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Friday, August 3, 2018

A L'arme Festival VI, Day 2. Berlin. 8/2/2018

By Martin Schray

The heat games, part two. Yesterday we already mentioned how hot it is in Berlin and that it was hard to follow the opening concerts in a packed venue without any air-conditioning. The temperature was certainly around 50° C. While the first day’s concerts took place in the Hall, the first concert yesterday was on in the Saloon - where it was even hotter.

Andrea Belfi on drums and synthesizer and Valerio Tricoli on Revox B 77

As to music yesterday’s concerts showed a certain continuity in Louis Rastig’s concept. Rastig, the artistic director of the festival, seems to apply patterns and aspects in the configuration of his festivals - musically with his focus on voice and electronics but also with a certain continuity as to the arrangement of the individual artists. Like last year, when the festival started in Berlin’s famous techno club Berghain where they could use the club’s powerhouse sound system, this year’s opening acts Maja Ratkje and Method of Defiance used volume as an essential element of their music. Also like last year, the Saloon was equipped with a quadruple sound system, which worked quite nicely for Andrea Belfi on drums and synthesizer and Valerio Tricoli on Revox B 77 (a stereo reel to reel tape), the openers of day 2. Their music continued Maja Ratkje’s performance from the day before and could best be described as trippy intelligent techno supported by free jazz drumming, a bit like Aphey Twin’s ambient stuff on speed. Tricoli’s electronics delivered the static moments, while Belfi’s drumming could be extremely dynamic and pushing. However, as soon as he decided to play time, the music came to a standstill, actually a moment of great intensity. In general, the abrupt changing of structures made the music all the more exciting, when the quieter, minimal and sombre moments were foiled by the progrock organ samples towards the end of the set, for example. All in all, a nice surprise, even if it was a bit too long for my taste.

After a short break that was just long enough to buy a bottle of water, Księżyc was ready to start in the Hall. Every year Louis Rastig has a lucky bag in his program. Two years ago it was The Great Hans Unstern Swindle (which wasn’t my cup of tea), in 2017 it was Kaja Draksler’s Octet, and this year Księżyc were supposed to play that role. The band was unknown to most people in the audience, but - to cut a long story short - played an excellent set enriched with funny gimmicks. Księżyc is the Polish word for “moon“, “which perfectly encapsulates the contemplative sound of the Warsaw-based experimental music ensemble“ (according to the festival’s liner notes). The band, which was completely dressed in black, consists of Agata Harza and Kasia Smoluk on vocals and little objects, Lechosław Polak (accordion, keyboards, synth), Remigiusz Mazur Hanaj (tapes, hurdy-gurdy, violin) and Robert Nizinski (clarinet, keys, objects) and plays an earthy, repetitive form of experimental sound art in combination with minimal drones and avant-garde neo-folk. They created a surreal, otherworldly atmosphere by using elegiac vocals, elements of Polish klezmer (especially the clarinet) and cembalo and violin phrases. Dynamics were mainly created by the changing of the instruments. Towards the end of the set the hurdy-gurdy was put to the fore and the music became extremely psychedelic and monotonous (in appositive way), it reminded me of La Monte Young. However, the two singers broke the moanful atmosphere by playing with all kinds objects like an illuminated balloon, hoses, glasses, coins etc. What was more, for some reason the heat became bearable, which made the set even more enjoyable.

Emilio Gordoa (vibraphone), Dag Magnus Narvesen (drums), John Edwards (bass), Don Malfon (saxes)

“It’s not about power structures, nothing like that. It’s about consciousness and allowing yourself to be open to things, to love them,” Laurie Anderson said in an interview. It’s like a definition of improvised music and after three acts that focused on electronics it was time for some free jazz. And Emilio Gordoa (vibraphone), Don Malfon (saxes), John Edwards (bass), Dag Magnus Narvesen (drums) really provided it - with everything that’s so great about that music. Gordoa used an all-over-approach as to his instrument (like Barry Guy with his bass), Narvesen played like a rampant Tony Oxley, Malfon was reminiscent of John Butcher and John Edwards was just being John Edwards - the most imaginative and most creative bass player around these days. The quartet showed that the day’s motto was dynamics and structure. While Księżyc chose a rather monotonous approach, this band was much more versatile. Gordoa downright attacked his instrument with a violin bow, bottles, tension belts and little motors, Edwards was strumming his bass relentlessly and Malfon and Narvesen just added fuel to the flames. From one second to the other the quartet was able to contrast these exuberant free jazz rides with super-slow contemplative sound explorations. Here the band concentrated on very sublime patterns, finely chiseled motives, and a subtle handling of silence. There were lots of almost magical moments in this set, it was just fun to see how Edwards organized the tempo and how Gordoa and Narvesen watched and rooted for each other. After the acts before this had an almost cathartic effect, the audience really freaked out at the end of the set.

Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit Rio
Another thing this festival has in common with the one last year was the fact that Rastig had a large ensemble at the end of the second day. In 2017 it was Nate Wooley’s Seven Storey Mountain, this year it was Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit Rio. Frankly speaking, with such a well-oiled machine you actually can’t go wrong, especially because they decided to play a selection of their greatest hits like “Ana“, “Fluku“ and “Rio Fun“ plus “Zoom Zoom Zoom“, the latter a composition I’m not familiar with (I hope I spelled it correctly). For this set Large Unit was joined by Brazilian percussionists Celio Decarvalho and Paulinho Bicolor (on cuica). With two drummers Large Unit has always had a strong percussive focus but with the two Brazilians it was even augmented. The set started with the four percussionists and it was clear where they were heading - to a more swinging, easy going, light-footed music. After a short, almost fragile mentioning of the “Ana“ theme, the band soon created crazy tutti parts, which were organized by trumpeter Thomas Johansson. There was also some outstanding soloing by saxophonist Julie Kjaer, guitarist Kjetil Gutwik, Thomas Johansson, Celio Decarvalho and the always exceptional trombonist Mats Aleklint. The way this ensemble deals with dynamics is obvious: From the pre-conceived heads they culled smaller formations which developed excellent improvisation parts, sometimes the band was reduced to duos or trios, or when the complete horn section communicated like a flock of birds. All in all, the expectations were high for Large Unit Rio and they more than fulfilled it. It’ll be difficult for the bands of the next day to excel these performances. And what was most important for the audience: The heat was tolerable.


Sascha said...

thanks for the input. meeting you at the a l'arme provided for a great experience for me, hearing great music and getting massive background info. greetings sascha

Martin Schray said...

Really nice, Sascha. Thank you and enjoy the music.