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12 Points 2018

Ian Patterson By

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It’s a beautiful thing when a festival can influence and inspire people into creating music —Andre Silva, guitarist with The Rite of Trio
12 Points 2018
The Sugar Club
Dublin, Ireland
September 5-8, 2018

Returning to its spiritual home of Dublin after back-to-back editions in San Sebastian and Aarhus, 12 Points 2018 marks one of the highpoints of the Irish musical year. Its appeal lies not just in the fact that it brings together twelve bands from twelve countries, after all, many festivals can boats similar geographical reach, but rather in its spirit of adventurous.

From over five hundred bands/artists that applied, the twelve selected to perform on The Sugar Club's stage offered an incredibly diverse cross-section of contemporary European music. A lot of the music was too one-of-a-kind to hang a label on, and it's this cutting edge character that broadly defines the 12 Points ethos.

Jazz/improvisation was the dominant common denominator over the four nights, but if the Improvised Music Company's flagship, award-winning festival purveys one clear message above all others, is that's today's contemporary jazz musicians draw their inspiration from myriad sources.

Nor is just a question of ever-evolving styles and the expanding vocabulary that comes almost naturally with each passing decade of jazz—if it even makes any sense to mark the changes in jazz in such units of measurement—but rather it's about an openness to all musical inspiration, and not least, technological innovations. Music in short, without borders.

It's no coincidence, perhaps, that the audience for 12 Points, this year as in others, was markedly younger and more gender-balanced than many more mainstream jazz festivals/concerts. Could it be that inclusivity and diversity in the programming effects the make-up of the audience?

The question of inclusivity in jazz, specifically the gender imbalance that generally persists on stages and in audiences, was the topic of a round table discussion held in the National Concert Hall. This was part of the Jazz Futures s essions, which also saw an equally thought-provoking session on music ecology and economy in a fast-changing consumer environment. The changing value of recorded music, its ever-easier accessibility and diffusion means that musicians today are dealing with a dramatically different landscape compared to, say, one or two decades ago.

The Jazz Futures sessions included valuable contributions from participating musicians, whose perspectives on issues of gender and jazz ecology/economy provided food for thought for the promotors, venue managers, festival directors, record label owners and journalists also in attendance.

Nightly jam sessions in the East Side Tavern, where everybody could let their hair down, provided a lively environment in which to socialize and network more informally. Three bands, Parallel Society, Sisacunda Collective and Ro'Shambo took the music into the wee hour with open jam sessions. All in all, it added up to four days of provocative and stimulating music, debate and, this being Dublin, good craic to boot.

Day One

Julie Campiche Quartet

It can't have been easy for Swiss harpist Julie Campiche's quartet to still be sound-checking with the audience filing into The Sugar Club, with its opening slot just twenty minutes away. In fact, Campiche took the microphone and very politely asked the chattering audience to hush a little while they finished the fine-tuning. Campiche took it all in her stride and already had the audience on her side when she led the quartet back out on stage a short while later.

It's safe to say that the harp is more firmly embedded in Irish national identity—this ancient heraldic emblem adorns pint glasses after all—than it is in jazz culture. Camiche's approach to the instrument was highly personal, eschewing the fiery bop language of the extraordinary harpist Edmar Castaneda, for example, in favour of more subtle narratives. On the opening number, "Peter Where Are You?," a chamber jazz aesthetic prevailed, with Manu Hagmann's bass arco, Camiche's left-hand bass ostinato and saxophonist Leo Fumagalli's gentle billowing riding Clemens Kuratle's unwavering rhythms. Camiche employed electronic effects to woozy effect, but never really tore loose on either strings or knobs, instead inhabiting a suggestive middle ground.

"Onakalo," an ecologically-inspired piece on the seeds we sew, takes its name from the world's first spent nuclear fuel repository in Finland. With just saxophone mouthpiece and microphone, Fumagalli conjured eerie soundscapes, sympathetically supported by brooding bass arco, crying cymbals and Camiche's edgy string scratchings. Kuratle's brushes lent rhythmic impetus, while Fumgalli's pedal-altered saxophone conjured keening textures. Against a constant drum and bass groove, Camiche improvised for an extended period, her unflashy approach favouring measured exploration over virtuoso display.

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