Summer Jazz Cycling Tour 25: Groningen, The Netherlands, August 26-27, 2011
Not that anyone would accuse Italian clarinetist Claudio Puntin's chamber trio, performing the music of his countryman Nino Rota, of being inaccessible. Their ethereal opening arrangement mirrored the atmosphere in Aduard Church, illuminated by light streaming through the windows, before German bassist Johannes Fink and cellist Jorg Brinkmann slipped into an airy swing behind the leader's bubbling bass clarinet. On the second piece, Puntin followed a section of drawn out string harmonics with invigoratingly manic clarinet projected through a megaphone hung above his mic, for a distorted tone like a kazoo. Together they conjured a program redolent of Italian sunshine, often more lazy Sunday than lunchtime Saturday, but delicately spiced with arco squeaks and braying clarinet cries.
A line of cyclists snaked across the flat landscape en route to the small unadorned Fransum Church for an assignation with American expatriate cellist Tristan Honsinger's new band, going under the moniker Hook, Line and Sinker. Recently relocated to Berlin, Honsinger has availed himself of some of the best talent the German capital has to offer. Unlike some of the cellist's groups, this one deals in pure improvisation.
From left: Axel Dorner, Antonio Borghini
Honsinger led off quietly, but soon sonic waves were breaking over the assembled throng: the explosive nature of these eruptions belying the chamber instrumentation. It seemed everyone was conversant in an alien language on the borderline between music and sound, delivered through a synthesis of extended and conventional techniques. On tenor saxophone and clarinet, Tobias Delius, a regular ICP Orchestra associate, traded in muffled distortions and blurts interspersed with small vocalizations.
Trumpeter Axel Dorner carefully selected his interventions, whether foghorn blasts, delicate growls or long tones sustained by circular breathing, modulated by a torpedo shaped mute. Honsinger's musical invention was supplemented by a deranged theatricality, undercutting a repeated romantic classical motif by tottering in circles around the stage area bowing as he shuffled along. In some ways Italian bassist Antonio Borghini played the straight man, but in this company even that involved technique such as attenuating resonant notes with the butt of his bow to produce buzzing reverberations.
Two particular episodes stuck in the mind from among the kaleidoscopic shifts. The first stemmed from a staccato exclamation from the leader which inaugurated a blistering series of similar spiky outbursts from everyone, separated by silence. Later, in the second piece, bowed bass and cello conspired to evoke the baroque period, inspiring Delius into a soaring clarinet excursion. Such was the overall speed of response and level of interaction that there was a feeling that anything could happen. And that's probably the highest praise you can give a set of improvised music.
Well-signed cycle paths meant it was easy to arrive at Oostum Church, perched on a tree-covered mound above the surrounding pastures. Unless, that is, you were the driver charged with transporting Berlin saxophonist Thomas Borgmann and his band to the venue. They arrived ten minutes after their scheduled start time, having spent a considerable time navigating the maze of country roads to no avail. But once settled down and prepared they were well worth waiting for.
From left: Willi Kellers, Thomas Borgmann, Akira Ando
On tenor saxophone, Borgmann gave praise, impassioned but with a light tone, preaching the gospel according to Albert Ayler. Ably supported by Willi Kellers' percussive embellishments and Japanese bassist Akira Ando's insistent pulsing counterpoint, Borgmann span melodic variations on extemporized themes, sweetly bird like on soprano but more prone to overblown rapture on tenor. Kellers varied his timbral palette with a steel pan which contributed an unpredictable air to his natural breathing rhythm. As the heavens opened outside, Borgmann touched on Ayler's "Ghosts" to initiate a final series of visceral pyrotechnics in an emotionally charged set of lyrical free jazz, well-reflected on the group's recent Jazz (Jazzwerkstatt, 2011).
Another unfettered jazzy threesome appeared in nearby Kleine Wetsinge Church. Having competed his duties with Tristan Honsinger, reedman Tobias Delius was now fronting his own Booklet Trio, featuring Canadian expatriate bassist Joe Williamson and Australian drummer Steve Heather in a program where the occasional tune drifted into the spotlight, played "now you hear me now you don't" and then departed; still, the show managed to hang together in a way that made sense.
Delius's distinctive approach melded distortion, thematic material and skronk into a mischievous whole. While playing the saxophonist looked out into the audience, his expressions varying from challenging to quizzical as the whistles and split tone shrieks jostled with fragments of melody in constantly changing ratios. Williamson's measured bass lines wove the thread around which Delius suspended his oddly phrased bluster and tenderly etched ballads. On drums, Heather was equally sensitive, rubbing his hands across the drums heads or blowing overtones on harmonica in the improv sections but keeping time with brushes on the songs.