Jazz em Agosto 2010
The other big band appearing at the festival was similarly multi-national, combining acoustic and electronic instruments and led by a saxophonist. Gjerstad's 13-member Circulascione Totale Orchestra was like a static storm, the leader walking around the large stage, whispering instructions, bringing in players one by one and staging different little events. Drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo anchored the proceedings with heavy start-and-stop rolls, ornamented by Anders Hana's bowed electric guitar, Kevin Norton's soft marimba and Nick Stephens's slow and solid bass. The band played free, jazz loose grooves with the best parts putting the winds (Gjerstad, tubist Börre Mölstad, saxophonist Sabir Mateen and trumpeter Bobby Bradford) in front of the electric field, especially a Gjerstad/Mateen duo and a pairing of Mölstad and Stephens. Other arrangements seemed more spontaneous, such as Moholo locking in and refusing to bend no matter what happened around him, eventually passing the contagion on to fellow drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, or the whole of the band backing off to give Gjerstad an unaccompanied solo to finish the set and the fest. With all the noise they were capable of making, they were at their best when they weren't, clarinets instead of saxophones, small groups instead of full.
To repurpose a Brad Mehldau title, free improvisation was best exhibited within the art of the trio. The Open Speech Trio opened with Carlos Bechegas clacking scissors, Ulrich Mitzlaff thumping the body of his cello and Miguel Feraso Cabral likewise thumping small objects on his percussion table, all making little, abrupt occurrences. The sound filled out once the instruments took their orthodox angles, cello turned vertical and the flute horizontal, but they preserved their occupation of teeny territories with Bechegas's processed vocals and coffee cup percussion and Cabral's homemade banjo, sounding something like a small sitar. They made a fragile music, each seeming to rely on the other two for stability. Another Portuguese group, the Red Trio, was solid from the first second, seeming to be devotees of the glass-all-the-way-full school, but they worked their way down to an almost single-note groove, then further reduced that to a nicely muted piano solo. To their credit, they didn't confuse fast with loud, and were clever enough to know that using objects to mute or alter the instruments' voicesclothespins on bass strings of a cymbal laid against a drum head or a piano string silenced by the palm of the handdoesn't replace the need to keep playing as a band. Their use of repetition and expansion made for a sort of free jazz analogue to the totalism school of the 1980s. The three-tet calling itself "Thomas / Strid / Thomas" played soft fragments to start but soon became a drum corps with heavy piano and sticks on the bass and then another very different trio with Pat Thomas turning to his Korg keyboard and handheld electronics. Soothing Sounds for Interstellar Infants. Korg held a sort of squelch box in the piano case and working the strings manually for a mid-tempo askew swing. Their best moments were slow and nervous.
Breaking the improv trio mold imposed here was the powerful amalgam Steamboat Switzerland, who hit like a Deep Purple / Ruins hybrid with an attack so fierce it took a couple minutes before variants could be discerned. (And this was played from scores!) A few minutes later, they started slowing, started stopping, toned down and played a two-note run about 150 times. There just aren't other bands like them. Dominik Blum, playing a Hammond through a Lesley cabinet, had a fantastic way of accenting the clacking of the keys, as if putting rivets through the notes. Marino Pliakis might be best known for playing electric bass guitar in Peter Brotzmann's recent trio. In this group he wasn't heard so much as he made his presence felt. Lucas Niggli's drums were the clearest sound coming from the stage as he played perfectly shaped squares to frame the adrenaline blur. If the trope-metal cookie monster vocals were a bit thin (like Blum was referencing Satanic growls rather than channeling them), the music was thoughtful and energetic at the same time.