dOeK Festival #9: Amsterdam, The Netherlands, December 4, 2010
After the dinner break, dOek Festival #9 resumed with The Gap, an as-yet unrecorded group built around two members of pianist Cor Fuhler's Corkestrathe leader, and reedman Tobias Deliusalong with bassist Jan Roder and drummer Steve Heather, an Australian expat now living in Berlin. The biggest single shift, other than the group's reduced size (Corkestra, a octet or nonet, who performed at the 2008 Ottawa International Jazz Festival), was Fuhler's shift from piano to guitar. Sometimes learning a new instrumentand, even more, writing for itcan shake an artist out of his/her comfort zone; not that Fuhler was anything resembling tired or predictable, but clearly his switching to a different instrument in the formation of this group has shifted its compositional sound, though in some ways it still clearly retains the oblique and curious nature of his writing for Corkestra.
From left: Cor Fuhler, Steve Heather, Jan Roder, Tobias Delius
With its smaller size and Fuhler's unprocessed, low-tech hollow body guitar, The Gap is also a darker, more brooding group, with Fuhler's sometimes repetitive patterns creating a harmonic foundation over which Delius, on clarinet, was often the quartet's most visible soloist. And with everyone still reading from charts, it was clear that Fuhler's constructs required no shortage of concentration, as Roder and Heather bucked tradition and, while occasionally providing a collective pulse, just as often contributed to The Gap's darker textures, implying time as much as actually playing it.
Fuhler may be using The Gap to push himself into new directions, and he has clearly evolved some facility on guitar, but what was less than clear was just how deep a comfort level he has on his new instrument. Some of the music loosely resembled the knotty idiosyncrasies of Bill Frisell's Quartet (Nonesuch, 1996), though Fuhler is clearly not as broad-reaching as the well-known American guitarist. Still, it's early days for The Gap, and what will be most intriguing will be to see what this group manages to come up with, should he ultimately decide to record.
A second round of Mix and Match encounters was highlighted by a horn-heavy meeting of trumpeter Eric Boeren, saxophonists Mats Gustafsson and Tobias Delius, trombonist Wolter Wierbos, and tubaist Oren Marshall, that ranged from the high energy, high octane blowing expected from Gustafsson, to gentler moments of near-classicism. Marshalltuba between his legs and bent over so far as it was hard to believe he didn't topple overgradually brought his instrument onto the ground, as he dragged it back and forth on the stage, creating a weird optic that was as much a poster for the unfettered abandon of the dOeK festival as anything seen or heard to that point. Clearly anything was possible, and nothing was forbidden.
A concept that was easily applied to the final two performances of the evening. First, the duo of Wollo's Worldtrombonist Wolter Wierbos and pianist Kris Defoortdelivered an all-improv set that posits Wierbos as one of the most accomplished trombonists in improvised music. Between a surprisingly broad range of extended techniques that turned the trombone into an almost impossible sound controller, from vivid melodism to blaring brashness and percussive punctuations. A number of mutes and plungers were swapped in and out at near-light speed, further expanding Wierbos' palette; and if that weren't enough, Wierbos' approach to the instrument's more conventional range bordered on the frightening, as he made clear that his command of the instrument transcended even the extremes of virtuosity, as he made full use of its expressive tone; as close to the rich variations of the human voice as any instrument.
Wolter Wierbos of Wollo's World
In the face of Wierbos' knockout performance here (and throughout the festival), Defoort's pianism was, perhaps, overshadowed, though he proved himself a sensitive partner as he moved inside and outside the box, with a more eminently selfless stance than the commanding Wierbos, who avoided any kind of superfluous "look at me" excesses, yet was impossible not to watch, nevertheless. The other strength of the performance was its relative brevity: at somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes, it never became tired or overdone, when a typical, longer performance might have done just that. Here, with its limited time, Wierbos and Defoort's set was a marvel of improvisational ingenuity, and one that never lost either focus or direction, as the music moved from extremes of quiet and economy to those of power and frenzy.
As has been the case with previous dOEK festivals, space was reserved to invite one non-Dutch group. This year, it was Norway's The Thing, the tremendous improvising trio of saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. Something of a supergroupsince each one of these players is a leader in his own right, and a busy collaborator in a collective C.V. that includes Atomic, Scorch Trio, Ken Vandermark, Circulasione Totale Orchestra, Peter Brötzmann, Fire!, Trygve Seim, and Håkon KornstadThe Thing's M.O. is free improvisation, and of a generally raw, visceral and cathartic nature, and this performance was no different. Gustafsson was, as in his earlier Mix and Matches, just about impossible to pin down, a player in constant motion; and while his trio mates were a little less so because of the inherent limitations of their larger, less portable instruments, they nevertheless matched Gustafsson in incendiary energy.
The Thing, with Special Guest Joe McPhee
From left: Paal Nilssen-Love, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Joe McPhee, Mats Gustafsson
That's not to say The Thing doesn't demonstrate dynamics; its most powerful moments made even more so by, if not exactly quiet segments, then certainly more subdued ones. One of the set's most potent moments, was the growth of a repeated, three-note saxophone phrase that Gustafsson began at a low level, with Nilssen-Love using mallets around the kit to create a more tribal vibe, as Håker Flaten exercised his own restraint before gradually joining Gustafsson, to build the ostinato to a fever pitch.
A fever pitch made all the more heated by the guest appearance, shortly after the set began, of Joe McPhee, who'd showed up earlier during a Mix and Match on trumpet, but this time on saxophone, doubling Gustafsson; and, as the ostinato continued to build, departing into improvisational extremes of his own. With Gustafsson alternating between tenor and a baritone that almost took the roof off Bimhuis, it was an expanded but acoustic version of The Thing that was also significantly different than the electrified energy of Bag It! (Smalltown Superjazzz, 2009).
But, given the largely acoustic flavor of dOeK Festival's other participants, it made better contextual sense, and was certainly no less exciting. The attendance at dOeK was a little down, thanks to the inclement weather of an early winter storm that had paralyzed much of Europe over the past few days, but the smaller audience was no less vocal, and no less insistent that The Thing return for an encore. To keep the festival on track, other acts weren't permitted to return, but since the evening was at an end, it was possible. After the lengthy explorations of its 40-minute, continuous set, The Thing then proved capable of spontaneity in a shorter timeframe, as it delivered a roughly five-minute encore that perfectly capped off a fine day of music without a safety net.
All Photos: John Kelman