2012 Umea Jazz Festival: Umea, Sweden, October 24-28, 2012
Winner of the 2010 Young Nordic Jazz Comets, singer Isabel Sörling and her group-trumpeter Kim Aksnes, saxophonist Otis Sandsjö, pianist Henrik Magnusson, bassist Alfred Lorinius and drummer Carl-Johan Groth-delivered an early evening set that will surely go down as one of Umeå 2012's best shows. This group of young musicians from Gothenburg-selected to participate in the 12 Points Festival that has, for the past five years, brought attention to 12 young groups from 12 countries-drew heavily from Sörling's first album, Farve (Self Produced, 2012) from earlier this year, though the improv quotient was high and the stylistic purview broad.
In some ways, there were hints of '70s Rock in Opposition band Henry Cow in the way Farvel blended contemporary classical concerns with unconfined freedom, and the occasional rock edge. Sandsjö was a fountain of energy, blending extended techniques with flat-out skronking, while Aksnes was a more refined foil. Magnusson demonstrated remarkable restraint for a pianist so young, while Lorinius and Groth created a rhythm team with open ears, a firm sense of grounding and an ability to shift gears at the drop of a hat.
But as strong as the group was, all eyes, for the most part, were on Sörling, a singer capable of Björk-like sweetness one moment, strange ululations another, and high, piercing screeches the next. While the majority of her lyrics were in Swedish, the occasional English prose reflected at least some of the emotional space in which the singer lived:
once so small
child of god
saw it all
went so wrong
Not exactly uplifting lyrics, but Sörling and Farvel's performance-in turns spare and minimal, elsewhere harsh and aggressive-was but one sign of a vital Swedish scene that, alongside more established names, is clearly being reinvigorated by open-minded and far-reaching younger artists,
Though he's been busy in recent years playing with people like Dutch guitarist Marnix Busstra on Twelve Pieces (NYC, 2009) and Trinary Motion: Live in Europe (NYC, 2010), with Charlie Mariano on the late saxophonist's final recording, Crescent (NYC, 2010), and a reformed L'Image on 2.0 (NYC, 2010), vibraphonist Mike Mainieri has never forgotten the experiences in Norway that resulted in one of his finest recordings to date, Northern Lights (NYC, 2006).
Ever since his 2010 All About Jazz interview, Mainieri has been looking to reunite the group that made Northern Lights, though lining up a tour with players who, leaders all, have their own busy schedules, was no small task. Still, he finally managed to do it for a short European tour that brought him to Umeå with two players from the original recording- pianist/electronic manipulator Bugge Wesseltoft and saxophonist Bendik Hofseth-along with two new and well-known collaborators: double bassist Arild Andersen, one of the original "big five" that came to light in the early '70s on a series of now-classic recordings for ECM; and drummer Audun Kleive, a member of guitarist (and another one of the "big five") Terje Rypdal's Chasers band, as well as recent work with trumpeter's Arve Henriksen and Mathias Eick, not to mention two new releases of his own-Attack, with his Generator X band, and the solo Release (both Self Produced, 2012)
The quintet's set ranged from smoldering to flat-out smoking. With a few dates already under its collective belt, the group was absolutely in the pocket, with Andersen's deep, visceral lines aligning completely in the pocket with Kleive. Looking like a man 20 years his junior (it's almost impossible to believe he's 75), but playing like someone who has grown up through much of the history of jazz, Mainieri played like someone with nothing to prove but plenty to show.
Wesseltoft, whose Songs (Jazzland, 2012) proved it's possible to play in the tradition even if that tradition is foreign, was as delicate yet playful as ever, with plenty of eye contact between the pianist, Andersen (whose irrepressible smiles revealed another player with no shortage of mischief) and Kleive. Hofseth, an alum of Mainieri's longstanding Steps Ahead group, is a somewhat underrated player who still has plenty of cred, in particular for his work with Andersen and fellow Nord, pianist Ketil Bjørnstad. Like his bandmates, Hofseth moved from gentle lyricism to fiery energy, oftentimes within the confines of a single solo.
In a set being recorded for radio broadcast, Mainieri included some material from the album, in particular a softly grooving version of the jazz standard, "Nature Boy" (with an opening electronic salvo from Wesseltoft that culminated in a climax of iPad-driven sonics) and a brighter version of the album's original, "Vertigo." The set also featured a contemporary rework of the Indian traditional song, "Kannada," that first appeared on Twelve Pieces, as well as "R is for Riddle," which Mainieri introduced as a twelve-tone row.
One of the disadvantages of a festival like Umeå-not unlike North Sea Jazz (albeit on a smaller scale), with attendees purchasing day passes that allow them to attend all the shows in the various performance spaces in the UFH venue-is that people regularly come and go from performances, looking to catch bits of everything. What they miss, by doing so, is the arc of a great set. Mainieri-as inventive a player as ever, and a name that deserves to be spoken in the same breath as mallet players like Joe Locke, Gary Burton, Bobby Hutcherson and Stefon Harris-delivered a set that, beyond individual highlights (and there were many), was even more captivating when taken as a whole. It was a shame that so many people chose to move on during the set, as they missed out on a performance where the whole was truly greater than the sum of its parts.