By Eyal Hareuveni
This year’s program of the Austrian Unlimited festival offered a spectrum of the young, promising and challenging outfits in Austria, Europe and in the United States, with few heavyweights of free music kept for the last night. 22 challenging sets of creative music over three days, not one of these sets allow you to linger in any conventional comfort zone, but all attracted an appreciative audience of few hundred attentive listeners, most of them regulars and doing their pilgrimage to Wels annually. They say that you can’t choose your family but you certainly can choose your community and in Wels you can meet a strong community of like-minded of people who share with you - literally - more than musical tastes.
First DayThe evening sets of the festival began with distinctive piano outfits and the first night introduced one of the most promising piano trios, Punkt.Vrt.Plastik - Slovenian, Amsterdam-based pianist Kaja Draksler, Swedish, Berlin-based double bass player Petter Eldh and fellow-Berliner, German drummer Christian Lillinger, who has collaborated before with Eldh in the Amok Amor quartet. The title of this trio who has released just now its debut album (Intakt, 2018) refers to the Swedish word Punkt - point, but also associated with a statement, the Slovenian word Vrt - garden, or where a musical ideas are being cultivated, and Plastik that characterizes the plasticity of of this trio musical structures. And, indeed, the trio introduced a bold and challenging syntax to its complex pieces. Eldh and Lillinger would begin each piece with a muscular rhythmic pattern that often sounded as if it continues another pieces, closer to its last Punkt than to a conventional beginning, then let Draksler shape and color her own territory within these dense patterns, The trio pieces would terminate abruptly this kind of demanding interplay and begin again, further away, mid-piece of a complex structure and then strive for a simpler solution.
The Austrian quartet Kompost 3 - slide trumpeter Martin Eberle, keyboards player Benny Omerzell, electric bass player Manu Mayr and drummer Lukas König - has been working together since 2009, first in a shared apartment in Vienna’s 3rd district, and already released five albums (the most recent one, Abyss, JazzWerkstatt Records, 2018), one album of remixes and a single with local singer-songwriter Mira Lu Kovacs. Kompost 3 is known has an outfit that distances itself from any stylistic conventions and its performance offered its current incarnation as a jazz quartet that its rhythmic foundations are rooted in European techno and hip-hop and its harmonic horizons are aimed at abstract ambient skies, still, sounding as a far relative of jazz quartet as Steven Bernstein’s Sex Mob when it comes to its refined tension building and its powerful groove.
The Chicagoan quartet of alto and tenor sax player Dave Rempis, double bass player Joshua Abrams, drummer Avreeayl Ra and pianist and ARP synthesizer player Jim Baker offered a completely different version strong, earthy pulses and imaginary flights. The first ever European performance of this quartet, that outgrew out of a trio of Rempis, Abrams and Ra (Aphelion, Aerophonic, 2014) and released its debut double album two years ago (Perihelion, Aerophonic, 2018), melted different yet sympathetic sonic universes. Ra, an alumni of the Sun Ra Arkestra, laid powerful polyrhythmic basis; The muscular playing of Abrams deepened these driving rhythms and on the other side Baker abstracted their infectious pulses into refined, minimalist textures on the piano and later to noisy soundscape on the vintage synthesizer. Rempis - in the middle, literally - navigated wisely this passionate, energetic flow, alternating between charging it with more power or steering it to more contemplative passages.
Second DayThe second day began with two afternoon sets. The first one presented a quartet of two like-minded duos, the Swiss one of electronics player Gaudenz Badrutt and accordion player Jonas Kocher, that has been working since 2009, together with the duo of German clarinetist Kai Fagaschinski, known from The International Nothing duo, and local hero Christof Kurzmann on ppooll software and vocals, both released a duo album in 2006 under the moniker Kommando Raumschiff Zitrone (First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Quincunx Sound Recordings) and continue to collaborate in the Magic I.D. quartet. This set centered around the quiet, minimalist gestures of Fagaschinski while Bardutt, Kocher and Kurzmann embraced the almost silent commotion with more subtle and transparent sounds, sketching together delicate and suggestive soundscapes. Later, actor Natascha Gangl and vocalist-electronics player Maja Osojnik and synthesizer-laptop player Matija Schellander performed a play in German “Wendy Pferd Tod Mexiko”, that left the non-German speakers enjoying mostly the parts that were sung by the expressive Osojnik.
The evening sets began with another piano trio, but, as usual, completely different from the previous night. French pianist Sophie Angel, Swiss, Berlin-based turntables player Joke Lanz and American, Amsterdam-based drummer Michael Vatcher played together for the first time in the summer of 2016 at the French Météo Festival but not much more since then. But this time lapse did not affected the tight and almost telepathic interplay of this trio. These three highly inventive improvisers - Agnel with her unique playing inside the piano, Lanz with his punkish sense of humor and the rebellious drumming of Vatcher - opted for a kind of fast, dadaist conversation. There was no attempt to sketch coherent narratives or establish rhythmic patterns. but to lure each other into eccentric, often ironic, kaleidoscopic labyrinths of weird, always subversive and most of the time friendly sounds.
|Hannah Marshall (c) and violinist Alison Blunt (v)|
|Jamie Branch’s Fly or Die|
In between these long sets Jim Baker presented a solo set on his ARP Synthesizer, that sounded as inspired by the title of his solo album More Questions Than Answers (Delmark, 2005). He literally conversed with this vintage, wayward instrument’s plugs, cables and keys while attempting to decipher its otherworldly transmissions into a reasonable narrative. Swedish, classically-trained violinist Anna Lindal, member of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra, played an enchanting recital that moved naturally between exploring delicate bowing techniques, that produced meditative sounds, and improvising on folk themes, with sparks of engaging humor and captivating elegance.
Third DayThe third and last day of the festival began with the documentary film “Leaning into the Wind” about the Scottish environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy by director Thomas Riedelsheimer and with a soundtrack of Fred Frith. Later on the afternoon, at the picturesque Catholic seminar Bildungshaus Schloss Puchberg at the outskirts of Wels, two ad-hoc duos performed one after the other. The New York-based Canadian tenor sax player Anna Weber and Austrian pianist Elias Stemeseder performed written compositions that highlighted the unique sax attack of Weber, sounding as inspired by the solo work of Anthony Braxton, and the rich language of Stemeseder, who abstracted and enriched any gesture of Weber, with reserved elegance and arresting imagination. Later local vocal artist Agnes Hvizdalek, based in Oslo, and contrabass clarinetist Susanna Gartmayer presented a much more experimental set. Their free-improvisation began with a shout but immediately settled into a clever and highly expressive conversation, comprised of fractured phonetics and extended breathing techniques.
The New York-based CP Unit - led by tenor sax player Chris Pitsiokos and with guitarist Sam Lisabeth, bass player Henry Fraser and drummer Jason Nazary, performed a set that was based on the quartet’s recent album, Silver Bullet in the Autumn of Your Years (Clean Feed, 2018). The music of the CP Unit sounded as it was shot from a loud canon, arranged in almost prog-rock, complex mathematical formulas but often glided to a reckless, madcap chaos. Pitsiokos himself crisscrossed this joyful interplay with sharp, powerful shouts and led this passionate unit from one fast collective improvisation to another twisted one.
Bay Area’s trumpeter Darren Johnson’s Reasons for Moving was formed in 2005 as a free-improvised unit with guitarist Fred Frith and tenor and sopranino sax player Larry Ochs of Rova Saxophone quartet. Reasons for moving released so far only one only one self-titled album (Not Two, 2007), with bass player Devin Hoff and drummer Ches Smith, and reconvened for a short European tour again this autumn that began in the Unlimited festival with French double bass player Sébastien Jeser and Swiss drummer Samuel Dühsler. This quintet offered nuanced, poetic textures that instantly morphed from intense, free-improvisations into rich and colorful narratives, charged again and again by the fiery blows of Johnson, the always inventive sonic palette of Frith, the wise interventions of Ochs and the orchestral ideas of Jeser and the thoughtful coloring and sheer energy of Dühsler. All Five improvisers sounded as if they were tapped to the same profound a source of ideas that kept propelling this exciting set to higher and higher skies.
Before the closing set, cellist Lester St. Louis and Argentinian trumpeter Leonel Kaplan performed short solo sets at the smaller hall. St. Louis improvisations explored the timbral range of the cello strings and its wooden body with extended bowing techniques with unique microphones setting. Kaplan explored a whole together different language, almost totally silent, made of quiet breaths and minimalist whispers into the trumpet mouthpiece and gentle touches of the trumpet buttons. Often he sounded as producing electronic white noises, but eventually succeeded to suggest an arresting intensity and remarkable emotional depth.
The artistic director of the festival, Wolfgang Wasserbauer, notified the audience that next year, same place, Unlimuted 33 will be curated by German pianist Magda Mayas, Japanese guitarist and daxophone player Kazuhisa Uchihashi and legendary American reeds player Joe McPhee, titled “40.60.80”.