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Live Reviews

European Jazz Jamboree 2009

By Published: November 18, 2009
One spontaneously improvised number after the next left appreciative and receptive listeners in awe. Each improvisation's conclusion featured a near-telepathic closure, as if written down or planned beforehand: to say the two worked as one would be an understatement. One such improvisation featured Petrowsky (playing alto then clarinet) ending with a held high-pitched squealing note that stopped on a dime, transitioning seamlessly to a more jazzily characteristic warm clarinet tone in time. This served as a microcosm of the duo's capacity, naturally moving from one extreme to the next with such ease. A following high-energy Petrowsky improvisation on alto was complimented by Griener's focus on bass drum which seemed to encourage the reedman to take slower, more paced breaths on his horn. The reedman accommodated, revealing an empathy not always found in this pared down context whose common ingredient can be the major pitfall of two preoccupied musicians too busy playing to their own content to listen to what their partner is playing (or in some cases not playing).

In midst of a 10-date European tour, the decade-old virtuosic and leaderless trio of Urs Leimgruber (soprano, tenor saxophones), Jacques Demierre (piano) and Barre Phillips (bass) functioned on equal footing at the acoustically magnificent French Institute while stretching any preconceived notions of sonic boundaries with their extended coordinated original improvisations (as is evidenced on each their three recordings to date— one for Victo, Leo and most recently psi). As opposed to the younger (and former student) Wickihalder's soprano playing, the fellow Swiss Leimgruber proved he was undoubtedly more from the Evan Parker than Lacy school, with not much in the form of melody but plenty of rhythmic, propulsive and percussive effect in his use of extended techniques.

Starting on soprano, the saxophonist quickly moved over to tenor, though interestingly it wasn't until the trio was about half an hour into their first group improvisation he actually played the deeper horn with all its parts intact. Having removed the neck, which he placed into the bell of his horn, rattling it back and forth while pressing keypads for percussive though not necessarily consistent rhythmic sound effect, he proceeded to blow through his neck-less and mouthpiece-less horn as well as his hornless mouthpiece. He then quickly put his horn back together, began to blow but continued to maintain sounds not customarily associated with the saxophone, perhaps tricking listeners not in the front row to think his sax might even still be disassembled! No matter, though—the sonic adventure never lost its momentum.

The omnipresent Phillips, eyes for the most part always open and senses at their fullest, added appropriate plucked pizzicato notes then occasional if quickly stroked arco statements, supplying an organic foundation to whatever his partners played (the room's acoustics reverberated even the friction from the bow's hairs on his bass' strings). One of the standout treats of the entire festival was to hear this distinctive voice and pioneer of solo bass performance play live in this near-naked context. Demierre, too, thrived in this environment. From violently bouncing his right-elbow relentlessly at one juncture up and down on the piano keys like a metronome, to performing more delicate, flowing lines—it was his superb work from within the piano that left the most indelible impression. When experimenting on the strings, he gently strummed harplike one moment then plucked in twelve-tone fashion with such ferocity the next. Actually it was a surprise to find out afterwards only one string miraculously broke! There are certain shows after which you just don't feel rushed to immediately stand after it's all over; rather you sit and absorb what sounds might still be resonating off the walls (and in your head), particularly after such an aural onslaught. This was one of those shows.

Of the not-as successful tributes: tenor/soprano saxohonist Wolfgang Schmidtke's quintet played Wayne Shorter's music a tad too politely. "The Earth Is A Drum Suite" dedicated to Don Cherry, the festival's largest scale performance featuring the Independent Jazz Orchestra under conductor/composer/arranger Jürgen Scheele, failed to capture the musical spirit of its honoree (though featured standout soloing by Skidmore). And Dave Burrell's rather tame, though no less musical, solo set of Monk and Ellington with a Scott Joplin- ish sometimes Jelly Roll Morton-like flair failed to truly surprise.

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