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12 Points 2014, Umea

Henning Bolte By

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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.

Conclusion

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