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Live Reviews

Trane in August: Lisbon's 2006 Jazz em Agosto

By Published: October 27, 2006
Frith began their second piece even more loudly then pulled back on tempo (but not volume) to find Le Quan and Ochs decidedly not following. It was tense, deliberately so and not to detriment. Ochs entered early on the encore and on tenor at that, as if to ensure there was room for him at the table. It was the first time they sounded like a trio, which isn't to say it wasn't a great set, because it was. In a festival that doesn't take a lot of risks—largely known names and established ensembles—it was the one wild card.

Le Quan also played a solo set which proved to be the highlight of the festival. He began with nothing more than two long bamboo rods, playing the stage, playing the air, playing until they splintered and then playing them more, eventually moving to his side-mounted bass drum, working a pinecone on the head, stones tapped against the tuning keys, usually keeping a quick and often prominent pulse. His talents stretch beyond a musical sensibility to just the acrobatics of his craft, balancing one stick and a cymbal held in his hand with another, even scooping another stick off the floor with the cymbal he's playing.

He dedicated the set to "the people who are suffering now in Lebanon and Israel," the only such acknowledgement during the festival despite the thwarted airline attacks in Britain happened halfway through the week that left musicians who were playing the second weekend with 30+ hour trips. But Le Quan's concert wasn't the sort of bombast and anger the dedication might have suggested—it seemed full of peace, joy, meditation, momentum.

Le Quan's solo set was in fact one of only three sax-less sets, the other two being by Cline in a trio with Rainey and Andrea Parkins and trumpeter Rob Mazurek's group Mandarin Movie, both of whom also played the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Quebec three months earlier, and both sounded much better than at Victo, in part because they allowed more "solo" sorts of spaces, but definitely because the outdoor stage saved them from saturating themselves quite so much (a rarity, but they're both dense groups that can overwhelm the midrange). At the same time, they both seemed to make an effort to differentiate their sets, shorter pieces, more varied styles and approaches. Parkins made use of the grand piano on stage, forcing the trio into almost jazzy sections, and Mandarin Movie allowed themselves to be a horns-and-rhythm-section band at times, something which didn't happen during their Victoriaville squall. Rob Mazurek in particular stood out with a nice, muted, unaccompanied trumpet solo with only slight electronic effects augmenting his playing.

The saxophones reigned supreme throughout the rest of the fest, and as strong as any were the tenor and baritone of Rodrigo Amado, whose Lisbon Improvisation Players were the only Portuguese musicians on the bill. They played a powerful set with Texas trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez, the only other set that came close to the level of risky group improv shown by Frith, Le Quan and Ochs. It wasn't entirely uncharted territory—Gonzalez recorded with the group on the recently issued Spiritualize (released by the Portuguese label Clean Feed). They sounded confident and comfortable together, and the Players would seem to represent some of the best of the city's jazz improvisers. Amado's playing is tasteful and articulate, and he was adept at fitting within—not in front of—the rhythm section, leaving the foreground open for Gonzalez. Bassist Pedro Gonçalves and drummer Bruno Pedroso were understated yet dynamic. Gonzalez played well the role of "featured soloist," a role he was more than ready to fill with bright solos and a great sense of timing.

With the exception of the Lisbon Improvisation Players, the second weekend was dominated by the New York area, with Junk Magic, the Claudia Quintet and Connecticut resident Anthony Braxton's sextet.

Cor Fuehler's Corkestra played themes from busy to jazzy to almost Webernian, although there was little of what might have been expected from a band made up of members of the ICP Orchestra, The Ex and The Necks. A trio of strong saxophonists, flute, electric guitar, upright bass, and a pair of drummers, all flanked by a grand piano and a cymbalon—there was so much dynamic on stage it was impressive that what came through most was the compositions, but they did; Even in a piece that was essentially a showcase for Ab Baars, it was the structure that was at the forefront. And Fuehler's ideas, applied even to a Thomas Lehn / Andy Moor / Tony Buck hardcore improv trio, or a Baars / Tobias Delius / Ann LaBerge wind trio, or even pieces that could have been composed by Sun Ra or Michel Legrand, were quite good.

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