See The Wood From The Trees: Splashgirl Sun-Blessed Amid Südtirol's Stunning Sights And Sounds

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Director Klaus Widmann's theme for this year's Südtirol Jazz Festival was 'Exploring the North', with most of the musicians and bands chosen from Scandinavian countries. Yet other nations were represented too, as demonstrated by a performance from Estonian saxophonist and composer Maria Faust (below) who led her band on-stage to perform her award-winning composition 'Sacrum Facere', a suite of seven pieces about the destiny of women through the ages. The music – inspired by Estonian folk and sacred music – is haunting and beautiful. As the natural light fades and the surrounding granite faces becomes more dominating, the experience becomes dramatic and quasi-spiritual.

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Norwegian piano trio Splashgirl (pictured top) are set up in a small glade in the trees, with the audience sat in wooden chairs scattered among the trees. The sun filters through the canopy above, acting as tiny spotlights highlighting the band, as they infuse their urbane post-jazz stylings with subtle electronics. Meanwhile, in the cellars of a small country hotel and vineyard artist-in-residence, saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen and Tuomas A. Turunen play two short improvised compositions – the Finns combining brassy bellows with Turunen's accompaniment on a pair of wine bottles. Turunen loves his wine and has, so far, transcribed the taste of over 150 wines into musical notation. As each wine is sampled the pair give their musical interpretation of it on piano and sax. A heady mix of improv and alcohol!

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The big concert on the festival's final day was held outside a mountain hut 2,154m up in the Dolomites (above). The concert featured a composition in five movements by Lyytinen, using seven drummers and Andreas Stensland Löwe on electronics) to augment the natural drama of the amazing backdrop. At times, ominous looking clouds added to the extraordinary combinations of sights and sound. 

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Other shows that deserve mention include Mats Gustafsson's Fire!, who were joined by the excellent Swedish vocalist Mariam Wallentin. The group managed to accomodate the fragility of Wallentin's beautiful vocals with the full onslaught of Gustafsson's baritone sax (above) and Johan Berthling's thumping bass to great effect. Elsewhere, Verneri Pohjola gave two excellent concerts – one a duo in the modern art museum with percussionist Mika Kallio and the other with his full band showcasing his Edition album Pekka in a working woollen mill.

This festival is clearly a labour of its director's passions – featuring mostly unknown or emerging artists, and most of the concerts are free. In choosing locations of outstanding natural beauty and, in some cases, sites that are completely off-the-wall, Widmann and his team create an experience that's not just unique, but world class.

Tim Dickeson (story & photos)

There's Noh Limit: Space In Between At London's King's Place

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This two-day festival that explores and extends the 650-year-old tradition of Japanese ritual performance art Noh is a welcome event, given the success of its previous 2016 edition. Although the talks and workshops on what is a highly complex, codified form, where mask and movement as well as music all cohere with enormously rigorous discipline, are not without interest, the concerts, which bring together artists from different backgrounds, are fascinating. Tonight Japanese nokhan flautist Yukihiro Isso and British pianist Leon Michener pool their respective talents on the same stage where Isso memorably met Evan Parker two years ago, and though it is a relatively sparse audience in Hall Two, the smaller of Kings Place's two basement auditoriums, there is nonetheless a palpable sense of excitement as they take up position. Isso can be heard clearly due to the clapping of his wooden clogs under long-flowing robes. He walks to a table under the light on which no fewer than nine flutes are laid out. Dressed soberly in a black shirt and trousers, Michener approaches a Steinway next to which is an electronics station comprising laptop, synth and mixer.

As they start another minor sartorial detail comes into play. Michener is wearing a black glove. It is glimpsed by any eyes that follow him as he leans right into the body of the piano, and presumably enables him to tighten or loosen his grip on the strings and other inner mechanisms in order to produce startling timbres that range from dark, dense roars that flood the low register to higher-pitched scrapings, the net result of which conjures up an ambience of both enticement and foreboding. Unflinching in his posture, Isso proceeds to shatter into life with a violent maelstrom of sound that he sustains with astonishing consistency and accuracy as he moves from one flute to another without pausing for a moment. Later on, in a passage of Parker-esque circular breathing, he will negotiate a series of wavering harmonies where his intonation is so pinpoint sharp it sounds as if he is atomising a split tone. On some instruments he is piccolo-like, practically scorching the air by the ferocity of his attack, and on a curved animal horn he has a warm velvety muffle akin to an alto-flute. The volume at which he plays is as remarkable as the sustained flow of ideas, and it is telling that at no point in his exchanges with Michener, who crafts grainy textures and displaced phrases over a stark sub-bass throb, is Isso ever drowned out.

After Rahsaan-like multi-phonics through two or three flutes played simultaneously, and some discrete but effective motifs from Michener on piano, the pair unite on the highpoint of the performance; a gorgeous passage where they play short themes and variations back to one another, with the low, slightly hoarse tone of the flutes now like a child's recorder. It is innocence incarnate. Further excitement is generated by the arrival of Mitsuhiro Kakihara on otsuzum hip drum. Yet, as he sits a few feet away from Isso, he looks quite tentative. He executes the distinctive action of stretching his arm out in time with a vocal cry, but struggles to be heard amid the other instruments. His projection is smothered out. It is a slightly underwhelming episode on what is otherwise a fascinating adventure through an 'ancient to future' musical landscape.

Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Mayumi Hirata 

The Invisible get Brighton buzzing with Electric Miles: Miles Davis Through The 1970s

Take the current craze for mindfulness, add one pioneering jazz album, get a 400-strong audience to listen to it in silence, then bring them back to hear a key period of the artist's music brought to life by some of the most groundbreaking contemporary musicians around .... and you get an idea of one of the most anticipated jazz performances at Brighton Festival this year.

Festival Director and illustrator David Shrigley, responsible for bringing to Brighton the Played Twice: Kind Of Blue concept developed by Dalston venue Brilliant Corners, with this performance not only culturally juxtaposed two consecutive centuries in one afternoon, but also presented a giant prism through which rainbow rays of musical light by contemporary band The Invisible, introduced potentially new fans to the whole era of the electric recordings of Miles Davis.

Brought up on jazz, the Invisible introduced a modern spin on Davis' affectionate tribute "Billy Preston". The fresh and fiery dual drumming of Leo Taylor, alongside Steve Argüelles from the original John Taylor Trio, augmented by the intelligent accents of Tom Herbert's bass, drew whoops and cheers from the audience highlighting the improvisational free spirit in the air. Robert Stillman's delicate but assured soloing on tenor sax and bass clarinet, provided the true soul of the ensemble, with Byron Wallen's pulsating trumpet embodying its heart. Nick Ramm's cool Fender Rhodes tones characterised 'The Ghetto Walk', and, melding with Wallen's hot clarion call, brought one of the better-known Davis compositions of this era, 'Tutu', to dramatic climax, further imbuing 'Little Church', composed by Hermeto Pascoal, with occasionally supernatural atmospherics.

"Miles had so many influences," says bassist Tom Herbert, "... acts like Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Cream ... that's what he was listening to!" Sure enough, the second set unfurled the deep funk, psychedelic and heavy rock elements intrinsic in guitarist and bandleader David Okomu's playing, morphing seamlessly into the jazzier musical direction Hendrix might perhaps have taken had he stayed around, as implied in his later albums.

Smiling and waving to an audience which refused to let them go, The Invisible encored with 'So What', 'Black Satin' and 'In a Silent Way', an inspired medley which, while infused with the players' own distinct flavour, also personified timelessness in its truest sense, just as Miles Davis would have wished.

Jasmin Sharif

Annie Whitehead’s Interplay bring Township sounds to Leamington

Given the background of trombonist Annie Whitehead and her involvement with African music, it came as no surprise that the concert at Leamington's Restaurant in the Park reflected this and the spirit of Dudu Pukwana, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba was in the air. Her collaboration with bassist Adrian Litvinoff's band, Interplay, drew strong solos from all the musicians and their enjoyment was apparent throughout the evening, a feeling that transferred itself to the appreciative audience. All the material generated a freedom of expression and the opportunity for personal improvisation, but keeping within the compositional structure. This was demonstrated in works by Abdullah Ibrahim, Masekela and, suitably, trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, as well as Litvinoff's own engaging composition 'The Shuffle'. Saxophonist Alan Wakeman was on top form on both tenor and soprano, and on Ibrahim's 'The Mountain' he contributed a haunting flute solo. Pianist Neil Hunter used a highly percussive approach throughout, suitably appropriate for the music. But the use of two trombones in the front line was of particular interest, Richard Baker's straight-ahead playing complementing Annie's freer and more experimental style. This was especially noticeable on J.J.Johnson's 'Kenya', a tight arrangement of the soulful number from Johnson's Let's Hang Out album of the early 1990s, all three horns doing it justice, straight from the hip. The trombonists also combined well later by building a supportive platform, supplementary riffing when Litvinoff's bass was featured.

While Dave Balen laid down a firm township beat on many of the numbers, his approach reminds this writer of the melodic textures of Chico Hamilton, alternatively vigorous then deftly understated, according to collective requirements. His percussion skills were effectively used on an improvised duet with Annie, which was followed by a solo trombone tribute to the late Roswell Rudd.

On several numbers the band was joined by vocalist Letitia George; firstly singing jazz standards – Oscar Brown Jr's 'The Snake', Mingus/George Gordon's 'Strollin'' (recalling Honi Gordon's famous versions) and a heartfelt delivery of 'God Bless The Child' which justifiably elicited the applause of her fellow performers. Pianist Hunter showed what a respectfully sensitive and thoughtful accompanist he can be. Moving into Makeba territory, she then involved the audience in a lively 'Pata Pata' – exciting and engaging, like all the evening's music.

Story and photo – Matthew Wright

Phronesis, Sons of Kemet, Keyon Harrold and Cory Henry light up Transition Festival 2018 – Photo Diary

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This April saw the third edition of the Transition Festival take place at TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht, Holland. This is one of the North Sea Jazz Festival's 'projects' and is organised in collaboration with TivoliVredenburg, with the festival providing a fresh look into developments within contemporary jazz and beyond, as well as highlighting some of the artists who have inspired the current wave of new bands within the genre.

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Scandi-Brit band Phronesis (drummer Anton Eger, top, Ivo Neame anf Jasper Høiby above) during soundcheck with the New Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra performing a beautiful rendition of their latest album, The Behemoth.

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Theon Cross (above) of Sons of Kemet providing some ground-shaking bass with his tuba.

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Fiery saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (above) playing melodic layers over a danceable blend of jazz, brass and dub with Sons of Kemet.

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Dhafer Youssef (above) mixing Arabic influences with contemporary western jazz.

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Hard-hitting Jaga Jazzist (above) proved they are still a live act to be reckoned with.

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Lizz Wright (above) singing material from her latest album Grace – a stunning vocalist, Wright is always a pleasure to listen to her warm and deep vocals.

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Pianist Cameron Graves (above) with his trio showing of their virtuosity on a set of jazz-rock fusion.

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Drummer Mike Mitchell (also known from Stanley Clark's band, above) playing with Cameron Graves, going all-out as usual.

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Cory Henry (above) and his Funk Apostles creating a party with a deeply soulful and funky set.

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Trumpet player Keyon Harrold with his modern, electric take on jazz proved he is somebody to keep your eyes on for the future!

Photos and report by Peter van Breukelen

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