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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Cologne Jazzweek (Day 3)

By Martin Schray

The third day of the Cologne Jazzweek offered a large program, from seven gigs I chose three with a real focus on jazz rock, as it turned out. The odd man was a trio by Berlinde Deman on serpent (a reed instrument) and electronics, Elisabeth Coudoux on cello and electronics and Matthias Muche on trombone, which opened the evening. The performance took place in the Stadtgarten’s Green Room, a nice euphemism for an outdoor concert.


Matthias Muche, Elisabeth Coudoux, Berlinde Deman  

The trio immersed themselves in sound explorations, supplementing their instruments with all sorts of extended materials such as hoses, water glasses or small motors. Due to the fact that the concert took place the open air, parts of the soundscape were also ambient noises, joining the sounds created by the musicians. Footsteps on the gravel, snatches of conversation, fume hoods, the opening of water bottles, background music from the adjacent rooms - all this had an effect like John Cage’s “4:33“, since exploring silence was also part of the concept. However, it was most beautiful when the musicians designed sweeping melodic arcs, which one or two of them then countered with atonal sprinkles. Doing this, they generated some kind of whacky chorale. All in all a very nice start for the musical day.

After that I grabbed something to eat and met Louis Rastig, the organizer of the À’larmé! festival, who had just arrived to see three days of their sister festival. Seeing him reminded me of how much I missed his excellent, unique announcements.


Petter Eldh’s Projekt Drums

In the day’s center of interest should then be Petter Eldh’s Projekt Drums, a group based on an album on which Eldh employed different drummers for each track. He had already played at the Jazzweek last year, and at that time the organizers tried to persuade him to bring Projekt Drums to the stage in Cologne - ideally with Savannah Harris on drums. Eldh was skeptical at first, but then agreed, making it a world premiere live - and he seemed to enjoy every minute of it a lot. Yet, those who know Eldh from projects like Koma Saxo, Gard Nilssen's Supersonic Orchestra, Punkt Vrt. Plastic or Amok Amor, were at least surprised. Projekt Drums is flawless jazz rock, with all its advantages like excellent musicians (Savannah Harris on drums, Wanja Slavin and Tapiwa Svovse on saxophones and Tom Ford on guitar), but also with its inconveniences. There was little room for improvisation, instead there were many clearly marked heads, often presented in unison. Ford’s guitar was strongly in focus, sometimes his playing reminded a bit of Pat Metheny. Eldh himself, actually a bassist, was often heard on synthesizer and electronics, clearly steering the direction of the pieces. The whole thing sounded like Aphex Twin trying his hand at jazz, or it was reminiscent of Sons of Kemet (especially the unison parts of the reeds), but without their urgency and fury. The best piece was based on a sample by a Scandinavian composer, managing to build a free-floating atmosphere. The audience loved the band and enthusiastically demanded an encore. I, on the other hand, have to say that Projekt Drums was not my cup of tea. However, Savannah Harris on drums was absolutely convincing. And she still has two gigs with other bands at the festival.

Bushman’s Revenge

That Bushman’s Revenge also sail the Jazz Rock realms was already known in advance, but seeing that Even Hermansen used a Vox amp (a personal favorite) gave me hope that the guitar sound would definitely be great. Gard Nilssen, the drummer, described himself, Hermansen and Rune Nergard on bass as an old married couple, but that turned out to be positive throughout (for example how they dealt with sound problems in the last piece of the show). Bushman’s Revenge managed to create atmosphere at all times, Hermansen sometimes sounded like John Abercrombie, pearly and crispy, but then again like a weird mixture of Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and the unjustly almost forgotten Joe Baiza of Universal Congress Of. The secret of the band is that the guitar sound is clearly oriented to rock, while the drums are more jazz. In addition, Nergard’s bass remains stoic on maintaining a rock-solid base, in this not unlike their label mates from Fire! Hermansen’s sprawling guitar solos drew raves from the audience; if the band had played Woodstock in 1969, they’d probably had become superstars. Definitely a first highlight of the festival.

See: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4