Pori Jazz and its Ultra Music scene
Friday's Ultra Music featured music by quintets, with bands from the USA, France/Denmark and Finland. First up were The Claudia Quintet, which through Jon Hollenbeck's role and especially his early compositions can be traced back to pioneers of American electronic composition like Terry Riley and Steve Reich. The band is described as "eclectic post-jazz," and now it has little connection to its roots in Hollenbeck's Refuseniks in New York of the early 1990s. Since those days the composer has worked with many names both in New York and in Europe, particularly in Germany, with Meredith Monk, Bob Brookmeyer, and the Bamberg Choir. With this line up he incorporates scored and improvised music featuring three different solo instruments, including fellow ex-Refusenik Ted Reichman on accordion.
In fact it was the new lead instruments which dominated their frontline in Pori. The vibraphone is an instrument which hard to constrain in a support role. Matt Moran meets this requirement very adequately, but given the opportunity to flourish the mallets become a blur of movement as he skips from one end of the instrument to the other. Hollenbeck's music is often light and quirky, bringing to mind Britain's former Penguin Cafe Orchestra, maybe crossed with Henry Cow. Before any accusations of implied bestiality, Hollenbeck must be complimented for the humor he incorporates into the tightly sculptured pieces largely based on the interplay between varying rhythms and cycles. Clarinet and tenor saxophone leads offered by Chris Speed bridged the gap between the pulsations of Moran and Hollenbeck's staccato drumming and the contrasting legato that the pieces incorporated. With a selection of tunes from their 15 year recording career, the band laid a colorful foundation for an evening of widely differing and exploratory quintet music.
Marc Ducret has a long history with a career of nearly 40 years. Having started out as a self-taught classical guitarist in the 1970s, Ducret has played in Europe with Tim Berne and Tom Rainey in Big Satan while launching his own line-ups in France. Especially well received in recent years has been his trio including bassist Bruno Chevillon and drummer Eric Echampard. Relocating to Denmark in 2008 has led to their replacement in this summer's line-up by Danes , Kasper Tranberg on trumpet and Peter Bruun on drums, while keeping his links with countrymen Matthias Mahler on trombone and Fred Gastard on bass saxophone. With this aggregation, Ducret is again out to explore.
And what territory he chooses. While his previous work with Tim Berne has been described as "mesmerizing, ominous and intricate," the current pieces are that much more so, incorporating two more musicians in the mix. Mahler and Tranberg were firmly rooted across stage from Ducret, and took much of the onslaught that he offered up. Using the normal extended range of muting and overblowing, the brass section tangled with Ducret's frenetic, very rhythmic guitar, while he used every nook and niche of his instrument to coax the flurry of sound that comprises his composition. The four pieces played were a truly challenging journey to uncharted fields of guitar-driven territory, where melody is fleetingly acknowledged and rhythmic interaction defines the terrain. Critical to this were the uncharacteristic format and approach of the rhythm section. Bruun's role is almost superfluous given the intensity of Ducret's rhythmic output, so he played his part light and low-key until opportunity arose for percussive solo. Gastard on the other hand was never out of the frame, perpetually bobbing and bopping with his very percussive, clipped bass lines. It's a sign of a very sturdy stamina, despite a modest physique, that he matched Ducret's torrential outflow of music and energy with his own intricate bass lines virtually uninterrupted throughout the 65 minutes. If this is "out jazz," as Wikipedia categorizes Ducret's work with Berne, it's hard to conceive what "far-out jazz" might comprise.
Pepa Päivinen has been a fixture in the firmament of Finnish jazz ever since graduating in the profession via such local luminaries as Edward Vesala and Juhani Aaltonen, as well as playing with Anthony Braxton. His band in Pori features other graduates of those heady years: Raoul Björkenheim on guitar and Mikko Hassinen on drums, along with young experimentalist Juho Laitinen on cello and Ville Huolman on bass. Päivinen has been writing for most of his career, with his compositions released on the most recent CD Northpipe playing with his regular guitarist Timo Kämäräinen. The set they played was something of a relief after the intensity of Ducret, with the guitar playing also a more integrated role in the program. That said, much of the soloing fell on Björkenheim, sometimes in tandem with his leader, often without. Päivinen 's compositions are nothing like as complex or insistent as Ducret's, with its humor more subtle and muted. In retrospect featuring this aspect more prominently might have made the contrast between the two bands more balanced.