Barry Guy New Orchestra: Krakow, Poland, November 20-23, 2012
Eventually the BGNO took to the stage. Guy stood at the front, back to the audience ready to conduct the band, seated behind their music stands. Guy introduced the first piece, "Amphi," as a chamber work featuring Maya Homburger's baroque violin in various sub-groupings of the band, and that's exactly how it sounded. Homburger led off, and brought in Robertson, Bauer, Strid and Watts for the first of a series of overlapping sections, which progressed both with and without her violin. The nearest comparator was some of Guy's contemporary music for himself and Homburger, such as Ceremony (ECM, 1999).
Rarely did the full Orchestra play together. A greater variance with the small group sessions at Alchemia was hard to imagine than this piece, which was very austere and corralled the passionate intimate group interaction into a coolly abstract setting, which felt like it needed repeated listenings to fully appreciate. At one point, Robertson nonetheless provided a link to the jazz tradition, his excitable exclamations on muted trumpet evoking Bubber Miley with pianist Duke Ellington's Orchestra. The piece ended literally on a high note, with Homburger bowing at the furthest extreme in tandem with Lytton extracting similar bat bothering sounds from a scraped cymbal.
Two pieces comprised the second half of the performance. The first, Parker's "Bostune 2," featured fellow Englishman Watts on alto saxophone. After a soft-droning hors d'oeuvre from Holmlander, Watts emerged from the colloquy, pitching his insistent fiery narrative against Koch's split tones on bass clarinet. Like a forlorn soul wandering in a hostile wilderness of bristling horns, Watts' overblown alto carried the heft of a tenor in a restless uneasy meditation. Next up was the leader's "Radio Rondo," previously documented by the London Jazz Composers Orchestra with Swiss pianist Irene Schweizer as the featured soloist, on the eponymous 2010 Intakt album, but here reconfigured for the slightly reduced circumstances, with Fernandez in the leading role. Behind the title lay the idea that the guys in the band had been traveling around the world since the last concert and their music had been circulating on the airwaves. That concept informed a tremendous opening collective which erupted from nothing, as if a radio was turned on to find the band in mid expression. Thereafter, a series of quick fire smaller groupings surfaced between orchestral blasts, making yet another distinction by way of volume and participation, this time with the austerity of the first BGNO piece. A melodic section was followed by a joyous duet for muted trumpet and trombone, inaugurating a series of syncopated phrases from paired horns which fizzed around the stage.
Guy alternated between conduction and adding bass parts, even playing with one hand on the fingerboard and the other directing crescendos. At one point, Fernandez stepped out from behind the piano to take on conduction duties as Guy hit a heavy groove, bowing darkly under the massing orchestra. At the end, the bassist sawed high and the orchestra repeatedly threatened to percolate up to a terminal roar but then, with pummeling drums and piano, Guy unleashed them for the ultimate all-out assault until his arm came down and they stopped on a dime, as if an off switch had been turned. It was a superlative conclusion not only to the evening but to the whole marvelous four days. A barrage of applause from the enraptured audience ensured that after the curtain calls and the presentation of flowers, Guy and Parker returned for a brief mercurial duet, wonderful in its fleetness and responsiveness.
Word on the street is that discussions are underway to schedule a similar residency for the BGNO in London at Café Oto, in 2014. That would be something to look forward to. Meanwhile, ambitious plans are also afoot for the next Krakow Jazz Autumn. Director Marek Winiarski is looking at similar extended stays for Ken Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble, investigating the possibility of a large project led by Mats Gustafsson, and Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii's European Orchestra. If even onelet alone allof these possibilities come off, then jazz fans will be flocking to Krakow next fall.
Guy/Parker/Lytton and Tarfala Trio Photos: Andy Newcombe
All Other Photos: John Sharpe