A queue snaked around the block for London keyboardist Alfa Mist’s first headlining show in Finland, at an old tram depot dating back to 1900. Many of those in the youngish crowd likely saw the east London keyboardist’s 2022 set at Helsinki’s Flow Festival – or heard enraptured reactions to it.
Compared to that incandescent set, this return was slightly underwhelming, partly due to a different line-up and a lack of vocals – which was odd since they’re featured on nearly half of the tracks on Mist’s latest album, Variables, released last spring. A live video set released in September also features vocals – and a mostly different band.
Mist’s long-time bassist Kaya Thomas-Dyke, who sings the new album’s most haunting song and was touring with him a couple of weeks earlier, was replaced on the Nordic leg of the tour by Flo Moore. Like Mist and Thomas-Dyke, she has played with Australian R&B singer/producer Jordan Rakei. The same goes for Mist’s young new drummer Jamie Houghton, who has replaced Jas Kayser since last summer.
While new electric bassist Moore didn’t sing, she was rock solid but kept a low profile, playing just one rafter-shuddering solo. Houghton, meanwhile, nearly stole the show. While this was a mostly laid-back set, the new drummer seemed to egg the others on with powerful funky rhythms, building up a head of steam at the end with long wailing solos from trumpeter Johnny Woodham and guitarist Jamie Leeming.
Mist, whose muted, personal rapping from the keyboards elevated his previous Helsinki set, kept no microphone nearby, and only made a couple of brief comments. Missing too was Samuel Rapley’s sax and bass clarinet, which add so much to Variables, including its standout track, Gist. Leeming and the bandleader stayed relatively restrained through most of the set. That left Woodham as the main soloist on trumpet and flugelhorn, often dripping with effects and sometimes quite piercing. His playing was energetic and inventive, but veered into predictability.
The set began with the trippy, atmospheric title track from Variables featuring Woodham’s long floaty lines over a steady mid-tempo groove. Then the band shifted into an arrangement of Eddie Henderson’s Galaxy from 1975, which Mist covered for the Blue Note Re:imagined compilation a couple of years ago. Woodham started off with a fluttery, reverb-rich solo and was followed by a leisurely, slow-burning guitar solo over a relaxed, shuffling funk rhythm.
There was more levitating 70s-style funk-jazz with a version of Freddie Hubbard’s First Light, then Zen Garden, an original by guitarist Leeming featuring a long, introspective solo guitar intro that was almost Segovian at times. It’s from Leeming’s new album on Mist’s label, following a recent Mist-produced release by Woodham under the name J Sphynx – and featuring those elusive Mist vocals. Leeming and Woodham play support sets ahead of Mist’s five UK/Ireland shows before the tour wraps up in London on 22 November.
Alfa Mist at Korjaamo, Helsinki, 22 October 2023