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12 Points 2014, Umea

Henning Bolte By

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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.

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