorma Tapio, among others. He has also worked briefly as a pianist for the renowned Finnish big band UMO.
Together with friends from his hometown Jyvaskyla, in the 1990’s Mikkonen ran an musical collective Wainamoiset, exploring with mixing elements of jazz, contemporary classical, electronic music and musique concrète.
In the 2000’s, he has also brought his ideas to a more urban-eclectic context as an arranger/co-producer in Vibraltar, a project with producer Teemu Hammaren.
Besides most European countries, Mikkonen has toured in Argentina, Chile, Peru, China, South Korea, Japan and USA. He has performed in premier European clubs such as Porgy & Bess in Vienna, Unterfahrt in Munich, AMR Geneve, Nefertiti in Gothenburg, Copenhagen Jazz House and festivals home and overseas: Rochester International Jazz Festival, Jarasum Jazz Festival, Beijing Jazz Festival, London Jazz Festival, International Jazzfestival Münster, Jazzbaltica, Lisbon Festa do Jazz do São Luiz, Istanbul Akbank Jazz Festival, Molde Jazz Festival, Umeå Jazz Festival, Bergen Nattjazz, Ystad Jazz Festival, IAJE and others. His concerts have been broadcast by BBC, NDR, WDR, Ö1, SRG/SSR, YLE, Sveriges Radio, Danmarks Radio, NRK and Eesti Raadio.
As a composer, Samuli Mikkonen has written for his own hand-picked ensemble ‘7 Henkea’, as well as jazz ensembles ranging from duos and trios to a big band. Commissioned pieces include 5 pieces for big band, works for jazz/classical hybrid ensembles and music for theatre and TV.
In 2005, Mikkonen was hired by Oulu University of Applied Sciences to start the pop and jazz education there. He has held a position in the faculty 2006-2009 and 2011-2017.
Besides Kuára, in the near future Mikkonen is focusing on solo piano improvising and making new compositions.
“Mikkonen proved an even more astute pianist, tremendously interpretive while, at the same time, focused intently on his band mates. Beginning the set with a combination of inside-the-box strumming and outside-the-box voicings, his sense of dynamics was fundamental to the trio’s success, as was Ounaskari’s similarly astute ear.…..If Kuára is one of this year’s most stunning surprises, then the performance by Mikkonen, Ounaskari and Jørgensen will surely go down as one of the highlights of Tampere Jazz Happening 2010, and a clear signal that this is a trio that absolutely needs to continue working together.” -John Kelman/All About Jazz, USA 11/2010
“Ci muoviamo lungo un viaggio nella musica popolare che si mantiene elegiaco e solenne attraversando temi più meditativi come pure canti di grande potenza espressiva; tutto è suonato con grande cura estetica ma con la capacità, rara ad integrarsi con la dote precedente, di restituire nellʼesecuzione presenza e corpo e lasciare quindi intatta la suggestività.” -Pier Luigi Zanzi, Suono
“Kuára bedeutet in einem Dialekt aus dem finnisch-russischen Grenzgebiet „Sounds“, Klänge also. Und obwohl die 14 Duo- und Trio-Stücke dieses herbstlich-dunklen Albums sich allesamt durch ebenso schlichte wie schöne Melodien teils religiösen, teils folkloristischen Ursprungs auszeichnen, trifft der Titel doch ins Schwarze. Das Besondere dieser wunderbaren Rückbesinnung auf säkulare und religiöse Traditionen eines beinahe vergessenen Randgebietes in Europa sind die Pausen, sie erst machen aus den Melodien „Sounds“” -Heribert Ickerott, Jazzpodium
Per Jorgensen, Samuli Mikkonen, Markku Ounaskari at Tampere Jazz Happening 2010.
“Loin des béatitudes engourdissantes, l’extreme retenue qui entoure ces psaumes et ces chansons populaires est habitée d’une sauvagerie sourde, d’une freveur vive et inquiéte qu’explorent la profondeur anguleuse et tendue du piano, les percussions froissées, grondantes ou tintinnabulantes.” -Franck Bergerot/Jazzmag, France 2/2011
“Markku Ounaskari och pianisten Samuli Mikkonen utgår ifrån gamla ryska psalmer och folksånger från finskrelaterade ugriska kulturer som den karelska och den udmurtiska. Inkännande och kontemplativt väver de samman melodier och improvisationer, så att musiken också binds till nuet och till rummet där musikerna och lyssnaren vistas tillsammans. Själva vetskapen om vad de spelar påverkar mig säkert, men det måste också vara någonting inne i själva musiken som bidrar till känslan av ett mänskligt djup.” -Johannes Cornell/Dagens Nyheter, Sweden 11/2010
Mikkonen-Ounaskari DUO live at Jyväskylä Summer Jazz Festival 2007
Markku and Samuli, Helsinki 2008.
“The concert, consisting mainly of improvised music, became a varied and evocative musical journey. Each improvisation had a distinct character.” “Especially rewarding were the quiet points, loaded with melancholy; musical meditations not limited by any genre……besides the individual musical moments, the musicians’ sense of form and entity carried on through the whole concert” -Pentti Ronkanen, Keskisuomalainen
Samuli Mikkonen & 7 HENKEÄ octet recording 2003
“Mikkonens music also avoids rigid forms. Rather than beat mechanically, his compositions seethe, pulse and drift … This music surprises and challenges as it sprouts strange melodies, off-center pulses and mysterious harmonies …. 7 henkea puts on an intriguing, versatile display of musicianship and form: colorful musical architecture that feels rooted deep in the spirit at the spot where humanity and nature meet” -Matthew Wuetrhrich, allaboutjazz.com
7 Henkeä on stage: Pepa Päivinen, Jorma Tapio, Sakari Kukko 2003.
KOM – Live trio recording 2000
“engrossing trio music and a very absorbing listening experience” -Frank Rubolino, Cadence Magazine, USA
“this Scandinavian threesome takes the highly integrated jazz trio one step further” -Derek Ansell, Jazz Journal, UK
Kom Live, 1998.
Anders Jormin, Kom Live 1998.
Audun Kleive, Kom Live 1998.
Korpea Kuunnellessa trio recording 1998
“a hypnotizing rhythm built on the bare minimum of sound” -Matthew Wuetrhrich, allaboutjazz.com
“A new star from Finland…deep and rich music….A wonderful pianist from the country that produced such individual and idiosyncratic jazz artists as Edward Vesala…Mikkonen’s piano weaves his fresh sounds into original mystic pieces.” -Swing Journal, Japan
Korpea Kuunnellessa, Jyväskylä 1998.
Kuára (2010) Markku Ounaskari, drums; Samuli Mikkonen, piano; Per Jorgensen, trumpet, voice ECM Records 2116.
Samuli Mikkonen & 7 henkeä (2003) Samuli Mikkonen, piano, compositions; Mika Kallio, drums; Uffe Krokfors, double bass; Juhani Aaltonen, tenor sax, flute; Sonny Heinilä, saxophones, flute, ney; Sakari Kukko, tenor saxophone, flutes; Pepa Päivinen, saxophones, alto flute; Jorma Tapio, alto sax, bass flute, bass clarinet. SMCD-3.
KOM – Live (2000) Samuli Mikkonen, piano; Anders Jormin, double bass; Audun Kleive, drums. SMCD-2.
Korpea kuunnellessa (1998) Samuli Mikkonen, piano; Uffe Krokfors, bass; Mika Kallio, drums. SMCD-1.
Virret (2001) Sakari Kukko, saxophones, flutes; Samuli Mikkonen, piano; Ulf Krokfors, bass; Mika Kallio, rummut. Rockadillo ZENCD 2073.
Wäinämöiset (2000) WCD-1.
Grand day out (2008) Jouni Järvelä Group. JJMCD-07.
Lento (1999) Jouni Järvelä Group. JJMCD-99.