Take Five Europe: January 28-February 2, 2013
This year's group was certainly a diverse one, but coming in partway through the fourth day of the program, it was clear just how well this group was working together, dropping baggage off in the accommodation building and moving straight to the barn, where they were working their way through French saxophonist Guillaume Perret's buoyant, second line-driven "2000 XIII."
Along with Perretwhose Tzadik debut, Guillaume Perret & The Electric Epic (2012), is an electrifying, groove-laden album that spotlights his expansive electronic experimentationthe other participants in Take Five Europe's second edition were:
From England: guitarist Chris Sharkey, a member of the Anglo-Norwegian group The Geordie Approach and the sadly now-defunct TrioVD, whose Maze (Naim Edge) was released in 2012; and Arun Ghosh, a clarinetist whose most recent recording, Primal Odyssey (Camoci, 2011), has been similarly well-received.
From Norway: bassist Per Zanussi, whose Zanussi Five is approaching its tenth anniversary, and whose expanded Zanussi Thirteen can be heard on the recent Live (Moserobie, 2012); and tubaist Daniel Herskedal, whose duo recording with saxophonist Marius Neset, Neck of the Woods (Edition, 2012), challenges all preconceptions about his seemingly unwieldy (but, in Herskedal's hands, often stunningly beautiful) instrument.
From The Netherlands: Argentinean expat Marcos Baggiani, a busy drummer whose 2010 dOeK Festival performance with The Ambush Party set an early high bar for the entire evening at Amsterdam's Bimhuis; and saxophonist/clarinetist David Kweksilber, whose experience ranges from intimate duo recordings with pianist Guus Janssen to his own freewheeling David Kweksilber Big Band, which opened Dutch Jazz & World Meeting 2012 in Amsterdam last October;
From Poland: trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz, whose Hadrons (Ars Cameralis, 2011) is a dark album that marries form and freedom; and keyboardist Marcin Masecki, another player as comfortable in the world of contemporary classical composition as he is more freely improvised terrain;
And, from France: in addition to Perret, trumpeter Airelle Besson, whose lyrical duet work with guitarist Nelson Veras is only one aspect of her broader purview, and whose compositional contribution to Take Five Europe, "Estudio Trabajo y Fusile" was a particularly lovely and melancholy piece of writing.
What became quickly apparent was just how different each of these players was; some came to the table with lengthy scores; others came with the barest of sketches; and some came with virtually nothing at all but a handful of ideas to be articulated. But in every case these young musicians had a clear vision of what their music was, and directed their peers with confidence and clarity. Surman's role ranged from band memberoffering the kinds of suggestions that, from a seasoned player, helped these younger players not just explain what they wanted from the group, but actually get itto relatively passive bystander, largely letting the players work things out for themselves and only stepping in when truly necessary. Sometimes the best leadership is to simply be there, with a presence that provides focus without the use of a heavy hand, and Surmanamiable, enthusiastic and supportivewas the perfect choice to oversee the musical aspect of Take Five Europe.
That said, Surman, McClusker, Ollerenshaw and Take Five Europe chairperson Anna Umbima ran a tight ship. These were long days, with work starting at 9:00am but often extending well into the late evening and early morning. Sleep was largely a luxury, and by the end of the week people were beginning to get a little tired, something perhaps a tad evident in the Saturday morning run-through of the repertoireabsolutely well-played and, given how quickly this group had to come together and work in contexts that were often well outside their comfort zones, still quite remarkablebut with a little less energy, at times, than during the rehearsals. Still, the engagement of the participants, the guest speakers and the team running the program was so constant, and in many ways so constantly exciting and energizing, that everyone managed to transcend a little bit of fatigue.
That there was a certain amount of levity, despite the serious work at hand, also made the more difficult aspects of Take Five Europe work for the musicians. The afternoons were the toughest, as the various invitees discussed aspects of the business side of being a musician. How prepared the musicians were to face these harder realities varied significantly and was quickly reflected by asking a simple question: how many had active Facebook pages? Over the course of these final three days, the musicians participated in activities including short sessions to assess their biographies, websites and press sheets and, on the final evening, "The Dragon's Den," where five pairs entered had to pitch their project ideas to Turkiewicz, Otnæs and Pickering (playing fictitious funding sources), in the hopes of obtaining financial support. It was clear that the comfort levels at doing presentations varied significantlysomething made more difficult, at times, because of language barriersbut every group delivered a strong (and, oftentimes, humorous) presentation that made clear just how much they'd learned over the course of the week.
Before everyone departed for home on Saturday, February 2, in addition to the complete performance of all ten compositions, Umbima held a session dedicated to reflecting on the week's activities. To further cement the practical nature of Take Five Europe, each musician was asked to come up with five action items to help move their career forward. And this was not simply theory; these action items were given to Ollerenshaw, and they will ultimately be followed up to find out just how well the artists are coming along in actually implementing these action plans.
Beyond the chance to play the music as a full set, where the musicians were able to display the fruits of their labor, there was still instruction to be had. The musicians had to introduce their composition to the small audience in attendance, bringing in the aspect of performance, and there was definitely a clock ticking. These pieces, after all, will be performed live at a number of festivals later in the year, where there's often little flexibility to the time allotted for each show, so considerations such as set list sequence and lengthof both the performances themselves and the time spent between themwere some of the final lessons to be learned as Take Five Europe came to a close.
As vans were filled with musicians and other participants heading for London and Heathrow Airport, what was also clear was that it was not just the musicians who had benefited and established new relationships; everyone who participated in Take Five Europe had broadened their network, whether they were there for a day, a couple of days, or the whole week. And they were all richer for the experience.
All Photos: John Kelman