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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Music Unlimited 33: Celebration 40.60.80

By Eyal Hareuveni

Wels Austria, Nov. 8-10

The 33rd edition of the Austrian free Unlimited Music introduced a new curator model - tripling the one that serves the festival every two years, offering a program edited by German pianist Magda Mayas, Japanese guitarist and daxophone player Kazuhisa Uchihashi, and American sax legend Joe McPhee, respectively, 40, 60 and 80 years young. This year's program suggested unusual and ad-hoc meetings, outfits that rarely tour and a fascinating spectrum of vocal artists.

First Night, Nov. 8

The opening performance by Mayas' 8-piece international, acoustic Filamental ensemble was a brave choice and clear declaration about the experimental focus of the festival’s edition. Mayas assembled her dream outfit - two harpists playing huge concert harps, American Zeena Parking and British Rhodri Davies; herself on the prepared piano, in a way another harp-shaped string instrument; two cellists, Mexican Aimée Theriot and Australian, Berlin-based Anthea Caddy; violinist Angharad Davies, French alto sax player Christine Abdelnour and German clarinetist Michael Thieke. The score was based on minimalist photos and offered a great degree of freedom but demanded expressive detail, especially from the ever resourceful and inventive Parkins and Davies. The minimalist musical flowed organically with microtonal, transparent colors as if the whole ensemble was in a collective dream state, patiently gaining volume and power with minor eruptions that cemented its profound emotional power and delicate aesthetics.

As often happens with the Unlimited festival, each performance suggests a distinct, totally different atmosphere. Joe McPhee celebrated a week before the festival his 80th birthday and clearly he is gifted with a spirit that is not only young and rebellious but also the coolest one. Unfortunately, we were informed that he suffered from a toothache, and in his performances he focused on the tenor sax. His trio with British double bass master John Edwards and German drummer Klaus Kugel (which released earlier this year its sophomore album A Night In Alchemia, Not Two) demonstrated how the great legacy of American free jazz is still relevant, open and inclusive. McPhee’s wisdom and experience provided the trio the deep, poetic dimension, while Edwards’ sharp sense of rhythmic humor and Kugel’s powerful polyrhythmic patterns rounded this trio excellent performance. Sometimes, as McPhee says, you have to trust the music to provide its own rational that gravitated towards a deep emotional experience.

The next trio featured Siberian vocal artist Sainkho Namtchylak, American clarinet, shakuhachi and alto sax player Ned Rothenberg, who began his long-standing collaboration with Namtchylak in the mid-nineties (Amulet, Leo, 1996), and Austrian turntables wizard Dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovačič). Namtchylak covered her head with a red cup and sang-danced mysterious songs and chants, but the most fascinating aspect of this performance was how Rothenberg and Dieb13 orchestrated and framed her cryptic, eccentric vocalizations, Rothenberg in clever, sharp rhythmic ideas, and Dieb13 with ironic yet insightful orchestral layers. If Namtchylak insisted on walking on her very own space pathways, Rothernberg and Dieb13 acted as the pillars of her intergalactic arkestra.

The first night concluded with a super energetic performance of the trio Glacial - ex-Sonic Youth, American guitarist Lee Renaldo, The Necks’ Australian drummer Tony Buck and New Zelander David Watson on bagpipes and electric guitar. This trio has been working on and off since 2012, but has released only one album so far, On Jones Beach (Three Lobed Recordings, 2012), but has enough kinetic energy to ignite many hurricanes. The odd instrumental combination of distorted, mutated and tortured guitar sounds, bagpipes wails and ritualistic, powerful drumming made perfect sense in that late time of the night and sounded as liberating the accumulated energy of the previous sets into a cleansing, secular ceremony. In a strange way, this set had a similar hypnotic power as the legendary live performances of The Necks.

Second Day, Nov. 9

In the six years that I visit this festival, I have never seen so many people flocking to the one of the afternoon free performances, but this afternoon all had very sound reasons. In the beautiful acoustic ambience of the medieval Minoriten the three curators - Mayas on the prepared piano, McPhee on tenor sax and white, plastic alto sax, and Uchihashi on daxophones and electric guitar, performed for the first time ever together, with no rehearsal or much of talking before. Mayas, McPhee and Uchihashi developed instantly subtle and highly poetic dynamics. The almost transparent sounds of the prepared piano were intensified by the almost-human vocalizations of the daxophones and the wise and emotional cries of McPhee. This trio sounded as ready to hit the road and just beginning to explore its great potential.

Saxophonist Rasmussen and turntables master Dieb13
The small hall of Wels’ Medien Kultur Haus was too small to populate all who wanted to see the duo of Danish sax player Mette Rasmussen and turntables master Dieb13. The two performed before as a duo in another Austrian festival, St. John’s Artacts, and both collaborated before in the ensembles of Mats Gustafsson and Ken Vandermark. Their set was devised as a playful narrative that juggles with acoustic and electronic sounds, beginning with both marching-acting-playing into the room with speakers, continuing with Rasmussen dives deeper and deeper into her free jazz blows and wails while Dieb13 splices, edits and orchestrates the music in almost symphonic manner, with many playful, ironic interventions, The performance concluded with Dieb13 playing an old gramophone, and a vinyl with a toy pickup truck spinning on it while Rasmussen plays-speaks through the speaker in what looked and sounded like a heartfelt homage to sonic installations of Christian Marclay.
The night performances began with ad-hoc trio of Japanese vocal and performance artist Ami Yamasaki, Abdelnour on alto sax and Austrian drummer Katharina Ernst. Yamaskai set the tone of this set with her theatrical way of telling vivid, associative stories in her very own charming and always elegant private language. Abdelnour intensified the sonic envelope with her urgent blow and dense tones and Ernst framed this playful train of free associative, highly articulate vocalizations with clever, minimalist touches that kept this train visiting many exotic locations.

Rodrigo Amado’s This Is Our Language
Portuguese sax hero Rodrigo Amado’s This Is Our Language quartet - Amado and McPhee on tenor saxes, Kent Kessler on double bass and Chris Corsano on drums, concluded its European tour in Wels. The quartet’s sophomore album is titled A History of Nothing (Trost, 2019) but its performance was graced with plenty of ecstatic music, informed by the spiritual Afro-American jazz and the European schools of free-improv. The pains of McPhee and the recent passing of Amado’s father, painter Manuel Amado whose painting graced few covers of his son's albums, added a strong strain and vulnerability and often a sense of abandon, mainly due to the fierce, punkish drumming of Corsano, to the music. All these conflicting experiences contributed to one of the emotional peaks of the festival.

After a short break the Lebanese ‘A’ Trio - trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, double bass player Raed Yassin and acoustic guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui, took the stage by storm, shortly after Kerbaj informed the audience that their hearts are in Beirut, in solidarity with their fellow-citizens demonstrating against the corrupt regime. None of the three musicians plays his instrument in any conventional manner. Kerbaj attaches different pipes to the trumpet’s mouthpiece and other objects to its bell, while holding the trumpet between his knees. Yassin’s bass is laid on a chair and he bows Tibeten bowls laid on its wooden body or bowing the bass strings with two bows, one held by its teeth, and likewise Sehnaoui plays his guitar with assorted metallic objects. The trio recent album, AAMM (Al Maslakh, 2018 and Unrock, 2019), was recorded with British pioneer free-improv AMM ensemble, and its performance demonstrated this trio unique brand of spontaneous improvisation. The trio played with great sense of urgency, power and invention, always searching for new sounds and challenging dynamics, and total demanding physical commitment. The uplifting emotional power of this trio gained long standing ovation.

This night closed with Mahanyawa - the Javanese duo Senyawa - Rully Shabara on vocals and Wukir Suryadi on the stringed bamboo pipe Bambuwukir and flutes, augmented by Uchihashi on electric guitar and daxophones. This trio already released a collaborative project on Uchihashi’s label, Innocent Records in 2015. The program promised a meeting of traditional, tribal sounds, doom and punk attitude and delivered the exact recipe. There was something liberating in the wild and reckless ethno-metal eruptions of this trio and the enigmatic rap of Shabarai, the mysterious, buzzing sounds of Suryadi and the possessed playing of Uchihashi sounded bigger and certainly louder than Senyawa or Uchihashi apart.

Third Day, Nov. 10

Hermione Johnson
The afternoon performances were located in the picturesque Christian institute Bildungshaus Schloss Puchberg. New Zelander, classically-trained, pianist-composer Hermione Johnson played a solo set on prepared piano. Johnson, dressed as a medieval fairy, planted wooden sticks between the piano strings and by caressing these stick gently extracted delicate, beautifully resonating humming sound, that had immediate, meditative effect. Later, her hammering on the piano keys yielded sounds that were informed by electronic music syntax. This magnificent set kept introducing surprising, magical timbres of the piano and left many attentive listeners wishing to see more and more of Johnson.

The second performance brought together the Berlin-based duo of German vocal artist-sound poet Ute Wassemann and American Andrea Parkins on interactive electronics and electric accordion. If the first set put a hypnotic spell on the audience, this one struggled with the dense, too warm and too humid room, and rarely took off. Wassermann demonstrated her impressive, operatic vocal range while Parkins heroically attempted to find the right frequencies to Wasserman’s flights. There are free-improv meeting that are interesting by their stubborn attempts to fail better, again and again, and I guess that this was one of these cases.

The evening performances began with Joe McPhee’s Special Wels Ensemble, featuring himself on tenor sax, Rasmussen on alto sax, Austrian Irene Kepl on violin, Arnold ‘noid’ Haberl on cello, and Belgian Dennis Tyfus on electronics (he designed the basic version of the poster of the festival). McPhee let Rasmussen and Kepl lead this set that surprised all by its profound sensual appeal. McPhee contributed few beautiful solos that distilled his seminal influence and his role model on these young musicians, as well on the appreciative audience.

The longest working band that participated in this edition of the Unlimited festival was the Japanese Altered States - Uchihashi on electric guitar, Yasuhiro Yoshigaki on drums and Mitsuru Nasuna on electric bass, who celebrates this year its 30th anniversary of playing-improvising with “no concept”. The trio was augmented by German Frank Gratkowski on alto sax and bass clarinet. Altered States, true to its name, moved and morphed fast between segments that referenced the seventies fusion aesthetics - with guitar licks and drumming that brought memories of Santana and Mahavishnu Orchestra, and free, abstract improvisations. But, eventually, this set stressed the strong, energetic personalities of Uchihashi and Yoshigaki with the solid basis of Nasuna, who felt to search, explore and have great fun in collective, organic improvisation. Gratkowski tried to fit into this fast-shifting flow of ideas but only occasionally integrated into Altered States interplay.

Next, another ad-hoc meeting of three experienced and distinct improvisers, meeting on stage for the first time - New York-based vocal artist Shelley Hirsch, British drummer Roger Turner, and master of modular synthesizers and electronics Richard Scott. Hirsch led this set with her amusing Shinkansen of free-associative chat - speaking-singing in English, French and German about music, global politics and feminism, while Turner and Scott orchestrated her stream of ideas and phrases with fierce, kinetic energy and explosive noises. The ever resourceful Uchihashi joined this trio for its last segment and intensified its joyful energy. A provocative and most inspiring soundtrack to our sonic surroundings, already burdened with too much sonic and visual information.

This edition of the festival began with a very quiet performance but ended with a roaring one by the MOPCUT trio- Chinese-American, Berlin-based Audrey Chen on vocals and electronics, French Julien Desprez on electric guitar and Austrian Lukas König on drums and electronics. This trio released early this year its debut album, Accelerated Frames of Reference (Trost, 2019), and this title reflected perfectly MOPCUT’s live dynamics. Hyperactive, fast and reckless mix of ambient and noise with “exorcist qualities”, with Chen chanting-screaming-wailing, Desprez step dancing and assaulting the his guitar strings with his fists and König possessed by his manic rhythmic patterns, until total exhaustion.

Next year, same time of the year, same place.


Anonymous said...

Nice write-up, thanks!
Just curious, what would be your top 3?

I missed Dieb13-Rasmussen and Mopcut due to logistics but have seen the rest of the concerts.
The ones I enjoyed most were Mahanyawa, Hirsh-Scott-Turner and Mayas-McPhee-Uchihashi.