Sonic Protest runs its core festival across various Parisian venues, but it also sends transmissions around the rest of France, staging satellite gigs in cities such as Marseille, Nantes, Lille and Bordeaux. The emphasis is on confrontational and/or challenging rock and/or electronics, but there is also much of interest for the more wayward jazz fan.
A noticeable sub-tendril was the appearance of three drummers with considerable jazz connections, even if they might often inhabit routes taken through other portals. Sticksmen from England, Sweden and the US were involved across three different evenings. Charles Hayward was a founding member of This Heat, one of the most visceral and innovative bands at the late-1970s intersection point of punk, dub, prog, noise and funk. Sven-Åke Johansson is a veteran free improviser, a founder member of the Globe Unity Orchestra. Weasel Walter spends much of his time at the extreme ends of rock, but has always nailed free jazz polyrhythms at the heart of his approach.
The cannily named This Is Not This Heat allows the trio's two surviving members to recall the old late-1970s repertoire with an expanded line-up that allows a fleshly recreation of the loop-piled, multi-instrumentalist overdubs of their original recordings. Most of the newer band's sonic gestures still lie at the dynamically potent points, but with this muscle-training tour in progress, and players who thrive on improvisation, unexpected moves are, paradoxically, expected. At the Centquatre arts centre Hayward mostly plays drums, in his avant-funk intensity, perhaps descended from John French and Jaki Liebezeit. Charles Bullen mostly plays guitar, his spiky, strafing style grown out of a punk/dub/funk collision that, in the late 1970s, was already predicting certain tendencies destined for the early 1980s. The additional members include two more guitarists, a second drummer and a keyboardist, but there are frequent outbreaks of multi-instrumentalism, and all players are part of the general vocal spread. The presence of Alex Ward, stage right, is particularly compelling, as he's responsible for frequent razor-chopping guitar riffs and manic clarinet solos, his horn rammed tightly down onto his microphone, pouring into a floor-spread of effects pedals.
Hayward's voice is as startling as his drumming, as dreamily sinister lines are delivered in what might best be described as a pastorally-yearning Cockney. This same tone is also emulated by Bullen, and indeed, other members of the band. It's akin to Robert Wyatt's imagined evil underbelly, as latent prog tendencies were drowned by punk and d.i.y. sensibilities. This Heat always sounded complex, in the Henry Cow manner, but they possessed a sonic palette that was much more prescient, a trio moving rapidly towards a harsher vocabulary of the later 1970s. 'Not Waving' and 'The Fall Of Saigon' have a curiously diseased romance, a melancholia for nothing, whereas 'Makeshift Swahili' has a rot-gut, visceral chant-mania, and 'SPQR' is almost conventionally skip-funked. On the classic instrumental front, they also deliver 'Horizontal Hold' and '24-Track Loop' with a fully convoluted momentum. These works are at the pinnacle of the unpopular music repertoire, and we couldn't have hoped for a more exciting interpretation, in this Parisian manifestation of the gutsiest experimentation possible.
Have you ever urinated into a plastic urn, filled with fresh hay? This was the avant-garde (or was it traditional?) toilette situation within the vast church of Eglise Saint-Merri. Its general, arching space was even more impressive. Representing an even older generation than Hayward, Sven-Åke Johansson is in his early seventies, still looking wiry and dapper. His kit is classically tiny, just a snare and a single hi-hat, although these are well-amplified. They need to be, as his trio partners are German singer Oliver Augst and French turntablist Alexandre Bellenger, the latter operating at extreme volume, speed, extremity and general ridiculousness. He's a fast-flicker, but not in the hip-hop fashion, preferring to work with decelerated vocal content, or entire chunks of eerily dragged or scratched vintage records. This particularly excites Augst, who has the distinction of being a suave chanson or cabaret stylist, caught in a maelstrom of chaotic free-forming. Once Johansson has dangled a suddenly-discovered large cymbal onto the floor, Augst sincerely croons 'Autumn Leaves', unruffled in his self-deluded supper club zone. Bellenger clamps down on a vinyl platter with his teeth, hoping to add further surface noise. Perhaps this charged set was most reminiscent of when Lol Coxhill used to warble along vocally with his Recedents colleagues, those equally anarchistic representatives of this off-road electroacoustic manifestation of improvisation.
By way of contrasting venues, the next night's gig is at Petit Bain, which is a small shack on the banks of the Seine, not too far from Notre-Dame. We wonder how high their rent is, for the kind of venue that presents extreme sounds such as those made by The Flying Luttenbachers. This is Californian drummer (transferred to NYC for much of the last decade) Weasel Walter's old combo (originally convened in 1991), revived and touring France in a reduced power trio configuration. Not that this impedes a tendency for elaborately staccato arrangements of hellishly-amplified guitar (Chris Welcome) and bass (Tim Dahl), with the latter's fuzzed-up, slide-action tones frequently veering into lead axe territory.
Dahl is probably most-known for his work alongside trumpeter Peter Evans in Pulverize The Sound. He might carefully consult his music-stand score during a finger-twister number, but one of this set's heat-points actually arrives whilst Welcome disappears backstage to change a string, resulting in a spontaneous (and necessary) improvised tussle between Weasel and Dahl. Is this prog or math or simply freak-out? Weasel's locked closely to the string slashcore, with much of the music possessing a slapstick humour, taking us aback with its stark shunts, shanking outbursts and free-form suspension. Not that the Luttenbachers look noticeably amused by all this, but rather, violently intent on realising each savagely condensed assault. At one point, all three players savour a series of excruciating silences, then crack in as one brain cell, heightening the import of each eruption. Weasel's brief pieces are loaded with all manner of exaggerated activity: it's rock'n'roll with a freedom sensibility.
You can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps. In the case of Squarepusher (aka Tom Jenkinson) and his monstrous live set-up of towering twin Marshall amps, homemade super-computer to frizzle-fry his alien-looking six-string bass and shimming LED facemask this is a man, and band, ready for some serious sonic warfare. Indeed, Shobaleader One, first appearing on record in 2010, are his hooded, LED-masked group who until they made their first public appearance at the Troxy in late 2015, were merely a menacing figment of Jenkinson's wild imagination. The band themselves are clearly highly-skilled jazz musicians – and with their perfectly warped 2000 AD-esque pseudonyms Strobe Nazard (keys), Company Laser (drums) and Arg Nution (guitar) they exude an oddball automaton nature, dispatching Squarepusher's churning, chugging electro funk riffage with po-faced mechanised precision. There's a reason for all of this of course, as one of electronic music's most-feted pioneers downed all pre-programmed tools in protest at dance music's homogenous malaise. His subsequent dive into incendiary drum'n'bass-disco-dub-jazz-funk-thrash is something akin to a one-man protest movement in favour of real-time human performance.
So what began as an opportunity to explore some of his 1990s classics from Feed Me Weird Things and Hard Normal Daddy, has expanded to songs from the Shobaleader One album, as well as a blistering 'Hello, Meow' from Hello Everything and the darkly-metallic thrash of 'Delta V' from Just a Souvenir. Opener 'Cooper's World' warms things up nicely with its dramatic dead-stops and hairpin turns, Jenknson's bass pushing the band along. Things step up a gear with the jerky disco of 'Hello Meow', Jenkinson unleashing his first fuzzed-out thumb-heavy bass break, whipping up a wall of syncopated snaps and pops.
There's some respite in the dreamy guitar chords of 'Iambic 9 Poetry' before the full-on wonky jazz of 'The Swifty' once more featuring the bassist's virtuoso soloing, this time with a keyboard sound emanating from his fingerboard via some impressive technical trickery. It's a high-stakes, high-risk set up when any form of computing power is involved and the momentary laptop fail and keyboard malfunction (thankfully, not at the same time) provide the band with a chance to improvise with aplomb, the second incident just ahead of 'Anstromm Feck 4' – a ferocious face-melting live take on 'The Modern Bass Guitar' – with Nazard switching solos with Jenkinson, and the head-smashing drumming of Laser once more cramming in more break beats per bar than seems humanly possible.
While Jenkinson may indulge his bass playing on the likes of 'E8 Boogie' and 'Deep Fried Pizza', how many other über-producers out there could adopt a completely new, live, way of playing their music and in turn create one of the most ferociously brilliant live bands on the planet right now? Er, one. It'll be fascinating to see how this project develops, but for now there's a thrilling new double live album, Elektrac, to enjoy and many more live appearances to witness its evolution, live, real and raw.
Nels Cline contributes the one and only outtake from his Lovers suite – a version of that beautiful ballad ‘In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’ – to a special limited seven-inch issued by Blue Note for Record Store Day (April 22). This lush sax and string-quartet bolstered cut finds Shirley Horn’s spectacular rendering of the same song residing on the flip.
Sax-bass-drums trio Partikel return with a new album, Counteraction, set for release on 24 March on Whirlwind Recordings, supporting the release with several UK and European live dates. Featuring saxophonist Duncan Eagles, bassist Max Luthert and drummer Eric Ford, the trio continue to explore new territory after their string-laden previous release, String Theory. Jazzwise is proud to present a video exclusive of the song 'Lanterns' from the new album below:
The new album once again features violinist Benet McLean alongside rising guitar star Ant Law on several tracks, as well as using subtle electronics to expand the group's soundworld. Partikel's profile has grown in the UK and abroad thanks to appearances at Love Supreme and Ealing jazz festivals, two tours in China and several dates in Belgium and Germany.
Launching the album at Kings Place, London on 11 May the band also appear at: The Queens Head, Monmouth (3 May); Cafe Jazz, Cardiff (4 May); Progress Theater, Reading (5 May); Arts Centre, Colchester (7 May) and The Verdict, Brighton (19 May).
Now in its fifth year the Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival has matured well, and this year's programme managed to balance crowd-pleasing headliners and popular mainstream jazz and blues acts with a weekend's worth of well-chosen contemporary jazz action that was gratifyingly well-attended.
Andy Sheppard's specially-commissioned soundtrack for Fritz Lang's silent classic Metropolis made for an impressive opener: Sheppard's score pitted an eight-strong horn section against his own trio with guitarist Eivand Aarset and Michele Rabbia's percussion. Their adroit and imaginative use of electronics wove around strongly thematic brass parts to capture the essence of the film's themes, notably the tension between the remorseless machinery and human needs. By leaving space for individual improvisation the music, notably the guitar and saxophone, was able to mirror the emotional tides of the story while permitting the more tightly scored music to return with split-second timing. As always with soundtrack performances, the trick was to make it interesting without being unduly distracting and this was certainly achieved.
By contrast, Jason Rebello's (above) solo piano performance was intense and intimate, drawing the listener into the physical mechanics of Herbie Hancock's richly riffing 'Canteloup Island' or Errol Garner's powerhouse stride on 'Play Piano Play'. These were rhythmically dense numbers, like his own 'Pearl', whereas his Jarretty ruminations for Sting's 'Every Little Thing' or the self-penned 'Closeness' played with the melody, savouring the possibilities of the phrasing. It was beautiful and absorbing music and all the more impressive for being played at lunchtime.
A similarly early start had bedevilled Dakhla Brass on Friday, but again this didn't hamper their performance which showcased new music from a forthcoming recording. This included 'Insomnia Sonia', a programmatic piece driven by a ticking clock, the four brass voices pulsing through the chorus and then derailing throughout the verse until a final becalming resolution. Their music was driven by contrasts – staccato/legato, tight harmony/chaotic anarchy, single time/double time – and a smart use of polyrhythmic overlay that made it a satisfyingly complex listen. After a year that took them to Montreal Jazz and the Albert Hall they have deservedly become local heroes.
Fans of classic bebop were well rewarded by Gilad Atzmon and Alan Barnes (above) whose Lowest Common Denominator's entertaining combination of drily antagonistic banter and briskly flamboyant playing drew a capacity audience. Moving easily between a choice of reed instruments this odd couple proved highly compatible in evoking a vintage sound with fresh energy on original numbers like the appropriately titled 'Alone Together' with Gilad's torrential alto well-matched to Alan's elegiac baritone sax thanks to Frank Harrison's no-nonsense piano. More bebop treats came from former Gillespie sideman Bobby Shew's evocation of 'My Friend Dizzy' with the veteran trumpeter supported by the festival's house big band in a set of favourites that included 'Manteca' and 'Groovin' High' with the Afro-Cuban groove of 'Tin Tin Deo' providing the set's real high-point.
There was no doubting a shift in this year's festival attendance that, gratifyingly, packed out The Lantern's programme of contemporary jazz acts as never before. This included Yazz Ahmed's (above) septet performance, atmospheric Arabian-influenced music picked out through well-judged effected trumpet and Ralph Wyld's vibes, and complex compositions like 'La Saboteuse' and 'Her Light' unfolded with spellbinding assurance. Though there was no question that it was her compositional vision that defined the music there was also a strong sense of the individual musical personalities involved, notably Dudley Philips' expressive bass and Martin France's drumming that rode effortlessly over the often-complex time signatures and rhythms.
They were followed on Sunday evening by the much-anticipated Jasper Høiby's Fellow Creatures (below), whose interestingly eclectic set had only the slightest echoes of the bassist's long-standing trio, Phronesis, and its whirlwind pyrotechnics. Instead there was a conscious deliberation about their playing, suggesting the musicians were still exploring the ideas underpinning this coming together of three generations of British jazz in Loose Tubes alumnus Mark Lockheart, Jasper himself, and the trio of young players alongside them. Numbers like 'Spirit of the Bees' subverted what could have been a carnivalesque dance with little glitches, Will Barry's suppressed piano coalescing with tinkling bells, scattered rimshots and a laughing trumpet riposte.
The self-consciousness of the set was possibly emphasised by having seen drummer Corrie Dick and trumpeter Laura Jurd (pictured top of page) on the same stage the night before in Laura's band Dinosaur. The fluid energy and assertiveness of Dinosaur's Miles-leaning music – a fresh take on the electric jazz-rock of the 1970s – gave it a confident momentum that was exhilarating to hear. On 'Living, Breathing' the trumpet needled at the writhing Elliot Galvin's fearlessly vintage electronica until Conor Chaplin's rigorous bass suddenly locked into the unobtrusively creative drumming like an idea suddenly making sense. It was moments like that (and there were many such) that made them appreciably the highlight of a pleasingly satisfying weekend.