The Israel Festival, Jerusalem 2008 - Bill Frisell, Nils Wogram, Marcin Wasilewski, Anat Fort
“ The concert of the Bill Frisell Quartet..was the highlight of the jazz program and one of the best performances of recent years in Israel. ”
June 15-17, 2008
This year's scheduling of the programs for the Israel Jazz Festival was promising. The grouping of the Bill Frisell Quartet, Nils Wogram's Root 70, Marcin Wasilewski Trio and Anat Fort Trio performances in three successive days enabled festival-goers to examine some common conventions about the differences between European Jazz and American Jazz, since all these outfits presented their own distinctive interpretations of the jazz legacy.
German trombone player Nils Wogram's quartet, Root 70, opened the festival. The quartet comprises two German musicians: Wogram, who now lives in Switzerland, and drummer Jochen Ruckert; and two New Zealanders: alto saxophonist Hayden Chisholm and bassist Matt Penman, who now resides in New York. The quartet has been working now for eight years and so far released five albums. Their rather short quartet concert at the King David Citadel in Jerusalem's Old City was based on their release Fahrvergnugen: Music for Driving (Intuition, 2006) and featured their sophisticated aesthetics.
Nils Wogram's Root 70
Wogram references the mainstream Afro-American jazz legacy, but his references are full of playful shifts of intonation, colors and details that transform the accessible themes into a much more elaborate and undogmatic musical vocabulary. The ensemble's tribute to Charlie Parker, "Bird's Trip," demonstrated this approach, as the quartet patiently articulated complex chord sequence associated with Bird but rearranged this theme in gentle ways that reflected on Bird's innovations and commented on his longstanding legacy.
Chisholm's sweet and vibrating tone on the alto sax was captivating, and Wogram's confident playing was aware of the legacy of other great German trombone players, mainly the late Albert Mangelsdorff, and like Mangelsdroff he adds overtones and speaks through the trombone. Wogram's other compositions "Lost Keys" and "Lunch Break"were inspired by daily incidents and were humorous, stressing the quartet's ability to move freely between imaginary traditional structures and much more open-ended improvisations. Unfortunately, due to the festival's decision to push two performances on to the same bill, this concert ended too soon.
The second day presented two ECM recording artists in the same location. The Polish trio of Marcin Wasilewski presented a program that was based on its latest release, January (ECM, 2008). If Nils Wogram's Root 70 was trying to recharge the American jazz legacy with new aesthetics, this trio was distancing itself from the American legacy with a severe and thoughtful attitude, even though its repertoire featured compositions by American composers such as Gary Peacock and Carla Bley. The trio gravitated into abstraction, drama and lyricism, with great emphasis on detail and color. Their cover of Peacock's "Vignette," identified with Keith Jarrett's pre-standards era, acknowledged the trio's indebtedness to Jarrett but lacked the flowing and powerful reading of this composition that was captured on the disc. Only Bley's humorous "King Corn," written originally for her husband at that time, Paul Bley, featured the Wasilewski Trio in a much looser and exciting manner, with some nice interplay between bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz.
New York-based Israeli pianist Anat Fort played with her trio Gary Wang on bass and Roland Scheneider on the drums on the second half of the evening. The trio covered Fort's engaging compositions from her latest release A Long Story (ECM, 2007), and shined especially on the audience favorite, "Something 'Bout Camels," but lacked the focused and often poetic interplay of the ECM recording that featured such outstanding musicians as Paul Motian, Ed Schuller and Perry Robinson. Fort's attempt to broaden her musical canvas with Middle-Eastern colors with the help of local musicians Samir Mahoul on oud, Moshe Nuri on percussion and Abatte Brihun on sax offered a glimpse for the potential of such a sextet, but only after more rehearsals and careful arrangements. Maybe it was the wind that marred any attempt to reach a decent sound balance in this open- air location or just simply that the one rehearsal was indeed short of delivering a meaningful performance.
The concert of the Bill Frisell Quartet (in a much better locationthe Jerusalem Theater) was the highlight of the jazz program and one of the best performances of recent years in Israel. Frisell, with Fender Stratocaster guitar only, with Ron Miles on trumpet, Tony Scherr on bass and Rudy Royston on drums were standing in a semi-circle, looking on each other all the time, and began a beautiful two-hours trip that covered most of the highlights of Frisell latest release, History Mystery (Nonesuch, 2008), including Frisell's country-ish "Monroe," Thelonious Monk's "Jackie-Ing," Lee Konitz' "Sub-Concious Lee" and Sam Cooke's soulful "A Change Is Gonna Come."
l:r: Ron Miles, Tony Scherr, Rudy Royston, Bill Frisell
Each composition was reinvented by this excellent quartet, as each player dug deeper for new angels and new nuances, never letting go of an elaborate and flowing rhythm and the emotional impact of these classics. Frisell reserved for minimum use his trademark effects, limiting them only to the introductions and codas of compositions as well restricting his American references. He clearly enjoyed the focused and inspired interplay with his long-standing partners in this quartet. Ron Miles is one of those underrated trumpet players who can make your spine shiver with each note. He constructed his solos wisely, always surprising with his original ideas. Scherr is an all-around musician, his playing of the bass like a caressing dance, as though he's trying to seduce the bull fiddle into yielding up more joyful sounds. Royston is a terrific drummer who knows how to shift and enrich rhythms through minimal means.
The program featured clever interpretations of be-bop classics by Monk and Konitz, an emotional and moving reading of Sam Cooke's hopeful answer to Bob Dylan's dark "Blowing' in the Wind," known also as an anthem for the 1960's Civil Rights Movement and, as an encore, a killer version of Malian songwriter and guitarist Boubacar Traore's bluesy "Baba Drame" in addition to a refreshing and uplifting version of Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now is Love" (best known as a pop classic by Jackie DeShannon) suggested Frisell's perspective about jazz, genres and differences among the New, Old and Third World.
It seems that for Frisell such distinctions are useless and irrelevant. It is all one common universe, each part feeding and inspiring the other, all integrating into a coherent musical vision that is filled with hope, sheer beauty, abundant lyricism, yet encompassing diverse influences in a way that enriches both present and future.