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Live Reviews

Jazz Em Agosto 2007

By Published: October 7, 2007
Zingaro is perhaps best known outside his home country for his work with Léandre, but unfortunately they didn't appear together on the program. She did give an impressive solo recital, including compositions by John Cage and Scelsi, as well as Taxi, her own composition about traveling with a big double bass, and several improvisations. Léandre moves so quickly between "traditional playing and "extended technique that the two become one approach—like trying to make a meaningful distinction between consonants and vowels: it can be defined, but you don't use those rules when you talk.

With Quartet Noir, she created fast, graceful, delicate, small movements like a swarm of gnats circling in the light, but singing. It was a surprising half-hour before the group seemed to break into solos. Pianist Marilyn Crispell was the first to take off, and then only for a couple of minutes. Saxophonist Urs Leimgruber moved from quiet flutter to loud, noteless exhalations, persistently repeating forced tones as if calling to the ducks that inhabit the foundation grounds. Fritz Hauser, a parade bass drum next to his kit, manipulated the skins with deft variety. The aesthetics overrode the egos, but the shared mission made all of their voices come through all the more clearly. A shorter second piece ended with instruments fading, then whistling, then tidying up, Urs noisily banging a chair around, Joelle wiping down her bass, Fritz folding his laundry, Marilyn, ever sweet, watching, smiling, then they slowly danced to the rear of the stage and flew off, flapping their arms.

Hubbub—a quintet of two saxophones, piano, guitar and drums—proceeded with a similarly unilateral intensity. From the outset, they all reached for the same monolithic prize. There was plenty of drama, but watching them robbed their music of the mystery evoked by their recordings. Their sounds seem to come from nowhere, and seeing them play unfairly divided them into separates. Textural guitar and breathy saxophones moved slowly behind the deceivingly quick piano and percussion, creating a taut tension.

A good festival programmer knows to mix it up, to toss some fun in with the high-minded abstractions. Low Frequency did convincing interpretations, with effects and tongue-pop percussion, of Hendrix, Zappa and The Beatles, with especially impressive soloing from Oren Marshall. The 12-piece Crimetime were strong- armed but not heavy-handed, traditional (in a Mingus/Mancini continuum) but still fresh. They played a long suite with good solos and sparing, effective use of electronics, better than the Charlie's Angels theme but not as good as Ellington's music for Anatomy of a Murder. And Ronin's syncopated maracas, electric bass and Fender Rhodes built into something between Miles Davis and Philip Glass, then emptied into jam rock.

Bottom's Out were, likewise, there to entertain. Fonda filled walking bass lines with double time, double stops and subtle variations. His accompaniment was more interesting then his own soloing, even. As in the Fonda Stevens groups, or his duo with Anthony Braxton (recently reissued by the Portuguese label Clean Feed), Fonda is always an inventive support man. The unusual instrumentation (Joe Daley on tuba, Claire Daly on baritone sax, Gebhard Ullman on bass clarinet, Michael Rabinowitz on bassoon and Gerry Hemingway on drums) wasn't just for show: the bassoon got the best solo of the night, and Rabinowitz insisted on melody in the midst of a stellar, scratchy-improv encore.

A different level of enjoyment— rather like a TV show in the midst of a film festival—was offered by the vocal group Timbre, featuring Lauren Newton, another frequent Léandre collaborator, and occasionally augmented by singer Bertl Mütter's trombone. They filled the room (moving from back to front) with harmonies and devotional chants, breaking language into phonemes and finally breaking from elongated tones to percussive improv. They stood out, oddly enough, for making the prettiest sounds of the fest. And while a bit of discord might serve them well, they served to brighten up the festival program. In a context like the one programmer Rui Neves creates every year, pretty music can prove to be challenging in its own way.

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