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Friday, August 4, 2017

A’Larmé! Festival Vol. V - Day 2

Louis Rastig announcing the program

By Martin Schray

First the good news: The seats are back. They were gone last year and it was a real problem to stand and remain concentrated for a complete festival. And there’s something else which has changed: The location was equipped with a quadruple sound system, so the audience sits around the stage, which creates an atmosphere like in the 1970s - only with a better sound.

Compared to the day before the audience has also changed. Hardly hip Berghain people anymore, it’s the usual free jazz festival crowd again. Actually this is a sad fact, the young people brightened up the atmosphere considerably. On the other hand, the program for the day sounded very exciting.

The start was made by a solo performance of Slovenian pianist and composer Kaja Draksler. Her style is characteristic of finding ways to combine composition and improvisation by working with different structures and sounds, for example New Classical Music and Slovenian folk songs. Louis Rastig announced an “army of drops“. In her set she started somewhere between Erik Satie, Japanese influences and French film noir references. Her music was full of space, she let the chords breathe freely, and the fact that she didn’t use the piano pedals gave her music a dry effect. In the second part she switched to prepared materials and there were the raindrops against the window Rastig mentioned. She revealed shifted rhythms, which made her music sound like a warped David Sylvian record (in a positive way). At the end of the set she picked up motives again which structured her improvisation and made it quite dynamic.

Kaja Draksler
There was no break after Draksler’s set, so Christian Lillinger (drums) could immediately present his trio with Christopher Dell (vibraphone) and Jonas Westergaard (bass), that night augmented by Johannes Brecht (live electronics). Here one of the main focuses of the festival became audible: the close interrelationship between sound, spatial structures and electronic processing. A journalist called this process of the combination of acoustic instruments and electronic soundscapes “Boulez in real-time”, which inspired the musicians to dedicate this project to the famous composer. And if you consider Pierre Boulez’s music as a ceaseless maelstrom of musical energy that demands continual exploration and a permanent state of revision, then the music of this quartet came quite close. The whole set included energetic playing after structural guidelines, which constantly changed. The challenge for the musicians was to react to these variations and sound layers, the form didn’t have to prevail over musical content. At the beginning of the set the electronics were hardly present, but then Brecht developed a precise way of choosing one musician he wants to interact with. Thus, the electronics didn’t drown the other instruments but highlighted their dialogue. In general the set was a constant alternation of structures and dynamics, extreme and ultra-intensive playing, often pushed by Dell. At the end there was a repetitive passage reminiscent of monotonous serial riffs, a moment of great tension and crystal-clear interaction. Boulez would have liked it.

The audience was longing for a break after that because it was very hot inside the Radialsystem and air conditioning is rather uncommon in Germany. After a cool drink Rastig presented an echo of last year’s festival, New Roots Trio. Norwegian singer Natalie Sandtorv presented compositions and improvisations for voice, drums and prepared piano. Sandtorv, whose voice has an incredible range, was augmented by Norwegian drummer Ole Molfjell and Greek pianist Zoe Efstathiou, that night on prepared piano exclusively. Sandtorv’s singing reminded me of Sidsel Andresen, only a bit more off-the-wall. She also used sound pieces, staccato syllables, guttural cawing and references to Scandinavian folk songs. Often there was a fierce discussion between voice and drums, but Efstathiou structured that discourse with very sparse notes and chords. The trio was best when they delved into moments of great tenderness which they exhausted consequently. Only at the end the drummer missed a good moment to end the set, the last five minutes were not necessary. But all in all a nice surprise.

New Roots Trio
Finally, one of the highlights and maybe the most-anticipated project of the whole festival closed the day: Nate Wooley's Seven Storey Mountain, a concept to continue Wooley’s idea that creating collective music cannot be linked with a particular genre (that’s why it was an obvious choice for the festival makers). The huge supergroup included American and European musicians (only cultural subsidies from the American embassy made it possible).

So, the expectations were high and to cut a long story short: the band even surpassed them. The composition was were tightly structured, the horns started and ended the set with fanfares that sounded like the band in the Roman Circus Maximus. Then the piece was built up bit by bit, first with a wall of sound by the vibraphones and the trumpet, then the violins came in and the piece had the drama of a Gorecki symphony. But that wasn’t enough tension, the orchestra created a real vortex of classical fragments, sound collages and explorations and free improv, fiercely pushed by the two drummers. Wooley was steering the ship like a first mate giving orders to his crew. At the peak of the show the atmosphere was so tight, it was hard to endure. The composition ended like it began, with fanfares and minimal vibraphone notes, the light show emphatically dimmed the lights.

It’s hard to believe that there will be a more impressive set, in the best moments it reminded me of Cecil Taylor’s European Orchestra as to emotionality and compositional strictness. So far the best show in 2017. A perfect ending to a great festival day.

Seven Storey Mountain

The musicians:
  • Nate Wooley (US) trumpet
  • C. Spencer Yeh (US) violin
  • Samara Lubelski (US) violin
  • Liz Allbee (DE) electronics
  • Steve Heather (DE) vibraphone
  • Emilio Gordoa (DE) vibraphone
  • Ryan Sawyer (US) drums
  • Chris Corsano (US) drums
  • Marc Unternährer (CH) tuba
  • Chris Heenan (DE) contrabass clarinet
  • Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø (DE) trombone
  • Matthias Muche (DE) trombone
  • Matthias Müller (DE) trombone
  • Hilary Jeffrey (DE) trombone
  • Lina Allemano (CAN/DE) trumpet
  • Nathan Plante (DE) trumpet
  • Nils Ostendorf (DE) trumpet
  • Damir Bacikin (DE) trumpet


Alter Kocker said...

it’s the usual free jazz festival crowd again.

Oh, you mean musicians and baby-boomer aspie bachelors?