ECM at 40: Enjoy Jazz Festival: Days 3-6, October 22-25, 2009
With Feldman's inherent classicism a significant link, violin virtuoso Thomas Zehetmair and violist Ruth Killius delivered an all-acoustic performance (no microphones, no PA system) that spanned four centuries and four countries, from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Germany) and Niccolò Paganini (Italy) to Heinz Holliger (Switzerland), Bohuslav Martinů (Czechoslovakia) and Giacanto Scelsi (Italy).
It was no coincidence that the duo opened with Mozart's graceful yet majestic "Duo G-Due KV 423," since Mannheim was a place the prolific and mercurial composer spent considerable timequite possibly in Mannheim Castle itself, the home of "The Blue Sound" festival. The duo's remarkable performance made great use of the large, acoustically resonant Hall of Knights to create a sound much fuller than might be expected from simply a violin and viola. Both players possessed the dynamics and profound sense of nuance to do more than just bring the music to life, creating a visible sense of interaction that, despite the more scripted music, mirrored Abercrombie's performance in the Castle's auditorium.
Zehetmair left the stage to Killius, who took the performance to a more modern place with Scelsi's "Manto 3," a challenging but deeply moving piece written for viola and female voice. Known for working around a single pitch with microtonal variations and drama created through use of timbre and dynamics, it was brief but powerful piece, as Killius sang in a deep voice that, even without knowing the words, felt like an outpouring of rage and grief, her viola creating the key context around which her singing orbited and intersected.
Holliger's "Drei Skizzen für Violine und Viola"written specifically for Zehetmair and Killiusremained in avant territory, the first of its miniature movements a confluence of harmonics; more color and texture than melody. The second movement was paradoxically fuller in harmony yet sonically more hollow, the result of a device fitted on the bridges of both instruments to mute the complexion. The final movement was one of contrapuntal complexity, as viola and violin moved at times in parallel, elsewhere seemingly inexorably interlocked.
An aspect to the performance that was most remarkable was how a simple musical dyad could create so much harmonic implication. Zehetmair's solo performance of three miniatures from Paganini: 24 Capricci were sequenced to create a miniature narrative within the context of the entire concert. Zehetmair's stunning virtuosity was, perhaps, at its most visible here as his dyadic implications were executed with rare precision and articulation, a true marvel of a performance that brought music written nearly 200 years ago into the 21st century.
Martinů's "Drei Madrigale," a relatively contemporary suite of three pieces that, nevertheless, brought the concert full circle with more accessible and, again, slightly majestic melodies, brought the concert to a close. The appreciative and fully attentive audience demandedand receiveda well-deserved encore written by British composer Peter Maxwell Davies. With a strong mix of music from centuries past and contemporary chamber jazz, "The Blue Sound: 40 Years of ECM" got off to a fine start, auguring well for the three days to follow.
As empathic as band members can become, especially after years of working together, the familial bond is inevitably a stronger one. Rare but not completely uncommon, it's possible to find examples in jazz where siblings work together to great effect. The Heath Brothers is one such example; in the case of The Moutin Reunion Quartet the bond is even tighter, with twin brothers François and Louise Moutin demonstrating an even deeper connectionone equally shared by twin brothers Alex Cline and Nels Cline on the now relatively rare occasions when they work together. Rarer still is the opportunity to see father and son work together. Argentinean bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi's group, responsible for Juan Condori (ECM, 2006), brings brothers and sons together, but larger group settings are rarely as intimate as the most exposed of musical settings, the duo. And so, Enjoy Jazz's appearance by the highly influential Brazilian composer/pianist/guitarist Egberto Gismonti and his son, guitarist Alexandre, was a performance that demonstrated just how acute the connection between father and son can be, especially when translated into music.
"There are probably some fathers and mothers here," Egberto said partway through the performance, "You guys know..." What mothers and fathers knew was just as clear to those without children, as the connection between Egberto and his son was palpable, as he encourage Alexandre with looks that can only be described as full of love and pride. The same was returned by Alexandre though, in response to his father's comments to the audience, he smiled and said, "I don't know...I only know the son part."
The two Gismontis have been playing together since Alexandre was in his early teens, though they've only begun recording together, with their Enjoy Jazz performance culled largely from Saudações (ECM, 2009). Ranging from extended pieces to relative miniatures, the elder Gismonti played a custom-built 14-string guitar with nylon strings, while the son played a standard classical guitar. Egberto's instrument, extending the range far below a normal guitar, allowed him to approach the instrument pianistically at times. A rawer player in contrast to Alexandre's more polished performance, the two guitarists were miked, but the beauty of the room and the soundman responsible for all the performances at Mannheim Castle was that the amplification was minimal, just enough to fill the rather large room with a capacity of approximately 400, while allowing for the kind of delicate nuance that so defined the performance.
The first hour or so was comprised largely of duets, though Alexandre did recreate his tender and lyrical solo version of his father's enduring "Palhaço" from Saudações. While the elder Gismonti is, perhaps, the more distinctive player at this point in time, Alexandre is already more than delivering on a certain promise. Prodigious skill may have underlain the set, but it was a combination of Gismonti's distinctive writing and the remarkable interplay between the two instrumentsfixed in structure but free in interpretationthat defined the set. The two created a hypnotic interlocking of minimalistic, repetitive finger-picked patterns, in particular on the opening "Zig Zag," where Egberto constantly egged Alexandre on with the slightest of visual gestures, while Alexandre responded in a way that suggested there was another dialogue going on in addition to the music itself. Solos were traded freely, with only the slightest of nods to cue into new compositional constructs.
When Alexandre left the stage, Egberto moved over to pianocompletely unmiked, yet filling the room with sound where, with an enraptured audience, it was so quiet that the slightest touch could be heard. Three songs, including his enduring "Frevo," demonstrated Gismonti's improvisational prowess, stretching the music freely while maintaining an unfailing musical eye on the definitive melodies. As with his guitar playing, he's an unbridled player whose music comes more from the rainforests than the cities of Brazil, playful yet emotionally exposed.
Alexandre returned for a duet with his father, who remained on piano, for two encores that began brightly, but ended on a more subdued note. As powerful as the musical performance was, just as potent was the clear devotion, pride and love that flowed like an undercurrent throughout the set.