Lisbon's annual summit of sonic adventure Jazz em Agosto returns to the picturesque city's prestigious Gulbenkian Foundation with an offering of 14 pioneering projects presented between Friday 28 July to Sunday 6 August.
Included among the programme's many highlights are a tantalising brace of appearances by groundbreaking saxophonist Steve Lehman, who represents with his Sélébéyone set-up and its sci-fi amalgams of jazz and hip hop, as well as a free solo showcase. Dave Douglas will also have his feelers out for an alternate future with his electronics-infused High Risk ensemble, while David Torn's Sun Of Goldfinger and Julien Desprez – who plays both unaccompanied and with his Ornette/Zorn-influenced troupe Coax Orchestra – explore the outer vortices of ambient and noise guitar. Add to that the provocative pairing of iconic blower Peter Brötzmann and psych pedal-steel player Heather Leigh, along with some riotous recitations from leading native Portuguese musicians and you've got one hell of a hootenanny.
The full festival schedule is as follows: Steve Lehman's Sélébéyone (28 July); Steve Lehman solo (29 July); David Torn's Sun of Goldfinger (29 July); Julien Desprez (30 July); Coax Orchestra (30 July); Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh (31 July); Susana Santos Silva's Life and Other Transient Storms (1 August); Sudo Quartet (2 August); Starlite Motel (3 August); Pascal Niggenkempersolo (4 August); Larry Ochs' The Fictive Five (4 August); Pedro Sousa and Pedro Lopes (5 August); Human Feel (5 August) and Dave Douglas' High Risk (6 August).
Making a splash with its inaugural weeklong run in 2016, the Sounds of Denmark mini-festival returns again this year from 13-17 September at London's Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, Soho.
A showcase for the rich and widely diverse Danish jazz scene, last year's initial event helped launch prodigiously talented keyboardist Morten Schantz to the British public (and help him secure his debut album, Godspeed, on Edition) as well as unleashing the wild avant-jazz-disco sounds of Hess Is More, also making their debut UK showing.
This year, eight emerging artists will perform and include the lush piano-led sounds of Jacob Anderskov's RESONANCE; the piano-led Makiko Hirabayashi Trio; skronk-edged sax-keys-drums trio The Firebirds; finely nuanced modern jazz from pianist Søren Bebe's Trio and hard-swinging post-bop from drummer Snorre Kirk's Quintet.
This year's wild cards in this pack are electro-jazz experimentalists Kalaha and the storming Afrobeat-fuelled Hammond trio with horns The KutiMangoes (above), the latter a huge hit at the Danish music showcase night at Jazzahead! in 2016. Sounds of Denmark was founded in collaboration between JazzDanmark, PizzaExpress Jazz Club, Sue Edwards Management and the Danish Embassy in the UK.
To begin with, Vossa Jazz has the advantage of its tranquil, scenic setting by the large Vangsvatnet lake, surrounded by the misty, snow-capped mountains, looming up in the distance. The small town of Voss hosts one of Norway's longest running jazz festivals, inaugurated back in 1973. Most of the acts play in the central Park Hotel, which has several suitable spaces in which to house stages of varying sizes. The programming stance of Vossa Jazz is quite adventurous, even by Norwegian standards, presenting artists that inhabit zones of free improvisation, electronica and extreme guitar mangling.
The majority of the acts are indigenous, with many of these being key players who enjoy high international profiles. There are also a few out-of-towners involved, not least the New York beatnik singer Sheila Jordan, while English reedman John Surman was making a relatively rare appearance with longtime partner, singer Karin Krog, surprisingly, now in her 80th year. This pair played early in the evening, in the converted cinema, Gamlekinoen, delivering the expected homely, intimate performance, their warm rapport spreading outwards across an attentive audience. In this setting, Surman eases back into a gentle backing role for much of the time, playing be-boppin' baritone runs, heading towards 'In A Sentimental Mood'. He chases Krog's lines with a silvery skipping fluidity, words and saxophone phrases holding hands closely. She recites a poem, and he whispers underneath, on bass clarinet, while both Surman and Krog are subtly tweaking their source sounds with soft echo and diaphanous synth-spirallings.
Also in the cinema, this time in its foyer, Ståle Storløkken's mighty Hammond organ lay in wait, alongside Stefan Pasborg's drumkit. Storløkken is all over, but mostly known as a crucial element of Supersilent and Elephant9. The duo's set matched extreme grind with an almost ridiculous humour, as they dug up rumbling churchy Black Sabbath riffs and scurried into a rat-infested Gothic crypt. The winding, stoned steps to melodramatic excess were traversed, up and down, several times before their load was shot. Storløkken's bass footwork thrummed beside Pasborg's scattering sticks, entering a creepy Twin Peaks forest, shuffling until the full force returns again, with piledriver drums and Phibes phibrilations. Storløkken can also be subtle, traipsing out thin pipe lines while Pasborg makes thin cymbal scrapes.
More raw power was imbibed straight afterwards, on the hotel basement stage, with alto saxophonist Mette Rasmussen (a Dane dwelling in Trondheim) attaining one of the weekend's plateaux, assisted by an all-star band of freedom fighters. With double trouble in the shape of Paul Lytton, Raymond Strid (drums), Torbjörn Zetterberg and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (basses), her own enraged soloing taking repeated wing amid their battling sides. This was some of the most inspired improvisation witnessed in a while, with natural, organic partnerships emerging, ranging from detailed near-silence into worrying confrontation, the entire quintet working as a single fevered brain. Unleashed, Rasmussen's high wails scrape the low ceiling, dispersed across the rubble of bass/drums scrabble, shot out with a fearsome power and accuracy.
At high noon, on Saturday, in the Ole Bull Akadamiet, just up the hill from the central church, we'd expect guitarist Kim Myhr to open the proceedings sensitively, with his ambient shimmering structures, but in reality, he's already off into another area, making simple open strums and doctoring these resonances via various table-top knob-adjustments, highlighting tones, refracting repeats into an accumulating clangour. When he does pick intricately, it's with the drooped claw manner of a Delta bluesman, before the avalanche of delays arrives. His fingering becomes percussive, aggressively ambient, openly strumming with his right hand, using his left to twiddle the dials. As his hour progresses, it becomes increasingly Terry Riley-ed, the 12 strings becoming so oppressively heightened that we attain the sound of helicopter blades by the fully industrial finale.
There couldn't be a more subtle follow-up than Sheila Jordan, partnered in intimacy by bassman Cameron Brown. She's slightly scatterbrained, but this is partly down to an informal stand-up act where she's closely in tune with the crowd. At the age of 88, Jordan is allowed to forget a few lines, and improvises with scatting deftness, into 'The Very Thought Of You' and 'Yesterdays', inventing words about the old days with Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano, back in the early 1950s. Jordan and Brown play 'Baltimore Oriole', propped up by a walking bassline, delivering in sprechgesang. Then Jordan dedicates a sequence of tunes to the memory of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, so the eras traversed are emphatically of a sepia vintage, as Jordan and Brown breeze through 'Cheek To Cheek' and 'Let's Face The Music And Dance'.
The Saturday high point was provided by Møster!, a band led by new-ish on-the-scene (at least outside Norway, as he's now freshly-40) saxophone voice Kjetil Møster, and also featuring Storløkken again. This guitar and synth-loaded line-up facilitates a titanic explosion of free-groove abandonment, with most of their set operating at full-strength, another heady jump-cut to a radically altered universe. It was becoming apparent that such a shunt is an important aspect of the Vossa Jazz programming success. Straight afterwards, the old-guard trumpet star Nils Petter Molvær suffered by comparison. Strong though his set was, and operating on a similarly beyond-jazz level, his atmospheric creations sounded oddly dated, with the 1990s being too close for comfort, while Møster's acid-soaked 1960s visions are now safely beyond time, strangely more up to the moment than Molvær's 'ambient-dance-jazz', despite the sterling rock-pose efforts of his guitarist (and pedal steel-er) Geir Sundstøl.
Sunday's best set unwound early in the afternoon, with percussionist Terje Isungset leading a starry ensemble that included Arve Henriksen (trumpet), Morten Qvenild (keyboards), Nils Økland (fiddle) and Mats Eilertsen (bass). Even though they played the specially-commissioned 'Sildrande' piece for around 90 minutes, our attention was constantly gripped, even during the most environmental of openness. Isungset's bass drum fullness reverberated deeply, the twinned Hardanger fiddles bowed with dignified stateliness, and Henriksen revealed a deep desire to plunge his horns into an amplified fishtank, and rattle them around, always in search of previously unexplored aural possibilities. The conclusion came amid the sound of dripping cave-walls, dispersed around the cinema theatre via surrounding speakers, encouraging a poignant form of meditational contemplation.
Later, the trio In The Country, regularly keen on collaborations, presented a team-up with blues guitarist Knut Reiersrud and singer Solveig Slettahjell. Although the concept was to address the blues repertoire, in reality this seemed to be more specific, focusing on the gospel-inflected end of the street. The quintet made a fine balance between reflecting the idioms and impressing them with their own traits, subtly updating such chestnuts as 'Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen' and 'Trouble In Mind'. This was a satisfying way to finish the weekend, with a project that melded elements of genre tradition and wayward intervention, setting folks on their way with a springy steps and spiritually heavy hearts.
– Martin Longley
– Photos by Amalie Johannessen and Runhild Heggem/Vossa Jazz
Those fabulous folk at Dictionary Pudding Promotions and Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival continue to showcase many of the finest names in experimental music on the south coast, following barnstorming bookings for Sun Ra Arkestra and Wolf Eyes with a date from Jazzwise-featured masters of minimalism The Necks. The mesmeric trio stop-off during their highly intensive 30th anniversary touring schedule for a performance at St Luke's Church, Brighton on Monday 1 May.
Since its inception in 2001 the Auand imprint has emerged as a key hub for jazz in Italy, providing an essential platform for new generations of improvisers such as Gianluca Petrella, Francesco Bearzatti and, latterly, Zeno De Rossi and Leonardo Rizzi. Its catalogue also boasts releases by Americans who always manage to be interesting, such as David Binney and Cuong Vu, which means that, despite its relatively low profile in the UK, Auand is very much a benchmark of quality whose distinctive luminous green hand-eye logo is the sign of music that is worth looking up and lending an ear to. Most impressively, the label is run by the one-man band of producer Marco Valente in the picturesque seaside town of Bisceglie in the Puglia region of southern Italy. His relentless dynamism is perhaps mirrored by the powerhouse achievements that have come to define the local cuisine and foodstuffs. In the 1920s and 1930s Bisceglie was the largest supplier of table grapes in Europe and the quality of cherries, olives, fish and 'sospiro', an iced sponge cake moulded into the shape of a breast, has been recognized by many 'Slow Food' evangelists.
Over the eight days of the Auand Festival, Valente judiciously programmed events to give a vivid sense of the Bisceglian art de vivre and cultural richness, as well as the excellence of the musicians on his label. A walking tour of Palazzo Tuputti by Piero Bittolo Bon is the highpoint of the schedule. The alto saxophonist leads the audience through this exhibition centre housed in a medieval building of high ceilings and fine masonry where each room tells the story of a particular kind of local produce. Showing much creativity in his changes of timbre, attack and phrasing, from lyrical whispers to rugged overtones, Bittolo Bon keeps flawless time, and his use of the instrument's keys as a percussive, 'finger-drumming' device is quite electrifying to hear at high tempo. Required to play while almost constantly on the move Bittolo Bon proves an incisive and potent improviser who creates intriguing melodic vignettes that effectively soundtrack the texts and images that present a wealth of riches dalla terra et mare.
The other solo performance that greatly captures the imagination is guitarist Manlio Maresca's lunchtime set at Verde Matematico. The charming restaurant with a courtyard for al fresco dining provides a serene setting for a performance that is anything but. Pleasingly, there is a tightly calibrated violence in the performance that takes it far away from the timid sedations of any background music. As the patrons clink cutlery Maresca bangs out off-centre beats from a sampler while an effects unit enables him to mangle his tone with a somewhat acrid flavour that contrasts entirely with the finesse of the dishes on the menu. A worthy inheritor of the distortion-as-sonic-sculpture aesthetic of the likes of Marc Ducret and Jeff Parker, Maresca is nothing if not audacious in his blend of rhythmic zigzags, serrated themes and psycho-funk chords that create a danse macabre with much humour.
Joyous cheers rather than coughs of indigestion are the tips thrown in his direction. If the intensity of the audience reaction says a lot about how well Auand Days works in small venues then further confirmation comes in the shape of trios at the very genial Make Art bar in the centre of town. Crammed into the corner of the heaving room The Storytellers offer a zestful take on the guitar-organ-drums combo, while Mirko Signorile leads a piano trio in which the Fender Rhodes rather than a Steinway takes pride of place, evoking post-Bitches Brew imagery as if to the manner born. More small groups appear at the Palazzo Tuputti, the pick of the bunch being the quartet in which Federico Pierantoni's trombone and Andrea Grillini's drums combine to produce a barreling low-end funk that occasionally loosens into more freeish abstraction. Several of the aforementioned players, along with the articulate guitarist Francesco Diodati, a noted young sideman to Enrico Rava among others, feature in the Piccolo Coro Elettroacoustico as well as the all-star Auanders. The former sees them stationed at laptops to create a shifting canvas of crunchy digital eruptions that has moments of intriguing tension and underwhelming tedium, which is to be expected given its wholly improvised nature, while the latter is an enjoyable demonstration of ensemble playing in which swirling horn lines as well as the hearty gurgles of Bittolo Bon's bass clarinet work well.
The climax of the festival though is Orchestre Specale Don Uva, which is a big band comprising patients from a nearby mental health hospital. The performance achieves the not inconsiderable feat of giving a degree of dignity to those that society might deem 'special needs', and allows them to express themselves all the while responding to the wily directions of conductor Stefano Tamborrino. In an age when mixed ability ensembles are in fashion it is very rewarding to see a concert that strikes such a winning balance between discipline and freedom, creating a deeply prevailing sense of humanity. Yet that is the defining theme of a festival in which music is presented as social cohesion within a warm, grande famiglia ambiance.
– Kevin Le Gendre – Photos by Leonardo Todisco and Domenico Soriano