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12 Points 2018

Ian Patterson By

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A lengthy silence served as the intro to "The Party Is Over," the three musicians motionless as though locked in deep meditation. The audience too, seemed to hold its collective breath. A couple who entered the room at precisely this moment looked around at the stage and at the audience, a little disoriented by the sepulchral silence that greeted them. Dyberg broke the spell with a tender rumination of gentle melodic arc. Thomsen's grating, creaking arco response, was wildly abstract by comparison, inviting a searching percussive fusillade from Vestergaard. Dyberg closed the triangle with a measured improvisation, followed by tumultuous drum solo that provoked fiery answers from saxophonist and bassist.

As virtuosic as the solo improvisations were, the real excitement lay in the charged trio dialogues, like three rivers converging into a beautiful torrent. There was risk aplenty in Dyberg's original proposal, and handsome reward.

Steiger

Belgium trio Steiger are firmly planted in the modernist school of the piano trio, harnessing equal measures of jazz, electronics, avant-garde pop and experimental rock. For this 12 Points performance pianist Giles Vandecaveye, double bassist Cobe Boon and drummer Simon Raman presented music from #Locations (SDBan, 2018), a conceptual album that responds musically to the particular atmosphere of various sites—urban and rural.

Moaning bass arco and rattling cymbals of industrial intensity set off the backdrop of filmed-cum-animated visuals that were a constant companion to the music. Vandecaveye combined a simple melody on electric piano and undulating, church organ-like drone before pounding the piano keys with mechanical precision. The music went hand-in-hand with fractured images of a craftsperson working a hammer and anvil. Slightly trippy images of a church's interior was met with a drum solo, shimmering bowed bass and jangling piano, which, once in sync, swelled into an epic soundtrack.

From the urban to the rural, as images of a forest dappled in sunlight filled the screen. So many wires fed into Vandecaveye's prepared piano that it seemed as if on life-support, belying the simplicity of his minimalist elegy. Once more, vaguely religious organ provided the backdrop to Raman's quietly rumbling thunder. In Steiger's audio-visual concept there were suggestions of Philip Glass' musical response to Godfrey Reggio's film Koyaanisqatsi (1983), though with a more avant-garde twist.

The penultimate number stemmed from a striking melodic head before heading into dense polyrhythmic territory, the form gradually dissolving as stormy piano abstraction held forth. For the final piece, doomy minimalism—punctuated by stabbing chords of some gravitas—grew into a gothic-prog wall of sound. The minimalism returned in a brief, dark coda that was pure Hammer House of Horror. The audience showed its enthusiasm for Steiger's through-composed audio-visual project, which, for what it lacked in improvisational spirit, it compensated for with serious intent.

Kompost3

The second evening of 12 Points 2018 closed with a rollicking performance from Austrian quartet Kompost3. Trumpeter Martin Eberle's opening salute to The Sugar Club crowd mixed breathy exhalation, smooth-toned lyricism and blaring fanfare of wonderfully skewed logic. This avant-garde intro gave some indication of what was to follow, though did not prepare the audience for the range and power of the music that unfolded.

Benny Omerzell's spluttering keys, Lukas König's galloping drums and Manu Mayr's rumbling bass—that shook your entire body—suggested an experimental, not to say abstract, program lay ahead. However, Kompost3 was nothing if not unpredictable, and a head-bobbing War-esque funk groove soon evolved, with Eberle on slide trumpet droning hypnotically. Konig's drumming was central to the music's drive, and his heady workrate never abated as the music climbed and soared.

A new number offered lulling melodicism via a circling keys motif and Eberle's lilting trumpet, but it was the calm before the storm. First squalling trumpet and pounding drums forged a free-jazz pact. Then electronic groove, driving drums and ambient trumpet waves steered the band into space-funk ecstasy in an extended passage whose tremendous energy dissipated gradually. The final number began with an unusual percussive touch as Konig rolled balls on a round tin tray. A slow-burning ambient groove with a rock underbelly then took hold. Driving drum 'n' bass rhythms took over and an infectious electronic motif burrowed deep. Tight, trance beats followed before one final shift towards trumpet-led, drum-busy, bass-heavy groove.

Kompost3's high energy groove music drew from multiple sources; funk, trance, space-rock, free-jazz and electronica. This and much more was distilled into a heady, intoxicating feast—a kind of Bitches Brew for the twenty-first century.

Day Three

Jazz Futures I: Why Is Gender Still a Thing?

An important aspect of 12 Points, and perhaps increasingly so, are the panel discussions and debates that focus on major issues—or neglected issues—in the world of jazz/improvised music. Improvised Music Company, is committed to greater gender balance, as the launch of its BAN BAM festival/conference—all female-led bands—in December 2017 demonstrated. Here at 12 Points, with promotors, festival directors, venue managers, journalists, and most significantly musicians, from multiple countries participating, these open-ended discussions offer an all-too rare, pan-European perspective on the major questions that need addressing.

This year, the Jazz Futures program saw two round-table discussions on salient themes. The first, held on Friday morning in Dublin's National Concert Hall, put the spotlight on the gender imbalance in jazz. Chairperson Ros Rigby, the outgoing President of the Europe Jazz Network, and veteran concert programmer at Sage Gateshead, began by summarizing the history and core values of the Europe Jazz Network, whose one-hundred-and-thirty-five member organizations—across thirty five countries—are driven by love of the music, and increasingly, a commitment to promoting greater gender balance.

"There's already a lot of talk about this issue" said Rigby, "but I think there's a lot of work still to be done." One organization that has rolled up its sleeves, Rigby acknowledged, has been PRS for Music Foundation, which, through its Keychange program is campaigning for a 50-50 gender balance in performing acts at music festivals by 2022. Over a hundred festivals have signed up to this manifesto, rock, pop and jazz festivals alike, and notably the BBC Proms, specifically for its commissioning.

Whether or not a target is the right way to address gender imbalance, Rigby recognized, is a question open to debate, because it's much easier for a venue/promotor putting on ten or twenty gigs a year to achieve gender balance than it is for a venue/organization staging hundreds of performances annually. Most would agree, however, that the intent and the drive for change is more important than reaching a stipulated quota. Fifty-fifty quite clearly will not work immediately for ever venue or promotor.

With the fifty-fifty manifesto there is also a danger of festivals/clubs embracing tokenism, which would be a slap in the face to any female artist striving to forge a career on her own terms. It's pretty certain that almost no female artist would want to be on a stage because of her gender as opposed to her artistic strengths.

As Rigby noted, progress Europe-wide on the gender balance issue varies greatly, with some countries ahead of the game and others lagging far behind. This, incidentally, is one of the strengths of the Europe Jazz Network, to affect and accelerate change through its communal, democratic approach to initiating and implementing cultural practices.

In a wide-ranging, open discussion the delegates touched upon: the need to recognize one's own biases; addressing the image of jazz; the importance of role models, female and male; the essential role of education in breaking gender stereotypes regarding instrumentation.

Rigby projected some slides from the keychange website, and this quotation from Fernando Ladeiro-Marques of MaMA Festival & Convention stood out: "The major social transformation of the last hundred years, is the emancipation of women and their place in society. However, it is a revolution that is largely invisible, unfinished and struggling with multiple inertia. The new frontier of women's emancipation requires better reconciliation between family life and professional life of which the music industry is not exempt."

The challenges of balancing motherhood and a career, or indeed the stark choice between having children or committing 100% to a career as a professional musician was a subject that raised much discussion amongst the 12 Points delegates. Julie Campiche gave the example of how, having been invited to perform at the Ystad Jazz Festival in Sweden, she was amazed when the festival paid for another person to accompany Julie and her baby. Ystad Jazz Festival's progressive-minded act is an example to other festivals who are serious about gender balance. If such a policy were the norm, rather than the exception, female musicians might not have to make the choice between motherhood or a career at all.

Aisling O'Gorman, Music Programmer at The Ark—a wonderful children's cultural centre in Dublin—lent greater perspective to the issue when she said: "If we treat mothers separately to fathers we don't address the problem. Men also need support."

There is much to be done, as Rigby began the session by saying, and there is much that can be done. Just before the delegates left, IMC's Kenneth Killeen provided food for thought: "We're all influencers," he said, "and with influence comes responsibility."

Dowry Dowry, a.k.a. Éna Brennan, had the distinction of being the only solo performer at 12 Points 2018. A multi-instrumentalist and composer, Brennan has written choral music inspired by the work of W.B. Yeats, composed for small and large ensembles, including concertos for symphony and string orchestras, and collaborated with some of Ireland's most progressive contemporary musicians. The worlds of classical, folk and experimental music are all grist to her mill, as this performance in The Sugar Club, drawing from her CD In E demonstrated.

Loops, undulating drones and poetry were the staple of Brennan's music, which was, broadly speaking, meditative in nature. On the opening number Brennan layered dreamy guitar arpeggios and hazy echo effects, before switching to violin and sculpting orchestral melody of melancholic hue. Her spoken-word poetry delivered as a mantra imbued the whole with a powerful, dream-like quality. As the layers dissipated like morning mist, gently cantering pizzicato violin lines intertwined to create another launching pad for a waltzing violin motif, which was the backbone for a series of eddying melodies carried on see-sawing rhythms.

On the next tune, gently lilting violin melodies dovetailed in airy alliance, tantalizingly adrift between the folkloric and classical realms. Trilling flute like lapping waves, and a softly voiced poem gradually took over, fading out on a lullaby-esque repeated line. Even in the folds of the music's densest layers, an essential minimalism prevailed. On one track, characterized by a strong violin line over a shimmering rhythmic foundation the footprints of Steve Reich and Philip Glass could be discerned in Brennan's approach.

Yet for all the primordial elements in Brennan's music—the embrace of simple melodies and pulses that chimed with the body's inner rhythms—her performance, like all the others at 12 Points 2018, relied on technology to conjure her ethereal soundscapes. This was momentarily harshly underlined when Brennan at one point accidentally hit the wrong pedal, shutting everything off to jarring effect. It was a small blip, however, on an otherwise engaging performance that was lulling and uplifting in turn.

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