Dave Liebman Quintet / European Jazz Orchestra Jazzkaar Festival 2011 Tallinn, Estonia April 26-27, 2011 As Jazzkaar 2011 heads into the home stretch, it's important to remember that, with Tallinn selected as European Capital of Culture for 2011, there's a whole lot more to come, with a wide range of activities taking place all the way up to year's end. One of the more intriguing projects has been instigated by Tallinn 2011's Madli-Liis Parts, a longtime friend and advocate of the Norwegian scene, and the woman responsible for bringing Punkt to Jazzkaar, at the start of this year's edition. Her relationship with many of the Scandinavian country's leading musicians, in particular trumpeter Arve Henriksen
, has led to a project that, when it is finally presented in Tallinn on December 20 and 21, 2011, is sure to go down as one of Tallinn 2011's more memorable musical projects.
Isungset has been involved in working with ice as the basis for fashioning musical instruments for many years, releasing some half a dozen Ice Music albums that feature everything from ice percussion to ice harps, ice trumpets, ice gongs and more. He runs an Ice Festival in the north of Norway, at the time of the first new moon of the year, but has been bringing this unique concept to countries around the world for some time. The idea of constructing instruments out of ice, over the course of two-three days, performing on the instruments, and then letting them melt back into the ground, may seem like the ideal eco-friendly music; but this is far more than shtick or concept du jour. Isungset, collaborating with other Norwegians including singer Sidsel Endresen
and Henriksen, has created a unique body of worklargely improvisedthat has now been taken as the basis for another equally innovative idea: Glass Music.
Isungset and Henriksenwho are working with a group of Estonian glass artists and students, to create a myriad of instruments to be used at the Tallinn 2011 closing concertswere in Tallinn for a couple of days during Jazzkaar, to check out some of the instruments that have been created, to determine their potential, make suggestions for fine tuning, and start documenting what each instrument can do, and how it might be used.
The instruments are being built by artists including Mare Saare, who is making a special glass horn for Isungset; Eeva Käsper, who is the project manager for the glass art portion of the project and, along with Saare, has been working with glass art students (the project is part of the curriculum for those studying at the Estonian Art Academy) to come up with a variety of potential instruments; and Tiina Sarapu, who is preparing the stage design for the concerts, as well as fashioning some additional instruments. There were a number of horn-like instruments, and even a variety of glass mouthpieces, that make things a little easier than, for example, the ice trumpets that Henriksen has used with Isungset in the pastsince the ice trumpets used ice mouthpieces, and every time Henriksen blew into one, the mouthpiece would begin to melt, it became necessary to use a number of them, so that the trumpeter could use one for a short bit, and move on to a second, to allow the first instrument's mouthpiece time to freeze back up again.
The permanence of glass means that, when all is said and done, Isungset and Henriksen will have a potential arsenal of musical instruments with absolutely distinctive sonic characteristics, that they can continue to use well into the future: what looked likeand, in fact, werea series of bottles cut and then attached together to create a long tube sounded like an otherworldly didgeridoo; different sized glass bars rested on top of a flat glass panel to create a glass marimba; glass plates with crossbars attached to them so that they could be struck without being muted by a human handand, while the resonating sound they made, sometimes lasting upwards of 20-25 seconds, was very quiet, putting a microphone near them and amplifying them made the sound absolutely huge.
In an exclusive demonstration for All About Jazz, a Moscow journalist and a colleague from the Norwegian Jazznytt magazine, Henriksen and Isungset gave a walkthrough of some of the instruments, demonstrating their various possibilities and describing the process of creating and refining the instruments. Glass hornssome sounding similar to Japanese flutes, others more like a ram's hornwere delivered by the artists, but Henriksen has gone further, drawing small markings on some of the horns, so that holes can now be drilled, and the instruments can be played with fingers as well as through embouchure. Racks of hanging glasssome as deep as the largest gong, others as delicate is the softest wind chimewere being fine-tuned, with Henriksen and Isungset acting like kids in a candy store, albeit focused ones with an underlying sense of purpose. Creating these instruments is, after all, clearly a lot of fun for two musicians who, as longtime improvisers (but with serious roots in music from various traditions, but especially their own) see opportunity everywhere, and view problems as nothing more than matters to be solved.
Even broken instrumentsand some do break, proving too delicate to be handledget used, as the shards are thrown into a box and Isungset crunches them with a glass stick ("Vic Firth stick number 35," Henriksen joked). "A glass high hat?" Isungset suggested. And while it's uncertain yet whether or not the duo will use technology in the performancewith Henriksen, there's always the possibility of processing, looping and moreone thing is certain: lighting will be a big part of it, given the wondrous opportunities that glass of various shapes, thicknesses and texture can provide, when light reflects and/or refracts through it. A particularly intriguing instrument looked like a standing rectangle of glass, but with a deep groove running near one edge, so that when Isungset struck the thin bar with his finger, a gorgeous, deep resonant sound was created.
Henriksen played some recordings they'd made the previous day, and while Isungset demonstrated some of the instruments, amplifying them with a microphone, Henriksen sampled them, and processed them, to demonstrate even greater possibilities, should the duo decide to bring technology into the picture.
Putting on the show will represent no small challenge in logistics: staging and lighting, to be determined, as does, given the delicacy and quiet resonance of some instruments, the louder nature of others, figuring out how to broadcast the sounds out to an audience, and creating a workable stage volume, where both artists can hear everything. It will clearly take time to suss out. But, in the meantime, work continues on refining the array of instruments, cataloguing what each one can do. The duo has also spent time at the venue, to begin considering exactly how to lay the room out. The venue they will be usingnot a conventional theater-style roomwill allow them to shape the presentation completely, including the use of a surround sound system, so that the audience will be enveloped in the sound, rather than having it pushed out to them in the normal stage/audience configuration.
It sounds like they've a lot of work to do, but based on what they already have, and their track records in finding ways to make music in any context, and with anything that can generate sound, whether it's tuned or not, this demonstration was a revealing window into what will certainly be one of Tallinn 2011's most memorable projects.