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12 Points 2018

Ian Patterson By

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Making a return to 12 Points following his appearance as part of Laura Jurd's Quintet in 2015, pianist Elliot Galvin has established himself as a leader in own right, as three critically-acclaimed albums have proven. This performance showcased music from The Influencing Machine (Edition Records, 2018) , Galvin's most progressive album to date, and featured bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Jay Davis.

From the striking opener, "New Model Army" Galvin demonstrated the invention and wit that has marked him out as one the most arresting performers of his generation. When applause begun to flare up Galvin effectively smothered it with an outrageous percussive attack on the keys that was more MMA than jazz. The terrifically bouyant groove of "Red and Yellow" framed a light, dancing solo from the pianist, who then handed the baton to the impressive Davis while maintaining a rockish vamp.

A quickly shredded sheet of A4 supplied the material to dampen the piano strings for the baroque-tinged intro "Bees, Dogs and Flies"—an arresting mixture of stately procession and sly, improvisational probing. A rewired child's toy served as a musical sampling tool for Galvin on the intro to "Planet Ping Pong." McCredie, on guitar, plied an African-sounding motif before returning to bass guitar, falling into the groove on this rhythmically dynamic, extended vamp-cum-piano variations. Whether pounding out tight, rhythmically shifting riffs or soloing with courageous abandon, Galvin's playing was never less than engrossing. The piano owners may have been less enamored of Galvin's repeated slamming of the piano lid against the body like a cheap clapper, but it was, for the audience at least, a rush to behold.

This was, above all, an impressive trio performance, the guile and intuitive craft of McCredie and Davis providing the scaffolding on which Galvin constructed his wildly imaginative musical edifices. The run-in saw Galvin draw psychedelic sounds from a plastic, toy guitar before unleashing an avalanche of chiming piano chords, like a bell-ringer gone mad. Thereafter, a collective calm descended, punctuated by spare piano notes, wispy guitar and unanswered bird-call. It was a curiously low-key, eccentric ending to an energized, trio performance that for its invention and refreshing wit provided an absolute highlight of 12 Points 2018.

Container Doxa Slovenian audio-visual seven-piece Container Doxa stood out from all the other bands at 12 Points 2018 for its highly original conception. The performance began before the artists had taken the stage; whistling, clucking, hissing and other such animalistic calls bounced back and forth from the artists, positioned as they were around the side walls and back of The Sugar Club. They then made their way onto the stage. That four of the musicians/artists were sat around a table, with several laptops and electronic gadgetry as their musical weaponry, provided further evidence that this was to be a concert out of the norm.

Pia Podgornik, the narrator, opened with the line: "Everything under heaven is in utter chaos, the situation is excellent." It set the tone for an intellectually challenging hour, where recited text merged with dance-club beats and a vibrant visual narrative—projected on a large screen backdrop—that ranged from an oil refinery electrical storms, nebulous space-scapes, reams of computer data, primary-color footage of helicopters unleashing napalm fire on tropical forest, and much more besides.

At the table, Ziga Murko alternated between electronic manipulations and much earthier trombone phrasing; Domen Gnezda worked modular synths, and, below the sightline, electric guitar; Domen Bohte played electric bass almost as much as an ambient tool as a rhythmic influencer; Matic Skusek operated the visuals, which whilst thematic, at times seemed disconnected with the text—itself a somewhat random sequence of statements. It was to Podgornik's credit that she delivered the texts with such clear articulation and subtly theatrical rhythm. To the far left of the stage, pianist Dre Hocevar, the project's artistic director, worked the keys abstractly and rhythmically in turn, adding to the edgy, experimental feel of the work.

Themes of information overload, relentless visual stimuli, ecological exploitation, war, capitalism and cultural dislocation suggested themselves, while the music—brooding, edgy and futuristic—seemed to operate on a subconscious level, a sympathetic aural tapestry to the somewhat dystopian images. Podgornik's brief saxophone interjections brought an acoustic, human touch to the technological interfaces of electronics and artsy visuals, but for a fair number in The Sugar Club, the demands of Container Doxa's presentation were too much, with a fair number making an early break for the exit.

There was no denying the boldness of the audio-visual conception, but perhaps a different space—an abandoned warehouse, a gallery or some such locale—and a total immersion, surround-sound experience with visuals projected 360 degrees might produce a more dramatic setting in keeping with the band's artistic vision.

Container Doxa, on the surface so far removed from the musical aesthetics of all the other bands at 12 Points 2018, seemed like an unusual, even provocative inclusion on the programme, but 12 Points is in essence a celebration of the widest possible representation of contemporary creative music, and in that regard the Improvised Music Company's willingness to take risks and challenge audience perceptions is to be applauded.

Certainly, few remained indifferent to Container Doxa's performance, with animated discussions afterwards amongst the crowd revealing that it had provoked at the very least, varying emotional responses.

Day Four

Jazz Futures II: Revolution in Evolution

If the previous day's round table discussion on gender had looked at ways to shape the future then the second Jazz Futures discussion, based around the economy and ecology of jazz, was more about imagining the future, and specifically the value of music—both recorded and live.

The discussion was held in the Kevin Barry Room of the National Concert Hall—one of the most historically significant spaces in Irish history, as Nigel Flegg, Head of Education, Community and Outreach at the NHC explained by way of introduction. Against the backdrop of the 1916 Rising, when the Irish Republican Army sought militarily to drive out the occupying British forces, Nigel described the failure of the uprising, the execution of its leaders and the subsequent political wrangling over the future of Ireland.

With a compromise to occupation on the table, it was in this very room that Irish leadership signed up to the partition of Ireland. A treaty was eventually ratified with twenty six counties remaining in the Republic of Ireland and six counties becoming Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK as of 2018. The simple stroke of a pen would set off a bitter civil war in Ireland and has been the source of much bloodshed, sectarianism and political division on the divided island ever since.

It was then over to IMC's Kenneth Killeen, who proceeded to give a fascinating PowerPoint presentation on the ways in which technology is changing consumer behavior, specifically with regards to music, and how it is changing the value of music for consumers and for artists. How will people consume music in twenty years' time? What value will people put on creativity and art? Will copyright and the notion of intellectual property have vanished altogether? These were the main sort of questions that Killeen's presentation raised.

Killeen described the rapid technological changes as "disruptors," because, he said, they are changing the fundamental models that held sway in music for so long. The potential transformation that music faces was summed up in a very prescient quotation from David Bowie from a New York Times interview in 2002: 'Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity.' Music for the vast majority of people, Killeen observed, is now free, or presented as free. Monthly subscriptions to download or streaming sites have, Killeen said "replaced the fundamental notion of ownership."

We live in an increasingly "on-demand" culture, Killeen said, illustrating how where once radio was the norm now we have podcasts, for television think Netflix, for vinyl there is downloading or streaming. Of course, vinyl is making a comeback, but this is mainly, Killeen emphasized, an exercise in nostalgia. Conversely, as the majority of listeners are less engaged with recorded music they are, posited Killeen, discovering more, as algorithms constantly suggest other artists/songs you might like.

It is inevitable, Killeen stated, that Virtual Reality (VR) technology will become more and more sophisticated—perhaps giving a whole new meaning to streaming a live concert. Already we live in a world where, as one of the delegates in attendance pointed out, bands tour with a holographic singer, as has been the case with Roy Orbison. [ tours featuring holographs of Frank Zappa, Ronnie James Dio, and Abba are currently in the pipeline]. Interestingly, added Killeen, the first album created by Artificial Intelligence, Hello World, a fifteen-track album, was released in 2018.

What do these new technologies mean for the future of recording artists in the minority field of jazz? Will VR and AI, streaming—and the inevitable technologies yet to be invented—pose a threat to recorded/live music as jazz musicians, promotors and fans understand it now?

Killeen's presentation provoked a lot of feedback, though interestingly, the starting off point for practically all those present was the inviolability of the live music experience. Jazz record sales, one delegate opined, will probably never match the sales figures of bygone days, resulting in the primacy of the live performance to generate income.

This notion was reinforced by Pedro Alves of Rite of Trio, who also echoed David Bowie's quotation when he said: "I start my career already with the expectation that I don't really own the music that I record. Music just flows. If I create it, it's instantaneously everybody's. I really see my value as a creative artist, where I get money back, is from live music...that's where my real ownership lies."

Kjetil Mulelid Trio The Norwegian trio led by pianist Kjetil Mulelid is just starting to climb the hill, though its debut album, Not Nearly Enough to Buy a House (Rune Grammofon, 2017), which was released to general acclaim. Like outstanding Norwegian pianists of the modern era such as Dag Arnesen and Tord Gustavsen, Mulelid draws more perhaps from Europeans folk and classical sources than blues and swing, though that said, there was no lack of emotional heft or improvisational élan in this performance.

The opening number was a case in point, with Mulelid's faint, folksy melody and quiet, Chopin-esque mediations elements of a bolder conception, where shifting tempi created a tense ebb and flow, and where rhapsodic passages flourished from patiently chiseled improvisational steps. Bassist Bjorn Marius Hegge's earthy linear playing and drummer Andreas Winther's dramatically percussive polyrhythms contributed greatly to musical communication that whilst tight, felt free of constraints.

The contrast between form and freedom was encapsulated in "Fly Fly," whose clearly defined rhythmic head gave way to slightly dissonant harmonics, with bass and drums sitting out. When all three reconvened, Mulelid pursued a classically tinged exploration, his early left-hand counterpoint—baroque-like in its logic—taken up by Hegge as the pianist's improvisation grew in intensity. As Mulelid eased back on the throttle the music began to breathe more, and it was these mid-tempo dynamics where the trio's dialogue was at its most persuasive.
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