Jimi Tenor is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, bandleader, and producer. Since 1994, the Finnish native's work had ranged across the modern music genre spectrum. Though he began recording with Jimi Tenor & His Shamans in the '80s, his solo career in electronic dance music with Sähkömies — techno to be precise — in 1994, put him on the international map. His sound has continued to evolve, embracing numerous strains of jazz (he's a world-class baritone and tenor saxophonist and flutist) and African music traditions. He has recorded and produced funk and neo soul with Nicole Willis, global jazz with Abdissa Assefa and Tony Allen, 21st century Afrobeat with Berlin's Kabu Kabu, and a dub/metal/funk fusion outing with Hjálmar, Iceland's premier reggae outfit. He credits influences such as Barry White, Isaac Hayes, and '70s B-movie and blaxploitation soundtracks for his musical career. With 1997's Intervision, he was already experimenting with jazz-funk. 2004's Beyond the Stars, recorded in collaboration with members of the Five Corners Quintet (including Timo Lassy and Jukka Escola) and pioneers the boundary-dissolving sound of post-bop jazz melded to soul and house music. He commenced a long collaborative relationship with Kabu Kabu on the jazz-funk outing Joystone in 2007. They have continued to collaborate on occasion. Two years later, he and Allen cut Inspiration Information for Strut, wedding Afrobeat and modern jazz. In 2013, Tenor collaborated with the avant-jazz big band UMO on Mysterium Magnum, issued a progressive rock offering with Tenors of Kalma for 2015's Electric Willow, and in 2020 made a full return to electronic music with Metamorpha.
Born and raised Lassi Lehto in Finland, Tenor is a classically trained saxophonist, flutist, and pianist; he spent 12 years studying at a Finnish music institute. His stage name was derived from his childhood idol Jimmy Osmond and the tenor saxophone, his horn of choice. Prior to his solo work, Tenor fronted Jimi Tenor & His Shamans, who released four several albums on the Poko, Euros, and Bad Vugum labels (including Total Capacity of 216,5 Litres, Diktafon, and Fear of a Black Jesus between 1988 and 1992. His name is derived from his youth idol Jimmy Osmond, and the tenor saxophone, his horn of choice.
Tenor gained the attention of influential Sheffield label Warp after releasing the full-length Europa in 1996, leading to a recording deal and reissue plans for some of Tenor's Sähkö releases. Warp featured the previously unavailable Tenor cut "Downtown" on their Blechsdottir label comp and released the 7"/CD single "Can't Stay with You Baby" a few months later, with two additional singles appearing in early 1997.
In the late '80s, Tenor moved to New York, where he worked as a tourist photographer at the Empire State Building. He finally hooked up with Sähkö after receiving a copy of a solo recording by Mika Vainio (of Pan Sonic and Ø). Impressed with the label's openness to experimentalism (Sähkö had previously been known as something of the muso's minimalist techno label), Tenor sent along some tapes and landed a recording contract, releasing his debut, Sahkomies, in 1994. While in New York he also recorded with Khan/4E's Can Oral (under the name Bizz O.D.), releasing the "Traffic" single on Ozon in 1995. Tenor returned to Finland in 1995 to film a documentary of Sähkö (funded, oddly enough, by a government grant) and has remained there since, releasing Europa in 1996 and securing licensing and recording arrangements with Warp. The full-length Intervision was released in 1997, followed two years later by Organism.
After the release of Out of Nowhere in 2000, Tenor and Sähkö parted ways with Warp. The saxophonist collaborated with his musical instrument-designing partner Matti Knaapi, drummer Edward Vesala, DJ/producer Jimi Sumen, and harpist Iro Haarla, on the experimental album City Of Women, cut at Vesala's home studio. Unfortunately, Vesala died before it was released. Tenor's sixth full-length, Utopian Dream, an overtly solo electronics record, still received import distribution. Tenor was performing with a large band for 2004's Beyond the Stars, distributed widely through Kitty-Yo, and 2007's Joystone with his backing unit Kabu Kabu. The combination also paired for 2009's 4th Dimension. In 2010, Tenor and Afro-beat drum legend Tony Allen collaborated on a volume in Strut's excellent Inspiration Information series. Ifetune, a collaboration with Ethiopian percussionist Abdissa "Mamba" Assefa, appeared in 2011. In February of 2012, the first exhibition of Tenor's photographs was shown at the Kingi Kongi Gallery in Helsinki, followed by his first feature film, Sähkö, which debuted in Berlin. He capped the eventful year by releasing The Mystery of Aether with Kabu Kabu for Kindred Spirits.
Tenor recorded the experimental Dub of Doom with Icelandic reggae band Hjálmar in 2013, as well as the experimental Exocosmos with Lassi Lehto's global Imposter Orchestra. He and Nicole Willis co-produced Finnish band Haunted by Hallucinations' self-titled debut album, and he played on Masterstone by Lehto's Flat Earth Society.
His long association with vanguard saxophonist Kalle Kalima and drummer Joonas Rippa in the Tenors of Kalma resulted in the album Electric Willow, which was issued by Enja's Yellowbird imprint in 2015, the same year as his collaboration with UMO Jazz Orchestra on the 12-track Mysterium Magnum from Herakles. The following year, the label released his full-length spiritual jazz- cum-Afrobeat set Saxentric. Two collaborative EPs were issued in 2017, first, Big Fantasy (For Me) with Nicole Willis and Jonathan Maron in March, followed by Sleepover with Freestyle Man in November. In 2018, Tenor issued Order of Nothingness an exercise in global soul-jazz and funk and played a classifiable gig with Tony Allen's band at the OTO Live Series, issued as an album by Moog Recordings. In 2019, City of Women, Vol. 2 with Vesala, Haarla, Sumen, and Knaapi was issued, consisting of material cut in 2000. In early 2020, Tenor issued Metamorpha on BubbleTease Communications. Written and recorded with bassist/ house music producer Maurice Fulton, the album marked a solid return to dance music with jazzy overtones; all instruments were performed by the duo. In March, Bureau B issued the double-length compilation Ny, Hel, Barca, that collected 20 tracks from Tenor's first six albums, between 1994 and 2001. ~ Sean Cooper & John Bush