Penang Island Jazz Festival: Penang, Malaysia, Dec 1-4, 2011
Next up was the guitar duo of Ulf Wakenius and son, Eric Wakenius. Ulf Wakenius has enjoyed one of the highest profile careers of any European jazz musician, having played in bassist Ray Brown's trio, and in Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson's trio for the final decade of that jazz legend's life. Wakenius certainly hasn't rested on his laurels since Peterson's passing, releasing a wonderful tribute to fellow Swede, pianist Esbjorn Svensson, Love is Real (ACT, 2008) and establishing a remarkable live partnership with Korean singer Youn Sun Nah, as well as playing a leading role on her two solo albums Voyage (ACT Music, 2009) and Same Girl (ACT Music, 2010).
An electrifying performance offered a taste of Ulf's upcoming release, Vagabond (ACT Music, 2012) and gave notice that Eric is a chip off the old blocka remarkably fluid, and technically precise musician. The opening number, "Vagabond" fairly tore out of the blocks, with note-perfect, lightning-fast unison lines and an electrifying solo from Ulf. Hungarian guitarist/composer Atilla Zoller's "The Birds and the Bees" was melodically and harmonically reminiscent of guitarist Wes Montgomery and featured a soulful, beautifully paced solo from Ulf. The duo upped the tempo on "Lines for Oscar," switching between comping and lead roles in an animated tribute to Ulf's former employer.
From left: Ulf Wakenius, Eric Wakenius
Ulf's solo rendition of Keith Jarrett's "My Song"previously recorded on Notes from the Heart (ACT Music, 2005)was an exquisite, harmonically sophisticated homage to one of his main influences. By way of contrast, "Breakfast in Baghdad" provided some of the most exhilarating soling from both guitarists, with Ulf using a plastic bottle at one point to hammer his strings. The finale was Weather Report's "Birdland." Ulf described its composer, Austrian keyboardist Joe Zawinul as "the greatest jazz composer to come out of Europe." Ulf Wakenius, for his part, ranks as one of the best jazz musicians to come out of Europe in the last thirty years, and this collaboration with his son Eric may mark the beginning of another exciting chapter in an illustrious career.
The Swiss are not generally known for manic behavior, but rising stars of the new jazz, Rusconi, will be remembered for a bit of communal, therapeutic screaming with a couple of thousand joining in, as much as for a refreshingly original, vibrant take on the piano trio format. After many years together, the trio are not exactly newcomers, but the overtly pop/rock rhythms and joyous disregard for jazz convention in It's a Sonic Life (Sony Music Entertainment, 2010)a tribute to rock band Sonic Youthserved to elevate their profile. Now, the trio is the latest hot thing, and as its show demonstrated, for good reason.
From left: Stefano Rusconi, Fabian Gisler
Sonic Youth's "Sunday" opened the show, with pianist Stefano Rusconi serving early notice of his notable virtuosity, as bassist Fabian Gisler and drummer Claudio Struby laid down a driving rhythm. Gisler's jazz-accented drum solo led into a sung verse and an abrupt ending. "Alice in the Sky" from the group's forthcoming self-produced CD, Revolution had a slightly dreamlike ambience in keeping with a song inspired by "Alice in Wonderland." Crying cymbals and deep, brooding bass marked the intro. A series of pegs damped the piano strings, creating a kora-like effect on the tune's simple melody. A distorted arco, and a drone similar to a monastic chant, added to the surreal ambience. In closing, Rusconi removed and discarded them one by one in a curious piece of theater.
The screaming match proved to be a lot of fun, as well as three minutes of the cheapest therapy imaginable. Rusconi doesn't take itself too seriously, for sure, but Sonic Youth's "Hits of Sunshine"with just a hint of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" about the bass riff and new tunes "Berlin Blues" and "Autumn in Moscow" provided plenty of evidence of serious musicianship. Rusconi's highly entertaining set showed that melody and groove can go hand-in-hand with virtuosity. What more could you ask for?