Exoticism and eccentricity. Here are two words that could well distinguish the album Order of Nothingness as the multidisciplinary work of the original artist, Jimi Tenor.
Flutist, keyboardist or saxophonist, this 53-year-old Finn is a musical phenomenon who animates the electronic, Finnish and electro-pop scene since the 90s’. In 1994, his “Take Me Baby” from the album Sahkomies was a huge success, effectively introducing him to the general public. Overall, his work seems more or less governed by an artistic mockery that makes it difficult to compare Jimi Tenor to other artists.
Flecked with moments of timelessness, the album Order of Nothingness, which Tenor himself characterizes as “’70s post-punk”, takes us on a joyous journey. With his electric sounds paired with his equipment dating back to the ’50s and ’60s, which “sounds rather new”, it is not surprising that this album gives us the impression that it can be listened to in different eras. From the funky keyboard sounds in “Chupa Chups”, to the familiar accents within “Mysteria”, to the psychedelic “Tropical Eel”, this album is as complete as it is refined.
The album as a whole feels exotic and goes down like a sugary cocktail. The simple and offbeat melodic lines already seem to exist in us and sound like old friends from the first listen. A secret that Jimi Tenor explains by his relation to improvisation: “I improvise as much as possible, but I still manage to play songs that people can recognize. I choose them because they are in my head. It’s about 60 or 70% improvisation.”
These extravagant melodic liberties, which approach free jazz, might not have come to life without Tenor’s contemporary influences, from which Jimi Tenor does not hide: “I’m not afraid to use contemporary classical music. I really like Olivier Messiaen, his way of changing chords, and a lot of his pieces. It reminds me of electronic music, and techniques that I use, too. His world is built around other musical inspirations: pianist Sun Ra for his “disciplined freedom”, New York saxophonist James White for his eccentric way of playing the saxophone, or the singer Fela Kuti for his writing.
It is not surprising that Philophon, the label Tenor worked alongside on this album released in June 2018, is mainly influenced by African music: the structured freedom the multi-instrumentalist Jimi Tenor grants himself and supported by his producer Max Weissenfeldt, vaguely recalls the echoes of African rhythms and songs (“Naomi Min Sumo Bo”). His longtime collaboration with Nigerian drummer and Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen, which debuted with the album Inspiration Information in 2009, leads him into world-music territory, with which his own music combines rather naturally.
Thanks to their collaboration, the two musicians have recently found themselves on the album OTO Live Party, a concert that Jimi Tenor enjoyed telling us about: “This is a live concert recorded at the OTO Café in London. This is a series of moog synthesizers, all managed by Paul Smith that I knew from Blast First [a label created in England in 1984—Ed.] and who introduced me to Tony Allen with the idea of mixing synthesizers with Tony’s drumming. A Finnish engineer built the system for us and I programmed some sequences for the tom-tom drums. Tony started playing in the studio, and all the synthesizers went off, making these crazy sounds! Tony could not believe it, it was so funny! I hope this comes across in the recording!”
Each success fuels Jimi Tenor’s evolution. We would have missed out on the remarkable Order of Nothingness if, three years prior, when the musician (already accompanied by the drummer Ekow Alabi Savage and Max Weissenfeldt) hadn’t begun plans for the single “Tropical Eel”, a track for a new album. “We were supposed to do only one single with ‘Tropical Eel’. But, having had great feedback, we said to Max, ‘Let’s do another!'”
Although he seems to be composing according to whatever excites him at any given time, Jimi Tenor admits to us that his upcoming projects follow the path of what has already worked well in the past. “The new album we’re working on with Max Weissenfeldt and Ekow will follow the same recipe as Order of Nothingness, with the same instruments. We did not want to change anything because it seemed to work!” One thing is certain: today’s fans will be tomorrow’s fans.
Jimi Tenor, Order of Nothingness (Philophon, 2018)