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12 Points 2014, Umea


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12 Points 2014
Umeå, Sweden
April 10-12, 2014

Umeå, 400 miles north of Stockholm at the Ume river and near the gulf of Bothnia, is the capital of Västerbotten County. The city is located on the plain coastal strip, with an enormous wide horizon on all sides, and everything in the city is within easy reach. The municipality, with about 117,000 inhabitants, is an important traffic junction for the northern region of Norrland, as well as the area's educational, cultural and medical center. Its population has the lowest average age of any city in Sweden.

Capital of Culture

The city's lively creative scene has resulted in its being selected as the 2014 European Capital of Culture together with Riga, the capital of Lithuania. Frederik Lindegren, the festival's young artistic director, set up a creative—and successful—campaign with an impressive, attractive program, related to the Sami people's eight seasons of the year. 12 Points 2014 is one of the numerous festival activities to take place throughout the year. It was hosted by the local opera house NO!, Norrlandsoperan, whose director, Marco Feklistoff, together with Lennart Strömbäck—also the artistic director of the well-known annual Umeå Jazz Festival and board member of the European Jazz Network (EJN)—made it work in close cooperation with Gerry Godley, of the Dublin-based Improvised Music Company— originator (and original home) of 12 Points.

Umeå has a rich musical culture with, amongst others, Meshuggah— one of the most world famous Swedish metal bands—originating from the city. More recently, the rock band Refused has made a big name worldwide, releasing The Shape Of Punk To Come, A Chimerical Bombination In 12 Bursts (Burning Heart, 1998), creatively alluding to Ornette Coleman's legendary The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959). And where in the world you can find a big museum solely dedicated to the electric guitar?

In February of this year a dream came true for the Åhdén twins, two passionate instrument collectors from Umeå. In a huge old school building next to the opera house, their unique collection of priceless, rare and beautiful electric guitars have found a permanent home in a real museum —a new meeting place in town for musicians and audiences with, besides the museum, several stages, a bar, a restaurant and a musical instrument store.

The seeds were laid a long time ago. That the European Capital of Culture came into being in Umeå—and 12 Points as part of it—is, amongst others, the consequence of the unifying concept of the "K" society propagated by Swedish economist Åke E. Andersson 25 years ago: "kunskap, kreativitet, kultur, kommunikation" (knowledge, creativity, culture, communication). Culture, as one of the most powerful forces for growth and development, enforces self- consciousness contrary to populism, which is the manifestation of a lack of self- consciousness and (aggressive) fear, discomfort and uncertainty.

There is a firm belief to which people stick in Umeå, and from which they do not hide or run away: what makes things flourish. This is contrary to moods in other parts of Europe: "When taxpayers' money funds culture it sometimes provokes strong feelings. But Umeå's politicians need 'ice in their blood' to stand firm against populist and anti-culture sentiments, and combine this resolve with the collective will of the municipality's residents to keep the public free from the suggestion of xenophobia or racism," said Leif Larsson, journalist and former culture editor at Västerbottens-Kuriren.

12 Points

12 Points 2014 fell into Gijrradálvvie seizoen—literally "springwinter" or early spring/late winter. The Umeå festival year is divided into the seasonal division of the Sami, the indigenous people of the area whose calendar year is a way of recording the shifting changes of the seasons. You have the names of the four seasons and then compositions of names for the transitions: gijrra, which is spring, and dálvvie, which is winter.

The 12 Points Festival, running it's eighth edition this year, is the creation of Improvised Music Company's Gerry Godley. The 12 groups of this year's edition came from all over Europe: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, the UK and Ireland. 12 Points presented a colorful palette of musical approaches and combinations— the sounds of young, up-and-coming musicians in the jazz field.

Godley is not only the driving force and inspiring source behind 12 Points; he is the storytelling frontman of the festival in action, too. He knows that music always comes from a place: physically, mentally and in the imagination. He also knows that music happens in places, and that music is embedded in stories. And that is what he conjured up, going on to spin the thread again and again during his introductions to the performers, thereby making use of the central image of the poem "Digging," by his compatriot Seamus Heaney. Three days of digging. Three days of young up-and-coming artists' new musical inventions, assemblages and outbursts.

First Night

The first night presented two female lead constellations: Swedish saxophonist Elin Larsson's group and Norwegian bassist/vocalist Ellen Wang's Pixel. It opened with the heavily armed Swiss threesome Schnellertollermeier, a contraction of the musician's name meaning fast and gorgeous Myer.

Elin Larsson is a high-intensity, fully firing saxophonist, which became apparent and carried her group's hymn-like pieces. Her playing had an almost animal-like quality, the compositions winding along an elongated arch to reach a climax of intensity. Intricately built, with open textures and to-the-point soloing, the group came across as a tight unit excelling in loose execution. The frontline interaction between leader Larsson and trombonist Kristian Persson made the group's sound shine brightly.

Pixel—which is front-woman Wang, trumpeter Jonas Vemoy and saxophonist Harald Lassen plus Jon Baar's propulsive and sophisticated drumming- -brought strong repetitive rhythmical patterns to launch Wang's short, shouted out vocal lines . The actively moving foursome circled around the catchy riffs which have become their trademark. They could have been shooting rubber bands at the stars but stayed, instead, on their own firm ground, hinting at the sky. Pixel delivered a visually attractive and radio friendly performance.

The very first act of the night was the fast and gorgeous Myer, Schnellertollermeier or STM, from Lucerne, Switzerland. STM had, earlier that day, made a pre-start at Umeå university. Guitarist Andi Schnellmann, electric bass guitarist Manuel Troller and drummer David Meier brought music full of deep in- the-moment interaction, rhythmic complexity and stunning about-turns. The three musicians of STM, who are in full development, gradually built up heavily culminating stretches, moving with an ebb and flow but also like squalls, with their sudden turnabouts. They were able to go from serene hush to violent storm, from innocent tinkle or lullaby to high speed metal in convincing and touching ways. They worked their way through "Moonchild," "White-Room" and "Albatros" modes, impressing with deeply into and out-of-moment dynamics, only to go further than where other noise groups have become stuck. They were the music they played and they nailed it, always pushing the envelope.

Second Night

The second night offered, once again, two female-led constellations— French Five38 and Danish Foyn Trio—and another non-hierarchical threesome from the vibrant music scene in Ghent, Belgium.

Five38, the opening act, was 43 strings, four female hands and a lot pedals and tools to extend the sounds of acoustic bass guitar and a harp, all executed by Fanny Lafargue (Marseille) and Rafaelle Rinaudo (Paris). They went on a journey along etheric layers, as well as heavily bouncing, clinking and rumbling punches (in The Ex mode) melding into a visceral soundscape. During its performance the duo demonstrated a certain insecure shyness that intensified the mystery of it and strongly fed the expectation that there was something more promising behind it.

The drum-less Foyn Trio followed. Headed by vocalist Live Foyn Friis, the group geared into more mellow, voice-loaded territories. Together with bassist Jens Mikkel Madsen and guitarist Alex Jønsson Friis carved idiosyncratic contours and modulations as well as more straight-ahead singer- songwriter beauties. She employed idiosyncratic figures and modulations, as well as more straight-ahead singer-songwriter beauties. Together the Foyn Trio carved a signature of its own and wove flowery textures, ending its performance with a courageous a cappella fade-out.

The LAB trio—which is drummer Lander Gyselinck, bassist Anneleen Boehme and pianist Bram de Looze, then took off to a new shore of trioism, inducing a jaw-dropping, high level of musical experience through their miraculous interplay of characteristics including an amazing, mutual musical sensibility and agility, deep in-the-moment playing and delicate as well as thrilling timing, effortless execution and the sheer joy of performing. It all led to a great sound and gripping, infectious dynamics that rose, unfettered, to the apogee of the night. The trio started wonderfully in a mode like The Necks to get into and build up its sound. From there the music turned into a daring delivery of the Twin Peaks theme, which bore out pure magic. In its playing independence and interdependence, the trio handled itself in a musically impressive way. Full of thrilling suspense it managed to play subdued music with lots of hypodermic tingling and swirling. With great patience and care LAB went—tongue in cheek— through a magnificent blues shuffle and ended up with an equally airy as salty hip hop beat.

Last Day

Day three, the last day, had the busiest concert schedule with six performances in two rounds. In the first round a piano solo, a trio and a quartet; the second featuring a piano solo, too, along with a quartet and a quintet. There was a full string quartet from Vienna (Violet Spin), a rhythm trio (Herd) from Finland, a strongly rock-inflected multi- instrumentalist group (Alarmist) from Dublin, and a return of horns in the Dutch group MSR-JME, from Amsterdam. Concerning solo piano manifestations 12 points could rely upon and fall back upon a carefully built tradition from over the years: Dimitar Bodurov (2004), Aki Rissanen (2009), Livio Minafra (2012) and Nikolas Anadolis (2013).

Pianist Alexander Hawkins opened the last day. He is one of the fastest-rising stars of the UK jazz scene, integrating different realms and traits of jazz history and classical heritage on a new, creative scale. He has developed his very own, highly sophisticated and heterogeneous ways of abstracting from, morphing into and projecting onto historical styles and key works of predecessors, while spontaneously creating his own coherent lines. The resulting music resembled the faintly legible older inscriptions shining through in a palimpsest, or hinted, in a wondrous way, at some strong characteristics of certain predecessors. Hawkins delivered a wonderfully crafted set of great clarity, cohesiveness and rich dynamics, permeated by mainly wonderful Ellingtonia. It was intriguing how, via which routes and passages these connections surfaced, shone through or reverberated as a shadow structure. Hawkins' performance was distinguished by the coexistence of the tension of instant creation and clear shape.

It was quite a transition to the lighter mode of the Finish rhythm trio Herd, featuring vibraphonist Panu Savolainen, bassist Miko Pellinen and drummer Tuomas Timonen. Herd's music was an expression of credible and solid craftsmanship, with catchy melodies, subtle gradations and shadings along heaving lines including a touching rendition of a classical "Nordic Hymn" from its home country. Airy music in a good sense, at its best.

String quartets are not new for 12 Points. Vienna's Violet Spin, concluding the first round on Saturday, had two forerunners in the history of the festival: Austria's Radio.String.Quartet.Vienna (2008) and the Netherlands' Zapp String Quartet (2009).

The four string players of Violet Spin—Irene Kepl and Paul Dangl (violin), Magdalena Zenz (viola) and Fabian Jäger (violoncello)—have been engaged in the field of classical composition, free improvisation, cabaret songs, hot club manouche, film music, jazz, world music and pop. In accordance with that the quartet presented a richly varied and still coherent program comprising gypsy- derived and hot club-based pieces; a suite on Krtek, the mole (after Zdenêk Miller's Czech cartoons); "Grey," a wonderfully imaginative tone poem on urban industrial smog emulating arduous breathing; in other words, something for everyone. The members used their singing voices without fuss and evidently vividness, spontaneity and agility apparently was more important for this quartet than a polished sound.

In contrast to Alexander Hawkins, the genre-defying pianist, conductor and composer Marcin Masecki, in the second round, travelled along a different route in a different mode of (de)constructing. His performance had a kind of under-the-looking-glass character. The act of making music and Masecki's inherent decision-making could be seen, including doubts and the ambiguities of certain actions taken. This inside-outside switching lent a new significance to the Scarlatti-fragments he was executing—or, as Masecki put it himself, he was "exe/orcising." He was not just improvising on and naively embellishing Scarlatti's scores; the pianist de- and reframed usual performance- routines, as Uri Caine has done previously, but in a different way. It resulted in a puzzling, at times breathtaking and enthralling performance throughout.

Dublin's Alarmist caused surprise, not only by its special line-up but also by its sounding, from the first moment, like a marriage of '60s bands the Easy Beats, the Mothers of Invention and an Irish marching band, reinforced by the lingering of strange, dreamy breaks. The band had a frontline of two guitarists operating keyboards at the same time (Elis Czerniak and Barry O'Halpin), while at both flanks a drummer (Osgar Dukes), and one who alternated between drums and keyboard (Neil Crowley). In its music, the band combined meticulous structuring, rich orchestration and steadily driving rock beats. It has found its very own format, a bit subdued but, throughout, cleverly calculated and assembled. An inspiring odd man out, with a lot of jazz affinities and possibilities.

The final performance was up to a young fivesome from Amsterdam headed by guitarist Reinier Baas. As may be evident from the group's name and its album titles (like Smooth Jazz Apocalypse), Baas has a penchant for—often polar—oversized superlative expressions of a parodical load. MSR-JME is neither a disease nor a medicine but, instead, is the abbreviation of the group's name: The More Socially Relevant Jazz Music Ensemble.

The group has a remarkable lineup doubling alto saxophones (Ben van Gelder and Maarten Hogenhuis) in combination with electric guitar and bass (Sean Fasciani) and drums (Mark Schilders). Striking up in high flying, propelling mode, Baas opened up a wider horizon which was colored by dense (van Gelder) and fiery (Hogenhuis) soloing on the horns, as well as soaring and inventive guitar excursions. The two different horn attacks and sounds merged beautifully; also, van Gelder very often underpinned the guitar solos effectively and with beauty. Baas adopted an approach that allowed the injection of new propulsive energies to expand harmonically and open up new layers and circulations within a traditional framework of ensemble interplay and soloing. It appeared a consequence—as well as a creative step—of solid ground contrasting with, for example, approaches utilizing overlapping rhythmic cycles.

Context, perspectives

During 12 Points editions, Jazz Futures seminars have been held, with an older, experienced musician acting as mentor-in-residence. This year's mentor was Swedish reed multi-instrumentalist Jonas Knutsson, born in Umeå but now living in Stockholm. Starting as a jazz player he dug into Swedish folk traditions early, working as well as recording with the likes of Lena Willemark and Ale Möller in bands and other projects. He performed with his folk music trio of keyboardist Mats Öberg and folksinger/trumpeter Lisa Lestander folk music from the area and led the nightly jams at Umeå Guitar Museum. He shared his experiences of building a professional career, his experiences and attitudes of working in various genres and the relationship of career- building and the pleasures of making music for the joy of ordinary people (and young kids). He especially focused on his digging into deeply rooted folk forms as part of our collective memory and ways of comprehending and putting them into an urbanized environment.

The first day's seminar focused on the Swedish situation of jazz and the development of a once highly popular genre in relationship to indigenous musical traditions and virtues. The second day's seminar went into educational philosophies and the issue of instigating performance-related individual musical development in institutional contexts. Here, the gap between advanced artistic expression and increasingly leveled-out media filtered transmittance of art forms came into discussion, as well as the issue of finding and gaining a position of one's own in an ever-rapidly changing field. This shed sharp light on the question of how to make productive the tension or gap between juvenile confidence, carefree energy and fresh creativity on one side, and the receptiveness and support in the reality of the working field on the other.


It's a challenge to watch these young, so-called unknown musicians and write about their performances. It's essential to be alert and careful not to bury the performances under misguiding expectations or mistaken standards. It is important to strive to be true to the musical core and heart when relating the music to past, future and other contexts.

Undoubtedly, creative innovation could be detected and discerned in the variety of approaches. There were also different solutions bringing together originality, brilliance, virtuosity and forcefulness of impact, depending on the personalities and sociocultural backgrounds of the musicians. Every group and every singular musician presented its/her/his state of progress regarding these interrelated elements. Considering all the performances, it turns out that the quality of dynamics as a complex, accumulated entity can be regarded as a key factor with respect to effect and impression.

Or, as Gerry Godley put it in a first reaction: "What I do feel is the connectedness and interdependence of these performances, that they are all linked together—each one informed and framed by the ones that come before and after." Regarding that point of view, "it feels that, in the hands of these artists we heard, stylistic hierarchies are breaking down, different ways of expression can coexist, and what matters is that the music is vital and authentic."

An important issue here is what and how to share things with these musicians in terms of experience, insight and wishes. In the field of jazz it seems it seems possible, to a high degree but with some caveats. It is important to be open about one's own point of view, and with such an age gap it is not possible to really fully share the perceptions and perspectives that can turn out to be the most productive thing.

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