Summer Jazz Cycling Tour 25: Groningen, The Netherlands, August 26-27, 2011
Feerwerd Church, with its wonderful acoustics, hosted German reedman Gebhard Ullmann with a two-bass hit, courtesy of American expatriate Chris Dahlgren and Antonio Borghini, making his second showing of the day. In keeping with the lower register focus, Ullmann concentrated exclusively on bass clarinet and his specially constructed bass flute. It was a real pleasure to be able to appreciate every nuance of the bassists' craft. Dahlgren, in particular, used preparations to modify the sound of his bass, with vibrating devices, sticks and clothes pegs all pressed into use. In tandem, the strings supplied an exquisitely textured cushion for Ullmann's abstract musings, often conversationally echoing, then extending each others' moves. At one point a church bell tolled and Dahlgren replicated the peal with ringing high notes plucked from his fret board. On bass clarinet, Ullmann expanded the legacy of Eric Dolphy, percolating up from the depths, with flutters and circular breathed squeals.
From left: Antonio Borghini, Gebhard Ullmann, Chris Dahlgren
The group's attention to sound was exemplified by the fourth piece, announced as "Transatlantic," which largely consisted of a triple-voiced drone. While Borghini maintained an intense focus with steady sawing, Dahlgren draped a metal chain around the neck of his bass and then bowed the strings so that as they resonated, they caused the chain to vibrate. A true tone scientist, Ullmann barely adjusted his bass clarinet dirge except to add slight creaking interpolations. It was a splendid concert full of mesmerizing detail.
Italian reedman Daniele D'Agaro had previously formed liaisons with two of the first generation European improvisersGerman pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and Dutch drummer and enfant terrible Han Benninkbut this was the first time all three had worked as a unit. They affected an egalitarian outlook, recalling von Schlippenbach's longstanding threesome with British saxophonist Evan Parker in instrumentation, though hewing somewhat closer to structural certainties than that celebrated ensemble's triangulations.
It was fitting that the trio provided the final act of the festival, as its ethos of working between consonance and dissonance was a perfect summation of the festival itself. Even though the group might be considered one of the last bastions of the avant-garde, Bennink displayed a predilection for foot-tapping tempos which permitted ready entry into the collective improvisations. Likewise, Schlippenbach was also happy to delve into the Thelonious Monk songbook, referencing both "in Walked Bud" and "Well You Needn't" during the evening.
From left: Alexander von Schlippenbach, Daniele D'Agaro
D'Agaro showed himself adept at both free form fantasywith his clarinet spiraling high into the stratosphereand locking into the Monk tunes, with his tenor breathily paraphrasing the melodic lines, before garrulous atonality held sway. Bennink proved as irrepressible as ever, powering the ensemble whether with sticks or brushes, dropping bombs seemingly at random into even the most swinging passages, and using his foot on drum schtick sparingly. There was a breathtaking passage in one of his solos where his fierce rat-a-tat explosions suddenly stilled to leave him keeping the beat on his hi-hat alone which generated a striking contrast. Schlippenbach moved between angular comping and all out noise propagation with flats of hands and even forearms called into service.
Overall, the set was playful and responsive, as the trio switched mood and density almost instantaneously, alternately fiery and honeyed, in a great ending to a unique festival.
It actually didn't end there, though, as there were still two shows to come in the tent at Garnwerd: the first, with a duo of DJs spinning 78s for the weary festival goers now resting their aching limbs and partaking of the bar; while the second, from Belgium's finest Maroccan Brass, encouraged those same aching limbs, rejuvenated by beer, to dance into the small hours. Having taken so long to discover such a marvelous combination good for both the head and the heart, needless to say I'll be heading back next year.
Photo Credit All Photos: John Sharpe