Stian Westerhus and Three Trapped Tigers power PUNKT remix festival

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If today’s mainstream music is now regurgitating ever shortening cycles within cycles of half-remembered cover versions of last week’s latest covered Youtube wonder, the PUNKT remix festival is like some kind of organic sonic food spa for the ears – with only freshly performed, reassuringly real sounds created and recycled in state-of-the-art remakes – right before you in real time. Now celebrating its 12th edition this year’s event presented two slyly contrasting main evenings; the first with a triple bill of folk-tronica, warm 1970s harmony-laden prog rock and biting electro-thrash that got the jazziest remixes, while the second night pooled together more overtly jazz artists undergoing remixes that plumbed the darker recesses of electronica.

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Opening proceedings was Hardanger fiddle player Erlend Apneseth (above), who first emerged as a heralded new star of his country’s traditional instrument, yet who’s Trio have forged a new path exploring drones, glitchy trilling effects and reverb-soaked spaces. This was perfect fodder for their remix partners Stian Westerhus, Arve Henriksen and Rolf Lislevand to stretch and spin into a brilliant if all-too-brief remixed response. Band of Gold (below), a group that includes members of In The Country and Elephant9 and won the Nordic music prize last year for their beautifully burnished eponymous debut that while nodding to the luxuriant harmonies of Fleetwood Mac, boasted horn arrangements by Jaga Jazzist’s Lars Hornveth. It was soulfully affecting stuff and was given a sympathetic reworking by Mungolian JetSet. But better was still to come.

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British trio Three Trapped Tigers (below) formed several yeas ago to create their own take on the music of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher but have since forged their own heavyweight maelstrom of industrial strength beats, blazing guitars and face-slapping synths. Their jazz-trained drummer Adam Betts is actually part of Squarepusher’s live band, Shobaleader One, and as for TTT their head-banging, floor-shaking sound more than matches their inspiration’s menacing assaults. Reshaping this set immediately after, festival founder Jan Bang, drummer Audun Kleive and Elephant9/Band of Gold bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen brought some artfully funky moves to bear on TTT’s titanium-coated chaos. The whole evening wound up in suitably twisted beat-laden style.

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Saturday’s line-up was almost in reverse with opener Stian Westerhus (top of page), with his vast array of pedals and four huge amps, creating a cathedral of sound that’s as crushingly powerful as any five-piece band. Westerhus’ past includes stints with Jaga Jazzist and his own bands Monolithic and Pale Horses, but it’s his newly unbound vocals that created the biggest stir among those present – his phenomenal guitar work is already a known quantity – but his startling, rasping yet eminently soulful voice is something of a revelation. Creating intense loops of surging guitar, it’s the otherworldly sounds extracted from his archtop that send the coldest chills, as when he breaths like Nosferatu across the pickups to produce wraith-like veils of sound or when he unleashes a magnetic storm of thudding, shuddering sonic waves that crash over the speakers, before bringing back his anguished vocals that rise like voices from the other side. It sounds like a personal exorcism of thunderous proportions, wailing in the void, poems from purgatory, one never sure if we're heading to heaven or hell. There's something dark and devilish about it all, that, along with the macabre lighting and Westerhus' haunted features makes for the most transfixing spectacle. Remarkably he even bows the guitar to create a fiddle like sound akin to those of Norway's rich folk roots. He may be impossible to categorise but Westrhus is some of the most astonishing music today.

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If Stian represented the devil, then the Atmosphères band is certainly as angelic as you would wish them to be. Tigran Hamasyan (above) has long brought the Armenian music of his culture to the mainstream, with a finely wrought precision, and he's found the perfect partners in Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang (below) and Eivind Aarset to take this music and into the realm of the ambient and the ethereal. Creeping like mist over some spectral plane the music slowly built to a nebulous cloud of notes, Henriksen making the first advance with some melodic ideas soon followed by Tigran, yet it was Bang’s extraordinarily flexible live sampling that jerked this out of its torpor, sending electric shocks across the layers of sound. The quartet finally dug into something deeper with Tigran piling up up the bass notes and Henriksen finding purchase with some diminished runs – out of which emerged another Armenian piece that was doubled by his voice and Heniksen’s trumpet. Far from being me are ambient wallpaper or flotation tank music, this is a deep cultural dialogue between four extremely compatible friends, yet its a soundworld that needs to be pushed into more challenging sonic areas. The ensuing electronically charged remix by Simen Løvgren hinted at the deeper, more threatening textures the group could explore, with powerful bass notes and twitching rhythms lurching out of the sonic fog.

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A beaming Bugge Wesseltoft fired up his latest incarnation of his New Conception of Jazz band – notably an all female one featuring tenorist Marthe Lea, guitarist Oddrun Lilja, tabla player Sanskriti Shresta and drummer Siv Oyunn Kjenstad (below) – on what he said was the second date of their tour that would visit Japan, the US, Europe and UK. It probably wasn’t meant as a caveat but, while this group is another that’s taking its first steps, it also sounds like its still finding its feet. Lengthy guitar and sax intros added suitable amounts of tension and the opening song’s multi-layered groove-while-soloing approach revealed much empathy between Bugge and the band, yet it was often his keyboard wizardry that upped the ante. Things peaked with Bugge foraging for filthy synth bass line which underpinned a striking sax melody and some shimming chords from Lilja, the band cranking up to a higher gear with all signs pointing to lift off. And yet this funky storm soon blew over and things settled back down into a lower simmering groove, which still held the attention but didn’t pack the same pulse-quickening punch. If they can build a set around these electro-funk foundations, then they’re on to a winner – the talent is in no doubt – it’s direction they need now. The ensuing remix from guitar/electronics/drums trio of Jens Kola, Johannes Vaage and Stian Balducci once again brought out a heavier darker side to the music, providing a darker reality to the lighter one before.

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The wonderful thing with PUNKT is that it provides a state-of-the-art space for some of the world’s most restlessly creative musicians to experiment on a grand scale – fearlessly diving into the unknown – while giving the audience the chance to hear some extraordinary music for the first time ever. Twelve years and counting and this great sound experiment continues to cook up sumptuous sonic surprises.

– Mike Flynn 
– Photos by Petter Sandell 

Thomas de Pourquery’s Supersonic Honour Sun Ra At Saalfelden Jazz Fest 2016

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This year’s Saalfelden Jazz Festival boasted an excellent mix of well-known international stars and relative European newcomers, all performing in this delightful scenic town in the Austrian Tyrol. The main concerts took place in the Saalfelden Conference Centre, a modern purpose-built venue with a fantastic VIP roof terrace offering a glorious view over the surrounding mountains. Supporting this main site were a smaller club-type venue presenting intimate shows under the banner of ‘Short Cuts’ and a City Stage, hosting free concerts with an emphasis on world-type music in front of the region’s town hall.

Most interesting of the gigs on the City Stage were Douba Foli, featuring a host of DiabatesMamadou, brothers Abdoulaye and Mobido, along with Brahima – playing joyous West African rhythms in their brightly-colored costumes; the Mostar Sevdah Reunion which brought the Balkans beat to bear; and lastly China’s amazing Dawanggang, with their incredible mix of classical Chinese tradition and more modern jazz and rock styling.

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The Short Cutsvenue showcased more adventurous music – the Tim Berne/Marc Ducret duo and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit were both outstanding, as was a solo set from bass clarinetist Michael Riessler. Saalfelden regular Jim Black was in attendance with his New Quartet, featuring the excellent Elias Stemeseder (piano) and Oskar Gudjonsson (sax). Meanwhile, a great find was Jamie Saft’s crack unit Starlite Motel, with Norwegians Rune Nergaard (bass) Kristoffer Alberts (sax) and Gard Nilssen (drums).

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The main venue always offers an eclectic mix of music and this year was certainly one of the best – from the New Orleans jazz of Steve Bernstein/ Henry Butler and the straightahead bebop of Marty Ehrilich Sextet to the strange world of Chiri, mixing free playing from Aussies Scott Tinkler (trumpet) and Simon Baker (drums), with the vocal contortions of Korean Bae il Dong – very leftfield. Highlights mostly came from the op names. The Emile Parisien Quintet featuring Joachim Kuhn and Michael Portal were just immense, Kuhn and Portal are world class and Parisien isn’t far behind. Cellist Vincent Courtois’ trio with Daniel Erdmann and Robin Fincker on saxes were beautiful and along the same lines Hardanger fiddle player Erlend Apneseth’s trio with guitarist Stephan Meidell and percussionist Oyvind Hegg-Lunde were sublime, both bands providing deep contrast to the more robust music on stage.

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Jim Black reappeared with his old band Human Feel, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Chris Speed on great form, and Susana Santos Silva continues to impress, this time accompanied by the great Lotte Anker on sax. Tomeka Reid, another cellist, has rapidly risen from the Chicago AACM school and here displayed poise and confidence playing alongside Mary Halvorson (guitar) Jason Roebke (bass) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums).

Austrian Lukas Kranzelbinder’s Shake Stew, featuring two drummers and two bass players, were an interesting concept but, for me, fellow countrymen Edi Nulz, propelled by drummer Valentin Schuster and driven by bass clarinetist Siegmar Brecher and guitarist Julian Adam Pajzs were the hottest new band on show. The energy, enthusiasm and sheer class of their musicianship was evident to all. They remind me of Acoustic Ladyland for the sheer power of their performance.

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Most fun were Thomas de Pourquery’s Supersonic, his homage to Sun Ra. The band, all Ra aficionados first, rather than out-and-out jazzers, made a slightly manic, but absolutely joyous journey through the Cosmic Captain’s interstellar material, molded perfectly to the capabilities of the musicians who were obviously all having a ball on stage. The audience were clearly loving it too. What more could you ask for?

– Story and Photos by Tim Dickeson

 

Clarinet maestros Peplowski and Stringle pepper-up Pizza Express with collaborative masterclass

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This brilliant Anglo-American pairing has form: they toured together a year ago and recorded a pair of CDs, this latest successful round-up, a probable precursor to a repeat next year. Their one-off Dean Street date came mid-tour, the quintet combination run in and road-worthy, the two front-liners clearly at ease with each other, the irrepressibly creative Ken Peplowski balanced by the more pristine, cool-sounding Julian Marc Stringle, the latter still identified by his hipster-style shoulder-length hair. A further benefit of their road time came in the performance of the rhythm section, with pianist Craig Milverton, something of an unsung hero on the UK scene, impressing with his range of ideas, crisp attack and commitment to swing, the rock-steady bassist Sandy Suchodolski a heartbeat away and drummer Nick Milward giving everything an extra sense of dash.

Crazy Rhythm’ opened, taken at pace with a neat, harmonised twist to the melody, as Peplowski went straight into overdrive, his solo building layer upon layer of invention. It’s widely thought that he’s the finest clarinettist active today: on this showing few would quibble with that assessment.  What’s more, he’s a stylist and recognisably so, owing little to his predecessors, harmonically canny and urgent. Stringle has his own strengths too, a fine command of tone and a sense of theatre in the way he builds his solos. This was especially evident on the bossa-flavoured ‘Triste’ and ‘Pequinita’, a pretty Neil Angilley song. Mind you, his standout performance was on ‘Maria’ by Bernstein, this something of a bravura affair, cleverly thought-through and rising to an imposing climax. That said, my preferences were for their all-out clarinet duet on ‘Airmail Special’, hackneyed maybe, but given quite a torrid seeing-to, this only equalled by their two-tenor reading of ‘Sometimes I’m Happy’ with Stringle quite robust and KP sinuous and serpentine, hinting at a liking for Lucky Thompson. Best of the night? Peplowski back on clarinet, with just Suchodolski for company, playing the usually schmaltzy ‘Smile’ entirely sotto voce, the audience rapt, and the sound quite sublime. Masterly.

– Peter Vacher

– Photo by David Thomas

The Clarinet Maestros by Ken Peplowski, Julian Marc Stringle and the Craig Milverton Trio is on Merfangle MM415 and Together Again by the same line-up is on Merfangle MM816                                                                                                                                                          

Marvellous Masekela hits amid the kicks at Ystad Sweden International Jazz Festival

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Best known as the location for TV series Wallander, Ystad also hosts what’s become one of the best jazz festivals in Scandinavia. The event was conceived by pianist Jan Lundgren (artistic director) and Thomas Lantz (president) after a chance meeting on a train travelling to Ystad. Now in its seventh edition, this year’s happening boasts 44 shows at 11 venues around the town, with major concerts being held at the lovely Ystad Theatre, constructed in 1894 and seating 400. 

Highlights at this venue were: Mare Nostrum II featuring Paolo Fresu (trumpet) Richard Galliano (accordion) and festival artistic director Jan Lundgren (piano), playing music from their second ACT album; Joe Lovano accompanied by the Bohuslan Big Band and Hugh Masekela brought his Playing at Work band, featuring the excellent Cameron Ward (guitar) and Johan Mthethwa (keyboards). Masekela seems to be really enjoying his music at the moment. Here with his full band he was clearly having a ball. The warmth and energy he brings to his shows together with the sheer quality of the material is magical. He was brought back for a wonderful encore and left to a standing ovation from the sold out theatre.

More adventurous music was to be found at the Klosterkyrkan – a 12th century monastery. The first concert there was a collaboration between Fresu (trumpet, flugelhorn), Daniele Bonaventura (bandoneon) and multi-instrumentalists Mare Balticum, a quartet specialising in early medieval Nordic music and songs. Mare Balticum were using selected instruments from the European Music Archaeology Projects (EMAP) touring exhibition Archaeomusica which is on display here until January 2017. Fresu’s spine-tingling trumpet was the perfect accompaniment to this quite solemn and sacred music and fitted perfectly with the haunting vocals of guests Ute Goedecke and Aino Lund Lavoipierre.

One of many outstanding concerts of the festival came at the same venue the following evening – a solo piano recital from German pianist Joachim Khun. His playing is so intense that it’s impossible not to get swept up in his music – fierce crashing chords or a delicate run of notes that give a brief respite before the next explosion. The best moment for me was undoubtedly his melding of a tricky and complicated Ornette Coleman tune into The Doors’ ‘The End’ – a real master at work!

A couple of nights later at the same site came another stunning concert – this time featuring Michael Woolny (piano) and Heinz Sauer (sax). The Art of the Duo is their take on classic tunes and their own compositions. They’ve played together as a pair for over 10 years now, so the level of understanding and telepathy between them is astonishing. Woolny’s playing is mostly very lyrical, while Sauer slices through almost at right angles to him, neither barely offering any clues as to what they are playing and when the merest hint comes in the form of a few notes from the melody, it sounded simply amazing – ‘Nothing Compares to You’, and ‘So What’ were breathtaking.

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The UK was well represented at the festival with Martin Taylor playing duo guitar with Ulf Wakenius and Zara McFarlane who was the featured singer with Swiss harmonica player Gregoire Maret’s band. Anita Wardellwas brought in at the last minute for Bob Dorough, who was unable to travel. Wardell, being a bit of a Dorough fan, did a sterling job singing his songs and giving insightful information about them.

There were two collaboration concerts between Norwegian and Polish artists at the Ystad Art Museum featuring concerts by the Helge Lien Trio, featuring the quite brilliant violinist Adam Baldych, and then Jacob Young (guitar) and Trygve Seim (sax) playing with the Marcin Wasilewski Trio.

There are two very picturesque outdoor venues in Ystad, both very old and with masses of character. The Hos Morten Café, a 17th century half-timbered building with a cobbled courtyard and Per Helsas Gard, a beautiful square surrounded by craft and coffee shops, both dotted with hollyhocks, which seem to grow just about anywhere here in Ystad.

One of the concerts at the latter space celebrated the 100th birthday of Danish violinist Sven Asmussen. Asmussen has played with all the greats in his long career, including the likes of Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Josephine Baker, Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman and Stephane Grappelli. Halfway through the first number and to everyone’s amazement Asmusssen himself appeared from the audience to take his place in front of the stage. The musicians playing the tribute concert had all played with him in the past and it was a touching moment.

Closing the festival in the theatre was a majestic performance from Avishai Cohen and his new trio featuring Omri Mor (piano) and Daniel Dor (drums). Cohen was in brilliant form and his new band are great finds (this was only their third live gig) together.

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It was a fitting end to a festival in a picturesque setting (Ystad has miles of sandy beaches, with lots of places to stay making it an ideal place for the jazz tourist). It comes highly recommended.

– Story and Photos by Tim Dickeson

Rubin-Atzmon team-up brimful of vim at The Verdict

 

Saul ‘Zeb’ Rubin epitomises an aspect of the Manhattan jazz scene that receives scant media coverage but lies at the heart of the city’s reputation as one of the jazz centres of the world. Since graduating from Hartt School, where he studied with Jackie McLean, he’s built an enviable reputation as a player among his fellow guitarists, and has sporadically entered the wider public’s consciousness through work as a player/arranger with Roy Hargrove’s big band and a continuing association with that doyen of the Manhattan jazz tradition, Sonny Rollins. Yet, for much of his career, he’s alternated a day job as a graphic animator with a night-time existence tirelessly working at the grassroots, running Zebulon Sound And Light, a not-for-profit performance space that’s helped germinate the career of Gregory Porter for one, organising the NYC Guitar festival, and plying his trade in the clubs and bars that nourish the scene.

He’s over in Europe for a rare string of dates, and tonight’s show at Brighton’s The Verdict is the second of a pair of UK gigs sharing the frontline with Gilad Atzmon, who’s brought his longtime associate Yaron Stavi on bass, with Enzo Zirilli on drums rounding off this truly international quartet. ‘Say It (Over And Over Again)’ opened proceedings; Atzmon on tenor showing off his hard, biting tone in the tradition of the song’s most famous interpreter, but with his own characteristic romantic slurs and wide vibrato applied at will, Rubin giving a lesson in creative pianistic comping and ripples of Lenny Breau-style tapped harmonics. ‘Invitation’ followed, a sultry tango – Rubin’s solo mixed radical reharmonisation with Benson-esque soul-to-bop licks in a compendium of technique which Zirilli matched in his irrepressibly imaginative drum exchanges. This was in the best tradition of improv; songs from the repertoire, selected more or less on the fly, allowed the band to demonstrate their individual strengths. ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ provided an excuse for a proper tear-up, with the zurna-like wail of Atzmon’s high register, Rubin’s NYC funk licks and Zirilli’s quirky percussion held down by the the unobtrusive rock-solid foundation of Stavi’s unamplified bass. The whole was truly more than a sum of its parts.

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Atzmon’s ebullient personality made a perfect foil for his co-leader’s self-effacing charm. If his sheets of 16ths on ‘All Or Nothing At All’ tended to dissipate the energy rather than stoke the fires, he was all focused sincerity on ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’, embellishing the hell out of the melody with a tumultuous flock of slurs and trills. His own middle-eastern flavoured original gave the band a chance to show what they could do outside the post-bop idiom, as did Rubin’s future-funk piece. The latter had a blast on ‘Cute’, swinging out the riffs like a Basie band stalwart, and played a stunning solo on ‘What’s New’ that reached deep into his harmonic bag.

All four players seemed delighted to encounter the very different voices each brought to the mix, and were stimulated to the extent that they were still playing as midnight approached. They gave the impression that they could have continued all night were it not for the vagaries of train timetables and airline schedules. Plaudits are due to promoter Andy Lavender for bringing this connoisseurs’ delight to Brighton and filling the house at such short notice.

    Eddie Myer
    Photos by Lisa Wormsley

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