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12 Points 2018

Ian Patterson By

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On "A Cautionary Tale against a Repetitive Life," the music oscillated between gently coursing lyricism and looser abstraction, though melody prevailed in the end. The more circuitous "Folk Song" grew from restless stirrings and start-stop dynamics via a slow-grooving trio stroll that Mulelid commandeered with a liberating improvisation. The final number, "You Stood There In Silence, Having No Words," embarked in style, with an elegiac piano opening, probing bass pulse and washing cymbals; a change in pace signaled opened-ended trio improvisation, driven by Mulelid's fearless lead. Courage, however, did not mean throwing all caution to the wind, for free-jazz this was not, but rather harnessing rhythmic energy and liberally interpreting the spaces that arose in through-composed frameworks.

With a follow-up album in the works, the Kjetil Mulelid Trio is on an upward trajectory. Mulelid's music demands concentration, but for those who invest the dividends are considerable.

The Rite of Trio

There was a beautiful story surrounding The Rite of Trio's participation at 12 Points 2018. In 2012, when 12 Points was held in Porto at the Casa Da Musica, guitarist Andre Silva, drummer Pedro Alves and double bassist Felipe Louro were first-year students at Porto's music academy. They were sat in the audience then but were inspired by what they saw and vowed that one day they would make it to the 12 Points stage. So it had been a long journey, and as the three musicians embraced before taking the stage, an emotional one.

The Rite of Trio play what they describe as 'jazzjambacore,' and if nobody in the audience knew what that meant, then they were in no doubts by the time the sweat-drenched musicians left the stage an hour later, having played music from Getting All The Evil of The Piston Colllar! (Carimbo, 2016)

Jazz-style progressions played with the intensity of a rock band alternated with more delicate, swinging passages; groove bled into knotty time signatures; the straight-ahead guitar, at the flick of a pedal, made way for echo-drenched, woozy psychedelic soundscapes more akin to a space-rock outfit; air-tight rhythmic lines giving way to eruptions from the drum kit where Alves' intensity was evocative of Ginger Baker or John Bonham. And that was just the first song.

"It's a beautiful thing when a festival can influence and inspire people into creating music..." Silva told the crowd before launching into the second number. A slowly pulsing bass ostinato, rustling metallic percussion and rumbling mallets were soon joined by pedal-altered guitar loops in a brooding opening. The stelthful choreography was shattered soon enough by Silva's visceral riffing—which seemed to signal a shift in gear, but The Rite of Trio was nothing if not unpredictable and an extended bass solo followed over a guitar-and-drum vamp. Unfortunately, Louro's solo was muffled in the guitar's excessive volume, rather nullifying the effect.

In the complex rhythmic weave of the next track there were elements of progressive rock—of the leaner variety, that is—but at least Louro's explorations were better served this time by more subtle guitar comping. Silva's own sinewy improvisation echoed the explorative nature of Jerry Garcia at his most expansive, though with a coarser edge. The title track of the trio's album featured Alves from the outset, the drummer, drenched in sweat, working his kit feverishly over a sustained vamp. A twisting passage of tight interplay gradually wound down into more ruminative domain, followed by a very curious piece of theatre, when for a full minute all three musicians remained utterly motionless, in total silence as though preserved in aspic.

Nervous laughter, a few shouted comments, an isolated whistle and some shushing from the audience provided the soundtrack before Alves slowly wound up the trio's clock again with a funereal beat. A bass pulse foreshadowed an eruption of free-wheeling guitar dynamics and pounding drums, climaxing in a drum solo of searing intensity. The Rite of Trio took their bows to enthusiastic applause, well-merited indeed for this memorable performance. Perhaps there were musicians in the audience, inspired by Rite of Trio's performance, who vowed to make it on the 12 Points stage one day in the future.

Dominic J Marshall Trio

The honor of closing 12 Points 2018 fell to Scottish-born, Netherlands-based singer-songwriter, pianist and electronics musician Dominic J Marshall, supported by drummer Jamie Peet and bassist Glen Gaddum. Marshall has several albums to his name, with The Triolithic (Challenge Records, 2016) already bringing comparisons to neo-soul of Robert Glasper and the rhythmic sensibilities of J Dilla. The guts of this performance, however, showcased compositions from Compassion Fruit (Inner Ocean Records, 2018).

A delightfully laid-back bass groove introduced "Mean to Me," a soulful composition brightened by Marshall's lightly dancing piano embellishments. A graduate of the jazz program at Leeds College of Music and the post-graduate course at the Amsterdam Conservatoire, Marshall has chops aplenty, though virtuosic displays were rationed in favor of sunny, soulful vibes. The pianist could, however, blend both chops and easy vibes as on the instrumental "Ella Feeling"—a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. A big part of Marshall's sound was down to the rhythmic foundation laid down by Peet and Gaddum—unspectacular perhaps, yet full of funk and soulful levity. This was feel-good music played by consummate musicians.

As a singer, though, Marshall's delivery could come across as somewhat flat and lacking range, though with singers, as with saxophonists or guitarists, taste is inevitably subjective, and plenty in The Sugar Club audience warmed to both his personality and his music. It would be easy to imagine Marshall enjoying broad commercial appeal, as his generic R&B was never overly challenging and his sunny, jazz-inflected piano and electric piano playing falling somewhere between Bob James and Bruce Hornsby.

The final number, a slow-burning, neo-soul vocal ballad, featured an impressive, bubbling solo from Gaddum, and a lightly sparkling reply from Marshall, with a brief nod to Nick Drake's "Riverman." Marshall has talent no doubt, but it would be a surprise if more adventurous, risk-taking vocalists hadn't applied to participate in 12 Points 2018. His inclusion suggested that 12 Points is not only about presenting the most cutting edge contemporary music, but presenting the widest possible spectrum of contemporary, jazz-related music. Jazz of course, whether some care to admit it or not, means very different things to many people.

Wrap-up

Twelve Points 2018 wound up with a jam session in The Sugar Club, though for many musicians and delegates alike it was a gig too far in what had been an intensive musical feast, with most preferring instead to socialize on the venue's outside terrace. This informal networking is an important part of any festival, often setting in motion future collaborations, and 12 Points is particularly good at bringing together the various players that combine to make, promote and disseminate the music.

Twelve years and one hundred and forty four bands down the road, 12 Points continues to deliver some of the very best creative music in Europe. There were certainly more pedal boards, laptops and MIDI keyboards on stage in 2018 than there were a decade ago, indeed, more gizmos in general. Who can tell what the instruments will look like—and be able to do—a decade from now?

One constant through the years has been the originality of the participating bands and their willingness to take risks. It's what 12 Points is all about and it's what makes every edition of this festival such a unique event, beloved by audiences and musicians alike. 12 Points 2018 was no exception.

Photos: Courtesy of John Cronin / Dublin Jazz Photography
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