by Andrew Choate
Anxiety makes a noise like a string quartet/ Rehearsing in my ribcage
– Robert Kelly
Romantic relationships aren’t equal. Equality implies measurability––two centimeters of chocolate equals the same length as two centimeters of licorice––and the kind of love I’m talking about doesn’t bother with measurement. Not to mention differences in taste…
Romantic relationships are not exclusive to people: we love books, foods, pets, activities, places, etc. We develop our capacity to give our love away, and if you love a place like I love Nickelsdorf, you shouldn’t expect the place to love you back. It can give you feelings that encourage more love to grow from within you, but a place doesn’t generate, articulate and deliver the kind of love that blooms between people. The place just exists. It is up to the people in that place to fill it with love.
The 2016 Konfrontationen began for me in the Sound Art exhibit across the street from the Jazzgalerie. When Beirut was bombed in 2006, Mazen Kerbaj began making drawings and audio recordings documenting what he could hear and see. All of his notebooks and recordings from this time were on display as “Before the war, it was the war. After the war, it is still the war.” The cumulative effect of this material puts the audience into the space of Kerbaj’s perceptions, physicalizing the intimate experience of recording a war, being trapped and creative. Humor and pain, love and fear, sanity and irrationality – all intermingle in these documents. Kerbaj is an artist unafraid to showcase difficult and conflicted emotions, none perhaps so revelatory as the notion that refusal, resistance, and even cowardice can be strength when turned towards bullshit warmongers.
I didn’t understand Yan Jun’s “Grappa Variation,” four speakers arranged around a dinner table, all facing the center like a family mid-meal. It seemed to consist solely of banal field recordings (park sounds of kids playing, static-y feedback, public transportation announcements, restaurant-utensil clinking) along with him and his friends saying or trying to say “grappa” in various languages. If this was cultural expansion, it felt like notes on psychological imperialism as experienced via linguistics, manifested.
For the first of four performances of “ce qui dure dans ce qui dure,” by Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto saxophone) and Lotus Eddé Khoure (dance), the pair gathered in front of a burgundy curtain in an empty room with a wooden floor. The piece depends on their negotiation of a non-simultaneous but concomitant exploration of “OFF” and “ON.” Khoure’s movements focussed on casual repetitions of simple gestures that she filled with increasing tension: a fist closing, a foot lifting, a back crouching, etc. Guionnet held his tones or stood silently, always looking straight ahead. Khoure mimicked his fingering positions on the saxophone once, and then stopped moving.
I also went to see this duo perform this piece on Friday afternoon, this time in the garden outside the Sound Art exhibit. The crowd was much thinner than the previous night, and I noticed the patterns of muscles moving in his arms because of her. I heard the whoosh of the swoop of her arms because of him. She took more dramatic poses and strained to hold them. He bent over. I thought about all the people in the neighborhood that could hear the sound inadvertently as they proceeded through their day. I thought about the confidence it takes to make a sound in the world that people who aren’t expecting it will hear. More people heard Guionnet’s sounds accidentally than intentionally. She sighed and took a half-step forward with one foot and held it in the air, to the accompaniment of a diagonal arm splash into the wind.
I missed their Saturday performance, but on SundayI heard Guionnet make a tone within a tone on the alto sax that was unlike anything I have ever heard: like a seed and a shell finally adequately entwined as both inner and outer. Khoure had been gathering tension in these performances for days, and on Sunday she used trembling to inaugurate a way of saying both “Shoo! Get away!” and “What do I have to do to keep you?” She danced underneath her shirt, using tense stomach muscles to zoom in on the giant difficulty of what it might mean to turn away from our core.
Opening things up on the Jazzgalerie main stage was the Italian quartet Roots Magic (Alberto Popolla – clarinets; Errico De Fabritiis – alto sax; Gianfranco Tedeschi – double bass; Fabrizio Spera – drums). They got things started with a gravelly baritone swagger from De Fabritiis on Charlie Patton’s “Down the Dirt Road Blues” from 1929. I appreciated the combination of the darkness and the celebration, as if the worst experiences can still somehow be commemorated as long as we have other people to share the sentiment with. They also did a version of Julius Hemphill’s “The Hard Blues,” and somehow De Fabritiis’ alto was even more gritty than his baritone: he’s got a growl that could cook a mean steak. This was their first gig playing outside Italy, and they didn’t extend these pieces too much beyond the nut of the original, just lovingly embraced the tunes and put them to bed. But when you choose a set list of tunes by Blind Willie Johnson, Phil Cohran, Olu Dara, John Carter, Pee Wee Russell and Sun Ra, that’s the right strategy. A great choice to open the festival as the breadth of the historical context for a lot of the music that was to come later was acknowledged and rejoiced.
A string quartet called Strinquantet (Simon Frick – violin; Judith Reiter – viola; Maria Frodl – cello; Thomas Stempkowski – double bass) followed with a set of mostly improvised pieces that made me think of abstract lace patterns being crafted in remote parts of the world to be used as traditional fireside blankets. The band had a visual splendor deeply colored by the physical movements of the players: long arco stretches, vibrato wobbles, bows shaking and waving. I discovered that scraping a bass with a thin stick can sound like a bow splooshed through the air. This music weaved a fine line between intellectual intensity and relaxed barn-dance party, the success of which could be attributed to the musicians’ comfort onstage playing a music that hasn’t yet had a place in the world carved out for it. This fresh territory that Strinquantet mapped thus made a perfect compliment to the overt historical underpinnings that Roots Magic’s set opened with.
Pointillist abstraction––like looking at dots just before they’re connected––mingled with squeals of fun and the carefree joy of letting go in their final piece, and the rhythmic regularity of tapping a fingernail on a cello sounded like cold water dripping into a bucket. The distinguished tonality of a whine from the violin made me think someone was singing before a meteor fell out of the viola and a folky turnip sprouted outside the back of the barn, where the dance continued.
There was a lot of anticipation from my friends for The Elks (Liz Allbee – trumpet, electronics; Kai Fagaschinski – clarinet; Billy Roisz – electronics, electric bass; Marta Zapparoli – tape recorders, self-made devices) so it was nice when they started with a howling rumblefuck of dirge-as-destiny to get going. Zapparoli’s turntables led the ensemble with the voice of a demon satellite orbiting the inner ear. Roisz had a bass on the ground she plucked inaudibly; stealing its waveform for processing, harvesting oil from a nap. The electronics were too dominant in this opening portion until Fagaschinski stopped playing harsh high-pitched blistering tones and Albee put her trumpet perpendicular to the ground, removed the mouthpiece and made “Bawk-Bawk” chicken whistles. These breath instrumentalists took over for a moment. Roisz and Zapparoli quickly heard what was happening and adroitly shifted gears to supplement the new lick of momentum and these four were suddenly sounded like A WORKING BAND.
Buzzing electronic breaths hovered over the stage like ungrounded hum as Kai and Liz pierced the foam with shouting sprouts. Unfortunately a lighting tech got fidgety and started changing the lights every thirty seconds, distracting from the jam. By the time someone told him to stop, the band had cruised into a steady course toward more and more activity, and it sounded like free jazz machismo suffused with contemporary techniques. Sometimes adding more layers doesn’t increase density: it makes everything more diffuse. Overall a good ride on a roller coaster, with Zapparoli exerting the most energy to direct the riddle.
Don’t confuse caring for weakness
– Willie Nelson
I was really looking forward to Manfred Hofer’s set with Peter Kutin and Lampenshirm at the Kleylehof because Hofer’s trio set at the 2005 fest with Tony Buck and Hannes Löschel was deeply revelatory for me. His technique on bass––including other assorted implements for attacking it and adding effects––generated total eye-and-ear-opening awe in me. I picked up his solo CD but hadn’t been able to find anything at all in the interim, so was eager to see what he was up to now. Unfortunately this combination of Lampenshirm’s mostly black-and-white visuals with he and Kutin’s guitar/ bass/ electronics/ sound rig took me to places I felt like I had been before, and with less drastic effect. Admittedly, the narrative voice in German at the introduction was totally lost on me. The pitter-patter of scurrying electronics mixed with architectural visuals of stairwells, windows and wires reinforced a shallow notion of alienation amidst the brutal omnipresence of urban structures. Hofer’s bass played radio static dream flange. When the visuals switched to color images of insects, space and the moon, I felt even less connected. Life pulsing over the forest floor or water rippling on top of a clear stream felt like thinly-veiled and obvious desires made manifest when accompanied by clackety loops and turntable samples skipping on purpose. Maybe this is ennui in its pure state and I just don’t want to join in the bitter celebration.
Celebrating 40+ years as a Swedish juggernaut of free jazz, Lokomotiv Konkret blasted off from the Jazzgalerie stage in a rage of contrabass saxophone (Dror Feiler), guitar (Sören Runolf) and drums (Tommy Björk). Try to chew gum with a pair of scissors instead of your mouth. A full rumbling thrush of drums pervaded underneath Feiler moving from squealing sopranino to soprano to an alto with some sort of extended mouthpiece connector, sometimes with two of these at a time. A melody he played on tenor saxophone sounded more fractured than purely free blowing: a kaleidoscope, still, operates based on logic.
Their second number started with a drumstick-on-cymbal rub, with Feiler back on contrabass saxophone, and was much sparser than the first piece, totally different stylistically. Like a hard bellow to say hello followed by a calm rapport to have a conversation. Björk’s drumming felt more like he was building a pattern than creating a rhythm while the addition of Feiler’s electronics and shaking bells added a force-field of intension. Runolf’s guitar seemed to emit a stream of scalding fizz, though it was hard to hear cleanly through the mix of pitches coming from Feiler. Nothing static about it.
Speakeasy (Ute Wassermann – voice; Phil Minton – voice; Thomas Lehn – analogue synthesizer; Martin Blume – drums, percussion) put a great combination of instruments on stage, but I was disappointed in their set because they didn’t seem to get out of any territory that could have been expected. I’m not addicted to surprise in improvisation, but I do like to feel like a deep exploration is taking place. And while I have loved all of these performers in multiple contexts over the years, this performance was lackluster, with each player trying to find a place to make a sound in the overall vortex: listening for room to contribute, but not considering what might be worthwhile to contribute.
That being said, there were things I enjoyed: a combination of bird whistle and dog bark from Wassermann and Minton; ballooning synthesizer glows from Lehn; the steadiness of Blume’s lightsaber battle strikes toward the cymbals.
The trio of Sophie Agnel (piano), John Edwards (double bass) and Steve Noble (drums) was my favorite set that took place on the Jazzgalerie stage of this year’s fest. Agnel is a hero to me, a fact which I discovered listening to this performance. Things she did that I loved: screams of scraped strings; tuning fork reverberations melted down on skin; fishing line tug-of-wars making a giant V through the piano. Noble was ready for every sound and layer, adding accents and beds for each turn in the music, whether with wood blocks or gongs. Edwards, as always, equally in tune with both where the music was and where it might want to go, frequently studding the music with premonitions of sounds that later unfolded into foundations. Lovely and unsettling at once – just how I like it.
Where is the Sun (Isabelle Duthoit – clarinet, voice; Franz Hautzinger – quarter-tone trumpet; dieb13 – turntables; Martin Tétreault – turntables) had already played a small number of gigs together, but this was my first exposure to them as a quartet, and it’s a lineup that combines two of my favorite turntablists, Tétreault and dieb13. They delivered an astonishing quantity of frizzle-frying laser bombs and I thought about what it would be like to live in a habitat manufactured for another creature, a Polar bear’s environment, in an exhibit at the zoo, for example.
Whether guttural spelunking with the unscrewed bell of her clarinet or groaning with accusatory force, Duthoit’s presence onstage shaped the overall sound into a kind of cartoon demonic. Karate-chopping with her arms to coincide with screeches from her mouth elicited haunting but satisfying breathwork from Hautzinger, that seemed to elevate off the ground. The shape of her mouth, whether a smile or a frown, completely determines the kind of sound that can come out – an obvious fact about the physicality and gesturality of sound that she amplifies with poise.
Der Lange, der Junge und der Dicke (The Tall, the Young and the Fat: Rudi Mahall – bass clarinet; Flo Stoffner – guitar; Paul Lovens – selected and unselected percussion) played without the PA in a tight space on a corner of the stage. I had never heard Stoffner before, and he sounded like he translated Derek Bailey through Thelonious Monk: all intervals,. Funky funky intervals. Which fit perfectly with Mahall, whose Dolphyisms have always been about quick melodic shimmying between the top and bottom of the bass clarinet’s range. Stoffner’s playful use of harmonics pinned the spirit on the night, as Lovens responded with micro-echoes on tuned cymbals. “When I talk to my girlfriend, I feel like I’m on the edge of a body of water.” A deft slurring of instrumental boundaries with hints of straight-ahead jamming.
The moon’s/ been hanging around/ an awful lot lately – Sam Hunt
It was hot in the church for Rdeča Raketa (Maja Osojnik – live sampling, DJ CD player and other lo-fi electronics, Paetzold bass recorder; Matija Schellander – modular synthesizer, double bass) and Jean-Luc Guionnet (church organ). The air was deathly still, with the audience’s asses and backs supported only by hard wood pews, benches connected at oblique angles made to keep you attentive during descriptions of fantastic demises. It was hot in the church.
Many held their hungover heads in their hands. I picked a seat as far from the stage as possible, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to watch rather than hear. At first I wasn’t sure if the sonic worlds between Rdeča Raketa’s electronics––which were being played from the altar, at the front of the church, though a PA––and Jean-Luc Guionnet’s organ––which was being played on the second floor, from the back of the church, through the pipes––were meeting. The electronics were hyper and the organ was humming. Eventually I sunk into it with my sticky flesh and slippery mind and could hear the whistling thunderfall on both sides of the story. A controlled apocalyptic throb took over until the building itself felt like one single tremble stuck in orbit back and forth between existence and oblivion. Schellander––optimistically, atavistically, desperately––picked up his doublebass and bow and deposited more hum into the already-quivering space. Cricket helicoptering. A major highlight of the festival; I’d be very curious to hear if the recordings captured the hot, thick, heady presence of that sound.
I went back to the Sound Art exhibit again and spent more time with Noid’s “el paraisofono,” a steel-mesh grid hanging parallel to the ground with multiple objects on it: glass, tin, woodblocks, photographs, plastic cups, etc. The audience is invited to arrange the objects at any time so it is always changing. The grid vibrates and shakes with three different sounds––sine waves, feedback, noise––according to a pattern that Noid programmed. The vibrations reference the earthquakes in the city of Valpairaso where he conceived and developed the piece. I was mesmerized by the subtle depth of the sonics it emitted, and so spent a solid hour listening and tweaking the arrangement on the grid. A simple idea executed to be both inviting and challenging, an orchestra of objects.
The next room contained “hotspots” by Klaus Filip: “a map [on the wall] that indicates where thousands of refugees are located in camps and hotspots. The visitor of the exhibition can point to them with laser pointers thus producing an abstract image that will be made audible by a sonification.” You could also choose to shine the laser pointer/s through any of a series of crystal glasses, thus refracting the laser into hundreds of light shards across the map, producing an even more explosive sonification. The pitches seemed to be determined pretty simply based on North and South/East and West, but the result was wildly riveting, especially when multiple people helmed the different pointers. Considering the dire human migrations that were factored into the generation of the sounds, there was also something despotic about the positioning of the audience, who are pointing all over the world while remaining safely in one place, a little like a general planning a war. It was discomfiting and invigorating at the same time, which seemed like a valuable position to inhabit.
A small alcove off of Klaus Filip’s installation held Lisbeth Kovacic & Juri Schaden’s “Eu-fence,” a video documenting the cleaning of the truck that had been discovered between Nickelsdorf and Hegeshalom to be harboring 71 dead bodies that had been suffocated during one of the heights––August, 2015; will they end?––of the refugee crisis. The international news story/scandal of finding these bodies was counterpoised by a short-lived opening of borders. The static video shot of hazard-suited employees laying out the bodies and going through their apocalyptic duties behind a hastily-constructed fence emphasized the quotidian trauma of living within a reality wherein the awareness of heinous crime flows amidst a sea of inter-political “negotiations” that make awareness a protest against health.
Another room in this section of the exhibit was empty on Saturday, but had been full when I visited on Thursday. Christine Schörkhuber’s “We arrived on the dark side of Europe – the tents of Idomeni” had upset the building’s owner, so had been removed from the exhibit and placed outside in front of the Jazzgalerie. Schörkhuber had visited the Greek-Macedonian border and taken photographs and notes of the messages––“you do not own future”––that stranded refugees had written (in a variety of languages) on the exterior surfaces of their tents. Schörkhuber then rewrote the phrases and demands on another series of tents pitched in the gallery space. Once forcibly relocated, they looked much better on the street in front of the Jazzgalerie, and the displacement at the heart of the project took on another level.
Martin Siewert (guitar, electronics) and Katharina Ernst (drums) kicked off the action on the main stage and I was instantly reminded why I like Siewert’s live presence so much: he just looks so damn relaxed with an axe! Playing calm little notes like a bird passing overhead set a nice meditative tone before the duo launched into a howling glitter-filled aurora shower. Think of The Ruins (with guitar instead of bass) and add Jimi Hendrix funk with tripped-out David Gilmour rambling. There is so much sky in his sound. And Ernst has no problem anchoring this new age/hard rock hybrid they’ve developed. Their sound goes in all directions, like ambient light, but they make dark rock. Ernst played with the guts of a punk rock polka dot. Hair is naturally shaped like fire for a reason.
Trio Now! (Tanja Feichtmair – alto sax, voice; Uli Winter – cello; Fredi Pröll – drums) played the only set that I’ve had the benefit of listening to again after the fact, since it was released by Leo Records in the spring. In my memory the band played free jazz that sounded like standards, albeit Braxton-ized standards. Based on the recording, I still hear a strong Braxtonian presence in Feichtmair’s tone, but I hear less nods to standards than an experimentation with abstraction-cum-expression: the moment when self meets representation. I hear the band as if they are unconsciously covering stuff from the era of Braxton’s quartet: in and out/push and pull/ up equals down (if you turn sideways). Pröll had a Hemingway-ishness about his playing as well, reinforcing the connection: using quick juxtapositions between cymbal strikes and tiny clicks––like a nickel on a tuning peg––to wade through the deep end of Winter’s jagged arco. He literally whipped towels like drumsticks as Feichtmair aired out soft vocalic prayers.
Georg Gräwe’s solo piano set went like this: a dandelion in headlights; a lemon with a painted red dot on the rind; the gasp of a shooting star; running in a field and hiding and never being caught. If YOU had 88 fingers, how would YOU play piano? Little sprinkles of water clouds don’t break when they encounter an object – they just engulf it. This was the second time I had seen Gräwe solo on this stage, and it reminded me of that saying about stepping in the same river twice: don’t hit your head on the splash.
The Red Trio (Rodrigo Pinheiro – piano; Hernâni Faustino – double bass; Gabriel Ferrandini – drums) have been collaborating with John Butcher (tenor sax, soprano sax) since 2007 and he makes a poignant, pointed addition to the band. I got the feeling that with any other saxophonist they would have veered too far astray from the intention to make room for both post-65 Coltrane and pre-65 Giuffre. Pinheiro got inside the piano for a duo with Butcher on soprano saxophone, and I saw a girl put her hand on her neck to listen while holding her breath: great idea: less oxygen, more improv. Pinheiro also used an ebow to embellish the rippling swirl of echoes, and when things got really quiet, letting him advance, I realized that it’s the quiet that lets us know it’s time to listen.
Muggy, stagnant air is best experienced in combination with either pinpoint focus or diffuse indifference. His piano solo later in the set was infused with exhilirating ideas taken too far and over-explained. I have a hard time understanding improvisation that feels compelled to fill space with so much sound; it feels less like “improvisation” than like a statement of purpose – a demonstration of abstract flying things rather than an example of ideal aesthetic and social conditions.
Karkhana (Mazen Kerbaj – trumpet, mezmar; Umut Çağlar – reeds, flutes; Sam Shalabi – oud, electric guitar; Sharif Sehnaoui – electric guitar; Maurice Louca – synthesizer, electronics; Tony Elieh – electric bass; Michael Zerang – drums, percussion) finished the evening and something fell from the sky in front of me right as they started – a bug or a birdwing or a castle remnant. The set went: drone – pause – groove – freakout – repeat – breakdown. Warped pop synth from Louca on top could have been taken advantage of earlier. I love all these musicians so much I desperately wanted this set to be tuned in and turned on much higher than it was. Eventually a deep bass riff from Elieh triggered a double-reed clutch from Çağlar and Zerang laid down figures on his drum kit like he was playing hand drums: physicality always wins in terms of the human experience.
During the next groove, a traditional melody whirl like something off of Sami Rageb’s “Hyetti” got corrugated with Kerbaj playing drumstick-against-balloon in-between the mouthpiece and body of the trumpet until Shalabi took an oud solo that felt like the cherry on top of a sundae that you only got a couple bites of because you were sharing it with a lover you were trying to court. A sultry slow jam dissolution dissolved us into the night.
Every time he spoke in the dripping silence, his voice sounded so brutal and obscene that it stabbed our stomachs with a sour flood of adrenalin. – Mirceau Cărtărescu
Phil Minton’s Feral Choir––made up of anyone who wanted to join in and saw the signs posted for Sunday morning rehearsal––took off in a tribute to beloved trombonist Johannes Bauer to start the day.
dein klang wird diese bühne nie verlassen
auch wenn die vielen höhenflüge gezählt sind
nicht die tiefenschärfe nicht die leichtfüßigen wendungen
deine freude am spiel
und herzlichkeit in der begegnung
wir werden sie vermissen.
Your sound will never leave this stage
Even if the many heights are counted
Not the deep focus not the light-footed turns
Your joy at the game
And warmth in the encounter
we will miss you.
– Vera Gersak
This choir of friends and fans followed Minton’s conduction through bagpipe wheezing and carnival shouting to simply say, however ecstatically or solemnly, “thank you,” over and over again, to the dearly-missed presence of Johannes Bauer. A cascading waterfall of voices in a church on a hot Sunday afternoon made the kind of mourning that is mixed inextricably with gratitude, and heart-wrenchingly present. Like a watercolor that inevitably dries into hard contours of form and tone, his life was invoked and celebrated while his presence was allowed free reign to augur and manifest.
I was in a contemplative mood by the time the afternoon concert of Michel Doneda (soprano saxophone) and Lê Quan Ninh (percussion) got started at the Hesser Gstettn, a carved terrace in the land a couple kilometers from the Jazzgalerie. The audience positioned themselves across a wide swath of terrain – some making for the shade provided by the terrace wall, others inside the small shadows poking out from under scruffy scrub-bushes. The stoics adamantly stood in the brunt of the bracing sun.
Despite the inhospitality of the environment, this was my favorite performance of the festival, as Ninh and Doneda each traversed the landscape seemingly unconcerned about what their partner was up to, but deeply aware of what the entire environment offered, from snoring dipsomaniacs with sun exhaustion to frittering dogs with paws causing rocks to tumble and scatter.
In what might have been the most amazingly counterintuitive series of actions I’ve ever seen performed acoustically, Ninh rubbed loose cymbals across the rocks and foliage in the landscape, often semi-inaudibly from where I was standing, and then dragged those cymbals––resonating from their contact with weeds and scrub-brush––into his upright bass drum, effectively turning what should have been the decay of a sound into its amplification.
Slow steps on loose rocks from performers and audience alike punctuated this extraordinary concert where the breaths of dogs panting and the give-way of stones that folks were leaning on sent people and sound shivering across the arena.
The breezeless air of heat can’t be over-emphasized, with everyone hunting for shade yet also wanting to be close to the sound. Doneda played his soprano looking straight into the sun like he was thirstily sucking for relief; Ninh blew gusts of breath through the center-hole of cymbals brought to the edge of his face.
They ended with a long walk away from the audience, down a dirt road, and it seemed like the seal on a long-worn friendship finally made epic, ahistoric.
The trio of Keir Neuringer (alto sax), Simone Weißenfels (piano) and Willi Kellers (drums, percussion) on the Jazzgalerie main stage got off to a bad start with Neuringer’s introduction featuring a trite poem about “staring into the abyss” in relation to contemporary American politics. (Yes, the election turned out abysmally, but I have a problem with thinking that American politics and policy have ever been anything but a bastion of horror.) Thankfully, this band chose to investigate a more nuanced form of interaction. Even though I’ve become extremely agitated by most styles of improvised saxophone playing lately, my ears really embraced Neuringer’s tone and decision-making. (When I heard a record he made at Philipp Schmickl’s apartment a couple days later, I became even more impressed by his restrained-yet-determined sound.)
Weißenfels’ cascades mixed with Kellers’ delightful mbira pluckery and Neuringer’s squelchily constricted alto; everything perfectly creaking like the wooden benches we were all sitting on. Bird sounds and wind-chime whistling with soft mallets on piano strings gave a cheek-puckering fadeout to an already deceptively accomplished piece of improv. I wondered about the dangers lurking in children subjected to recordings of Dylan’s harmonica at a young age.
Talibam! (Matt Mottel – electronics, keyboard; Kevin Shea – drums) + Alan Wilkinson (tenor and baritone saxophone) felt like a well-pitched “I” screamed while jumping off a building: terrible yet comforting to the practitioner. Spacey, cheesey sci-fi synth from Mottel reminded me of early Deep Purple––back when they were an organ-based band––without the pop hooks, like Talibam! were making the theme to a TV show that is crazy but still accessible. He had his keytar slung over his shoulder with Wilkinson vocalizing through his free blowing: back and forth in front of the reed, hitting his lips and moving away like an acoustic wah-wah horn. Shea was flopping around on drums and I never could discern his perspective on the music they were making: was he just a willing participant of thrashing clank or the one controlling the accelerator?
Wilkinson gurgled into the bell of his alto and added vocalics to his baritone playing, with a brief solo to start their second piece, and I thought of a third eye with a cataract: extrasensory vision distorted magnificently. His cries melded into Mottel’s doomy keys and Shea’s black metal hyperdrive drums to audience cheers. Birds in flight would never think of asking for respite.
The trio of John Butcher (tenor sax, soprano sax), Thomas Lehn (analogue synthesizer) and Matthew Shipp (piano) was marred by bad sound tech and poor chemistry. Shipp’s playing was spry but overly-conciliatory, almost hippie-inflected, resulting in an incoherent romanticism that balanced poorly with the crackling distortion of Lehn’s synth. Butcher played electronics too, and had one mic focussed exclusively on the sounds of his fingers on the keys, which momentarily added a rich layer. Unfortunately, the equipment wasn’t cooperating, and Lehn fell in and out of the mix multiple times. Frustration and disappointment with technical issues were compounded by a lack of expansive camaraderie. Since this gig, they’ve released a CD on Fataka that probes more aggressive stances between the improvisors, a more invigorating tack for sure.
I wasn’t the only one who thought Fire! (Mats Gustafsson – tenor sax, baritone sax, flutophone, electronics; Johan Berthling – double bass; Andreas Werliin – drums) with Oren Ambarchi (guitar, electronics) did a loose cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” during this set, as Bogdan Scoromide’s interview with Alan Wilkinson and Talibam! revealed that they all started singing it in the bar while the band was onstage – awesome!
Ambarchi’s playing seems to divide people into fans or haters, and I’m certainly in the former category. Despite the myriad styles of attack he can display, his tone is instantly recognizable, and I find it warm and inviting even when ostensibly harsh: heavens rising from heavens or hells sinking into hells. Alas, he was mixed too low in the group sound and I had to strain to make out what he was doing for most of the set. By the time the soulful encore with Gustafsson on baritone saxophone began, the crusty torn edges of feedback in Ambarchi’s overtones came blissfully to the fore, making a comfy bed for Gustafsson to lay some finely-wriggled electronics on top of, putting this year’s fest to rest.
all photos by AC except the pale fox (George Staicu)
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