Pharoah Sanders Flips Lids Alongside Vilnius Fest's International Cast (Mama Jazz Report Pt.2)

Pharoah-John-Sharpe

Vilnius Mama Jazz is the younger sibling of the three-decades-old Vilnius Jazz Festival, which has carefully built a reputation for adventurous, improvisationally-based programming. For some inexplicable reason, Mama Jazz takes place only a month after the VJF, but at least this maintains the momentum, as one excellent festival runs on to the next. On the surface, Mama Jazz has a more mainline orientation, but for this 16th edition there was no lack of extremity among its artists.

For the first three days, Mama's scene revolved around the international acts presented at the Tamsta music club, with its semi-circular stage and crow's nest balcony. Three or four bands played each night. Quite Sublime (a risky name) united four players from four European lands in spumy funk, with warm tenor saxophone, following Brecker and then Sanborn, when alto was selected. Jazzybit (Romania) exist on the crowded GoGo Penguin piano trio plain, but displayed a welcome toughness, with Teodor Pop switching between acoustic and Nord, both of these attacked percussively, as he impressively slid between piano and rippling organ sounds. 'Amor Moon' had a plodding boogie basis, but their third tune cut sharply to salsa, Pop flaying his virtual organ with bruiser abandon. The first night closed with Italian pianist Lorenzo De Finti's quartet, presenting 45 minutes of his slightly edited suite, a lyrical excursion, with pointillist keys and peppercorn trumpet, passing through many moods. A powerful combination of piano and bass notes produced deep resonance, and an emphatic chordal pounding climax.

The second evening had Quantum Trio (Poland) again stalking Bad-GoGo-Svensson-Plus territory, but one of their best pieces featured a piano/drums duo with a flamenco lilt, followed by 'Entanglement', which made a harder strut, developing a dub skip. Dogon (Switzerland) followed, improving as they got heavier, their guitar/bass/drums formation facilitating a Wayne Krantz complexity, with a stand-out, mildly distorted, Arabo-Andalusian-styled guitar solo from Eric Hunziker. Amazonas (Sweden) looked like a more experienced crew, creating a frisky bustle, with heavy bassline quake and lively alto/soprano exchanges. When Biggi Vinkeloe swapped saxophone for flute, joining the attractively disembodied bass, they started to sound like classic period Gong. H.Soror (Ukraine) are a tenor, electric bass and drums trio, dedicated to a 1990s-era rock influenced jazz, building a slurred slurry trough of slow groove that eventually graduated to slack dirge, barely destined to crawl out of their sacks in the morning.

On Friday night, the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre began its three days of headliner sets, but there was still one last session booked at Tamsta. Guitar power trios could be quite exhilarating, as an antidote to the continuing plague of piano threesomes! The Bodhisattwa Trio (India) made a rubbery slink with 'Cronos', their native ingredients comparatively subtle, but residing mostly in the sliding string-bends of their leader's guitar solos. A meaty bassline on 'Convergence' led to the introduction of space to increase dynamics, with a sudden heavy dub bridge leading to a crazed drum solo, infested by strafing guitar punctuations. Bringing a welcome climax, the ultra-confident projectile crew of Naked (Serbia) used tenor saxophone, violin, bass and drums at a high-energy setting, riddled with earthy toughness, their rhythm team's rapport elastically supporting a switch to clarinet, with grainy hardass fiddling creating a fresh genre called free gypsy, negotiated at a speeding punk rate. Audience communication reached profound levels, deep into the night.

Get-The-Blessing--John-Sharpe

On the main concert stage, Get the Blessing (Bristol) addressed 'Green Herring', the "least trustworthy of all the fish" (one of bassman Jim Barr's often profound observations). It's a groover, emanating electric extensions, relaxing the crowd for 'OCDC', and its speedy audience clapping-support, always integral to success. This foursome unite filmic roadster themes, effects trims, and strictly edited soloing, regurgitating the perfect combination of foot-and-bonce entwined majesty. Next, Norway's Jaga Jazzist continued to refine their headbanging pomp jazz complexity, nowadays becoming too much of a precision engineered juggernaut, leaving not much to chance, and demanding that someone open the windows. This hyper-evolved state is something that's still capable of giving pleasure, fortunately.

On the last night, the Neil Cowley Trio prepared the way for the Pharoah Sanders Quartet, laying down a complete contrast of mood, dwelling on the hyperactive side of town, and fuelled by their pianist leader's almost manic wit. Sadly, it must be said that Cowley's more recent tunes, deliberately simple and direct (compared to his old songbook), pale beside those original chestnuts. Sometimes the trio sounded a touch rigidly metronomic, but the loosening came via the verbal introductions rather than the music itself. Sanders (Los Angeles) was joined, as ever, by pianist William Henderson, plus the London team of bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Gene Calderazzo. At first, the tenorman was spreading out his impressionistic character, with waves of sound and feeling, but steadily, Sanders rose up out of the swirls with some bite, and once he began the heavier blowing, the soloing took on an epic scale, loaded with detailed accents and embellishments. The set eventually tipped over 90 minutes, which was well beyond the saxophonist's accustomed duration. Sanders merely hinted at 'The Creator Has A Master Plan', which was another very unusual move, to forgo playing his signature number in full.

– Martin Longley
– Photos by John Sharpe

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