Jazzkaar 2011: Tallinn, Estonia, Days 1-3
As the second evening of Punkt got underway in Tallinn, Fiona Talkington conducted a brief public interview with Jan Bang, where he talked about the expanding network of musicians that are a part of the Punkt Family. "[Drummer] Jon Christensen once said, 'Music is the best passport,'" Bang began, and if there's any single event that supports the idea, it's Punkt. More than just a festival, it's a concept, an aesthetic. With each passing year, Punkt gets just that little bit bigger, and it was clear that, when the festival was invited to Tallinn, it was with this idea in mind, as the collective expanded through new collaborations with Ensemble U: and Weekend Guitar Trio.
Jan Bang's ...and poppies from Kandahar, from left:
Jan Bang, Eivind Aarset, Sidsel Endresen, Arve Henriksen, Erik Honoré
For the only non-Estonian part of the main hall programming, Bang brought his ... and poppies from Kandahar project to Mustpeade Maja. It was a different collective of musicians than at his Punkt 2010 performance, including Honoré, Endresen and Henriksen, but without the input of trumpeter Jon Hassell and bassist Lars Danielsson. But with the addition of Eivind Aarset, ...and poppies retained many of its structural components; still, it also went to different textural places, with the improvisational component equally strong, layered over the foundation that Bang first created, when he began writing the suite of music early in 2010, from his home just outside Kristiansand.
The performance was a slightly abbreviated version of the album, and yet there was no sense of disruption or lack of continuity, as the quintet moved through the early part of the record, largely amorphous, but ultimately settling on the sensuous groove of "Passport Control," one of the album's highlights, and a clear highlight here as well. Endresen's singing on "The Midwife's Daughter," again, demonstrated how her own very personal language has continued to evolve in the space of just a few short months. Aarset was unable to perform at Punkt 2010, due to a commitment in Japan, but he was a vital part of the recording, and here, his ability to emulate an mbira, and use of an E-Bow to create serpentine melodies that intertwined with Henriksen's expansive textural breadth, lent a different complexion to the performance that was at once more intimate and more sweeping.
Knutsen's projections were stunning; rather than trying to make different rooms fit his work, like any good musician he adapts his work to the room. The fact that there were three walls to work with, rather than the usual single plane of the large stage at Kristiansand's Agder Theatre only gave him the opportunity to work into visuals that often seemed three-dimensional in nature. And as the set drew to an end, as it did in Kristiansand, with Endresen's title track from Undertow (Jazzland, 2000), there was a palpable feeling in the audience, a true sense of closure, as Endresen delivered a haunting versiongentler, and more etherealthat made clear, her more oblique improvisational directions of the past several years notwithstanding, that she remains a singer of haunting lyricism, with a voice capable of speaking volumes with the slightest inflection.
J. Peter Schwalm
The remix of ...and poppies was originally to be a solo performance by German composer/producer/soundscapist J. Peter Schwalm, but with producer Guy Sigsworth attending the festival as a guest, and with keyboard in tow, a relatively last-minute decision was made to include him in the remix...and it was a terrific idea. Schwalm, who has collaborated for many years with Brian Eno, is no stranger to Punkt, having taken part in remixes in both Krisitiansand and Mannheim in previous years. And there's no doubt he'd have done a fine job solo. But with the addition of Sigsworth, whose delicate piano created a Harold Budd-like sense of atmospherics, the remix took on an entirely different complexion, as the two worked with Schwalm's samples from Bang's performance, Henriksen's trumpet echoing and pitch shifting over a warm wash of sound that gradually took shape and began to push patiently forward.
It's always intriguing to hear a remixer's choices, and in particular the chance to hear the same music remixed by a different collection of players. J.A Deane's remix of ...and poppies was more about stasis, and Schwalm's interpretation also possessed its own floating quality; but, equally, he used more direct reference to the source performance, at one point grabbing Endresen's vocal line and turning it into a staggered choir, with a deep bass chord acting as a repetitive motif.
Weekend Guitar Trio, from left: Robert Jürjendal, Tõnis Leemets, Mart Soo
Another highlight of the remix was Sigsworth's use of a hammered dulcimer sample, which lent a harp-like folk element to the remix. In many ways, Schwalm and Sigsworth's remix was about the value of paradox, and the use of it to create a surprisingly seamless whole from a collection of disparate sources.
Estonia's Weekend Guitar Trio began as just thatthree guitarists who got together on weekends, to work on material that ranged from detailed structure to more unfettered improvisation, all with the use of technology to expand their aural palette. As the trio approaches its 20-year anniversary in 2013, with four recordings out, including the recent Coca Inca (Self Produced, 2009), WGT incorporates elements of jazz, electronic and world music. Form meets freedom, echoes of Steve Reich-ian minimalism meet Robert Fripp-esque soundscaping. The Fripp influence goes even deeper: the trio began after Robert Jürjendal attended one of the ex-King Crimson guitarist's Guitar Craft seminars; but it's the diverse backgrounds of each playerwith Tõnis Leemets' interest in IDM (intelligent dance music) and electronic music combining with Mart Soo's background in jazz and free improvisationthat lend WGT its distinctive, collective sound.
WGT can make a joyful noise all on its own, but its collaboration with Jan Bangbeginning at the Eesti Fest, curated by Fiona Talkington in London, earlier this yearwas another inspired idea. That performance also included singer/poet Toyah Wilcox, but in Tallinn it was a purely instrumental music, filled with shimmering guitars, cushioned soundscapes, ambient textures and minimalist motifs, where the three guitars moved, round-like, through a series of angular lines that came together in varying harmonic combinations. Bang broadened the sonic spectrum throughout the set, as the trio performed a number of original compositions. With each guitarist focusing on a different variant of his instrumentJürjendal using an acoustic guitar that, still, was fed through a rack of electronics; Leemets' choice, a Gibson ES-335 slim line hollowbody; and Soo, a larger semi-acousticeach player had a voice and a sound, but it became clear that Weekend Guitar Trio was more about the collective sound than the contribution of any single player.
For the remix, another guitarist who is so often heard as part of a seamless whole, was featured more prominently, as Eivind Aarset joined with Arve Henriksen and Erik Honoré for the last remix and the finale of Punkt in Tallinn. While Henriksen remained a strong personality, and Honoré's presence was about the choices to cull from Weekend Guitar Trioand how to morph them into something elsethere was plenty delineation to make this a remix where Aarset's contributions were more dominant, dominance rarely heard these days, outside the context of his own Sonic Codex group.
If there's one attribute that joined all of the musicians involved in the Punkt in Tallinn remixes it was patience. Everyone seemed comfortable with the idea of letting ideas unfold gradually, inevitably, with changes in direction oftentimes signaled by one musician, but in such a way that there were rarely sudden shifts. Instead, evolution was sometimes so gradual as to be almost imperceptible, and yet the evolution was absolutely present. Henriksen, in addition to playing trumpet and cornet, whistled, created singing sounds from water glasses, and used a metal plate as a percussion instrument. Aarset, meanwhile, used his large array of effects pedals, and laptop, to build sonic washes, and create mini-motifs. The remix seemed more inspired by WGT, than culled directly from sound samples, even though Honoré certainly brought samples into the mix. Transcendent in its atmospheric beauty, it was a fine way to end Punkt in Tallinn. It's always a risk, given the experimental nature of live remix, that there will be as many failures as there are successes, but one of the most significant aspects of this two-day Punkt was how absolutely every remix was spot-on in its use of source material as a means to inspire something else that was somehow connected, but utterly and entirely different.