Intakt Fest Goes International At The Vortex

 Takase

Given the fact that Swiss record company Intakt has been one of the most adventurous outlets for improvised music for over three decades it makes perfect sense for a festival in its honour to run for no fewer than 12 nights. The scale of the label's achievement is reflected by the duration as well as the diversity of the programme, as stellar double-bills bring together artists often drawn from different generations as well as different countries. Intakt has always sought the cutting edge of players beyond borders, a case in point being the magical Swiss-South African axis of Irene Schweizer and Louis Moholo-Moholo.

In the initial days of the residency there was a 'first wave' of heavy artillery, such as the aforementioned as well other iconic veterans Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Evan Parker, Howard Riley and Barry Guy, not to mention dynamic younger players such as Lucas Niggli. But one of the most pleasing aspects of the programme was the fact that many artists appeared in various permutations, the effect of which was to create a kind of workshop-cum-open house ambiance. 

Feldman

Given the abundance of duos and trios the change of partners served as an exciting catalyst, none more so than in the case of the remarkable Berlin-based Japanese pianist and composer Aki Takase. As she takes to the stage with tenor-soprano saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, another sound traveller whose musical itinerary has taken her from Germany to New York via London, Takase seems a touch on the nervous side, possibly because she is not confident about addressing the audience in English, which might be her third language. However, there are no communication problems whatsoever once the two of them start to play and Laubrock's potent tenor lands to good effect on the rhythmically choppy, at times turbulent waters of Takase's piano, which impressively flows into richly melodic statements that are steeped in the kind of brash lyricism that binds Ellington to Monk and Taylor. In fact, as she shows on the rest of the set, Takase is fully bound to this modernist root as well as its avant-garde openings into more fluid metres and harsher resonances. Her meeting with German bass clarinetist-clarinetist Rudi Mahall the following night provides a point of both contrast and continuity. They equally touch on a strain of mischievous, jaunty romanticism that is nonetheless sharpened with an explosive quality that invites us to imagine not just Dolphy playing Waller's 'Jitterbug Waltz', but the two of them doing so with the express intent of blurring the line between seduction and confrontation, both emotionally and sonically. Mahall's tone is so startlingly loud and his projection so overarching that even to a patron at the back of the room he appears to be blowing right in your ear. Takase's brilliantly gymnastic runs from the mid to high register, where locked hands give added weight to constantly skipping, swirling motifs, are a perfect foil for Mahall's mosaic of multi-phonics which peaks with a series of ascending, impish sounds that imply an electric mouth organ or melodica. Such tonal ingenuity also marks a very strong performance from another duo a few days later: French pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and American violinist Mark Feldman. Both have an iron-grip on classical technique, particularly Feldman's crystalline articulation of presto phrases, but their harmonic imagination, improvisatory flourish and subversive approaches to their instruments do not go unnoticed, particularly Courvoiser's live looping by way of strategically placed and cleverly manipulated objects on the piano strings. The result is a kind of rhapsody in skews rather than blues.

INTAKT-FAVRE-TWO

Also providing adept at taking a road less traveled to originality is Pierre Favre. In many ways the veteran Swiss percussionist is another great emblem of Intakt as a label whose vitality is well rooted in history. The sprightly octogenarian has been active for seven decades and contributed one of the most original works to the ECM catalogue, 1984's Singing Drums, alongside Paul Motian, Nana Vasconceles and Freddy Studer. Favre's new 4 Drums project also has a quartet of players – Chris Jaeger, Valeria Zangger and Markus Lauterburg – stationed at four kits, with Favre acting as a centrifugal force. There is a lot of unison playing to create dense, low burrs that have the quality of African log drums, a sensation which is heightened by the extended breakdowns in which no cymbals are used at all. Toms and wood blocks feature prominently, but as his accompanists drop out to leave him to play unaccompanied it becomes clear that Favre really upholds the key principle of pioneering jazz drummers in the way he has entirely personalized his set-up. The gong may be a sly nod to Sonny Greer, but the sundry items of percussion, lengths of tubing and sticks of varying size and shape that decisively alter pitch on the drums is really quite mesmerising. As befits a man who played with Philly Joe Jones, Bud Powell and Louis Armstrong Favre carries an important heritage on his shoulders as well as in his hands, a reminder that what might be called avant-garde jazz has roots running all the way back to New Orleans and West Africa. The set ends with a djembe drum circle and for just a moment Dalston becomes a little Dakar.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Dawid Laskowski

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