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12 Points Festival 2019

12 Points Festival 2019

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12 Points Festival
Amsterdam, Netherlands
September 25-28, 2019

Jazz, as a diverse and heterogeneous field by nature, is represented at each 12 Points edition by young musicians and groups (age 35) with a strong artistic profile and solid and attractive performance capabilities. The festival represents in a nutshell what the next generation is willing and able to contribute. The emphasis is not so much on assumed audience compatibility/acceptability but rather on originality, artistic challenge, strong identity and quality of audience connectivity.

Selection and indication

The program selection of 12 Points Festival organized by Irish Improvised Music Company aims at giving an indication about what's next, what might be strong groups in the near future based on a clear concept of artistic identity/ development, an observation of young musicians/groups from all over Europe, a vast network of informants and an application process. 12 Points, which is a residential festival, a kind of camp for young up-and-coming musicians/groups from 12 European countries, is considered to be an important junction on the way to enter prestigious European festivals and clubs (for earlier editions see my review here (2014) and here (2017).

The aim of 12Points is that presenters read this, check the groups and musicians, listen to and watch their music, keep in mind their names and seriously consider building programs with some of those included (for good reasons). This year's 12 participants came from Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, United Kingdom (2). For the first time the guesting country/venue added a line of five domestic showcases, the Orange Line. Striking here was the extremely high proportion of musicians of non-Dutch origin, some groups even comprising no musicians of Dutch origin at all. This can only partly be ascribed to the open international tradition of the Dutch scene.

The selection/choice is not meant as representative but as indicative, as mentioned. Looking at the choice of the last nine editions, this is what it shows in terms of countries musicians/groups were coming from: (1) Represented in all 9 editions since 2011: France, Norway, UK, Ireland

  • Represented in almost all editions since 2011: Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden
  • Represented in 4 or 5 of the 9 editions: Germany, Finland, Italy, Portugal
  • Represented in less than 4 editions and more than 1: Poland, Slovenia, Spain
  • Represented in one edition: Bosnia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia
This shows a clear dual division, a weak representation of the Baltic area and the Balkan, a harsh imbalance between center and periphery (except Ireland, Norway) and the complete absence of a series of countries. Also, one of the richest scenes of Europe, Berlin, is hardly present and Cologne is absent at all. Except for France and UK, it is smaller countries that seem to take the lead.


Two striking things were discernible during the four days of this year's 12Points: first, this young generation plays more for its own generation's ears, modes and moods. Second, this young generation works easily 'cross-sectional,' which means the musicians adapt a diversity of approaches, techniques and influences to feed those into their own new shapeshifting forms or in hybrid framings of ambient, classical, pop, rock, techno, hip-hop and actionist agit-prop.


For me the four days/nights of 12Points, including the Dutch Orange Line, had four highlights: Trio Heinz Herbert from Switzerland, No Tongues from France, Filippo Vignato from Italy and George Dumitriu and Sanem Kalfa from the Netherlands. I guess it would be adequate to add Dutch clarinetist Joris Roelofs whose appearance I unfortunately could not attend. He has proved through the years to be a heavy weight improviser, sparring partner of drummer legend Han Bennink and the only younger-generation-addition to the ICP ensemble.

Trio Heinz Herbert

The music of Trio Heinz Herbert, a close creative communion of Dominic Landolt (Guitar, Effects), Ramon Landolt (Keys, Synth, Samples) and Mario Hänni (Drums) sounded like a fanciful Kinderzimmertraum, a happy children room dream, having expanded deep into adulthood. A multitude of musical phenomena has entered its door and become entangled in all kinds of playful exploration to build wonderous phantasy worlds of its own—a puzzle with manifold fits and its own magics. And, when unleashed, it seduced its listeners first by seemingly purposeless Spielereien, by dreamlike juggling of playful particles, from which deep shapes emerge thereby leading its virginal listeners into their own dreamlands. At its borders a turbulent enthralling groove arose, pulling its threshold-crossing listeners into an escalating, stirring up, flickering stream interspersed by revving up guitar screams, mumbling shadows and shouting ghosts.

This trio's performance was the most fascinating and enthralling part of this year's edition of 12Points Festival, that happened at Amsterdam Bimhuis. It was a trip with a high degree of momentum and substance as well as a coherent piece of music. And, what was even more striking, it was something uniting listeners of differing perceptions and views on music. People of different background, age, experience and taste evidently all got enchanted. It confirmed what McArthur fellow ('genius grant') Mary Halvorson stated a year ago:

"I saw Trio Heinz Herbert perform live at the Unerhort Festival in Zurich, and it was one of the best concerts I saw all year. Intense, mesmerizing, captivating... the entire audience was entranced. The trio is so synched in; it really sounds like a singular mind, and their communication and ideas are spectacular."

What, then, were its distinctive qualities? The music was charmingly emerging from a sea of playful particles. Opening up into a wider sonic landscape it was arising, unrolling and miraculously shapeshifting in a colorful sonic space as well as exploding into a gorgeous groove and finally vanishing into the soughing, rustling depths of space. These are unifying processual aspects of making use of heterogeneous, deeply absorbed musical influences in a flow of momentary alertness and developing freedom that increasingly enables the music 'to fill itself in' as a self-actualizing force via the musicians as medium.

No Tongues

No Tongues was the second unusual group, not only concerning its line-up with two basses (Ronan Prual, Ronan Courty), trumpet (Alan Regardin), bass clarinet and saxophone (Matthieu Prual). Bearing in mind that 'new' music is made from existing music, No Tongues turned to an unusual but also very natural source to create something new. The group wandered along musical echoes of pagan shamanism vocal conjurations, to tap into and merge with ancient everyday voodoo practices. The musicians are inspired by archaic hollers, summoning shouts and incantations. They operate on material coming from the famous Voices of the World Series (from the end of the 90s). The series comprises vocals of different categories from all over the world. No Tongues, among others, worked on the throat-singing voices of two Inuit women.

They transposed those into mighty, raw, rhythmically sharp-edged instrumental sounds. The two basses were partly used like a Hungarian ütőgardon, a three-or four-string folk instrument looking like a cello but played percussively like a drum with a stick in order to produce sounds as intense and visceral as in the field recordings. The bassists—and the horn players too -had to apply intensively extended techniques and preparations here. In this recontextualization those were mirrored by the ancient vocal expressions and suddenly acquired quite a different and remarkable significance. Or, as the group expresses it itself: the group "makes a dance with the past to illuminate the present." Through these recontextualization music normally labelled as abstract 'free jazz' gets a natural, close to life significance.


Kalfa/Dumitriu is a durable duo of Turkish vocalist Sanem Kalfa and Romanian violist/guitarist George Dumitriu based in Amsterdam. Both were part of Kaja Draksler's Acropolis Quartet that participated in 12Points in 2011 and Dumitriu continued in the Kaja Draksler Octet. It is a duo that not only knows to bend a diversity of songs (of Turkish, Brazilian, Italian and Romanian origin) in original ways to both of their musical personalities, and to create a unity from it. Working in a quite naked manner with voice and one acoustic instrument, every small detail counts and tells, determining tinges and timing, blossoming and flow, vibe and touch, fly and linger. Shaping and orchestrating these elements in the execution, progressive fine-tuning went by with great momentum and enjoyable emergence. Amongst others they rendered a memorable version of Tom Zé's "To." The balance of the effervescent, drama-loaded part of Kalfa and the calm radiance and gently leading smile of Dumitriu as counterpart manifested as especially sublime in this performance.

Filippo Vignato

Trombones are not abundant presently in jazz (check, for instance, trombones among the countless ECM albums). Consequently, trombonists are specially exposed. It is easy to name a series of strong trombone voices. Filippo Vignato is an up-and-coming trombone voice that matters, to keep an ear on. He is an agile, in-demand ensemble player as well as a defining leader amongst others in a quartet with pianist Giovanni Guidi, bassist Mattia Magatelli (he also played with George Dumitriu and Kaja Draksler) and drummer Attila Gyarfas. Trombone is not only down to earth, broadly enfolding, but as bone as bone can groove, move, slide and swoosh. Vignato is joining the younger league of Nils Wogram and Samuel Blaser in continuation of cracks as Gianluca Petrella, Wolter Wierbos, Yves Robert, Ray Anderson, Albert Mangelsdorff. Vignato, member of marvelous Italian-American ensemble Pipe Dream with cellist Hank Roberts and the Italian free improvising grouping with keyboard spirit Giorgio Pacorig and vibraphonist Pasquale Mirra (see my review here)., presented his powerful trio of youngsters recruited from his Paris conservatory time with Hungarian drummer Attila Gyarfas and French Fender Rhodes keyboardist Yannick Lestra. Fiercely the trio crossed territories with bold drive, alternating temperatures and temperaments, thereby leaving striking sonic footprints.

Different perspectives, re-framing

Times ago "young generation" was an easily definable, clear entity. Presently, so many young generation musicians continuously enter the scene (and the market) every year that it is less sharply defined and less clearly visible. Also, the distance from the roots/origins, to the historic social and political context of jazz, has increased considerably. The jazz field has become more diffuse(ed) and the kind of artistic urge driving younger generations is clearly different now.

Presently, a young person is confronted with an abundance of choice concerning listening to, and engaging in, as a musician. There is the choice to acquire needed musical skills in a school-/academic context to play what their predecessors have created themselves in the wild on a scene's stages. That definitely constitutes a different experiential reality entailing also a different perception and likewise orientation. You have to bear that in mind when talking about and judging young musician's achievements.

Older generations tend to expect new generations to progress in the same furrow, in the line of progressive development they themselves have experienced through their life. But that's not a simple classificatory match. "New music" is primarily the result of listening to existing music with 'young,' 'fresh,' 'biased,' 'open,' 'engaged' etc. ears and the confluence of traces of focused listening and unconscious intake in one's own actual execution of music.

As already mentioned, the youngest generations have a different experiential point of departure and orientation. While jazz for older generations has long been a provocative pioneering activity within societal practice to foster emancipatory change and empowerment, the younger generation start from a well-prepared state with other possibilities of making choices and different demands, of finding their own way, finding their own voice, building a unique artistic identity. For them it is a new beginning, a new way of defining jazz through their way of performing. The question, then, is in which creative ways younger generations actually feed into the commonly defined line of progress, into the furrow drawn by previous generations. From older generations' point of view music of the youngest generation is regularly indicated/judged as 'not original,' 'epigonal,' 'without artistic urgency,' as a not thrilling recurrence of already known things. Such perceptions are understandable but also half-baked.

Evidently there are young musicians/groups that operate in historical modes adding little or nothing, playing it as repertoire music, which by the way can be legitimate but wouldn't count as core jazz activity. But what to say about a bebop-driven performance that thrills young audiences' souls? Is it a nostalgic retro thing then or a (temporary/fashionable) revival? What makes it more than a doubtful repetition? When can it be considered as pushing the envelope (not to use the devaluated term 'innovative')? Obviously, in the process of acquisition, the adaptive processes of assimilation, accommodation and deep absorption of something has to be filtered out and synthesized into very own (not too well known) shapes, twists and evocative energies.

Considering the music of the participating groups, six (temporary/provisionary) varieties can be discerned, showing an interesting distribution:

  • The (post) BOP Mode (Sun-Mi Hong, Family Band, Guy Salomon) = 3
  • The POP Mode (Katu Kaiku, Robocobra, The Brums, Juno, Broos/Peet, Katu Kaiku) = 6
  • The CLASSICAL Mode (Kasia Pietrzko, Xavi Torres, Ikarai) = 3
  • The FREE Mode (Sketchbook Quartet, Filipo Vignato 3, Joris Roelofs, Family Band, Dumitriu/Kalfa, Broos/Peet) = 6
  • The MESSAGE Mode (Family Band, Robocobra) = 2
  • The UNIVERSE Mode (No Tongues, Trio Heinz Herbert, Family Band, Ikarai) = 4

Back to the future: varieties, games

Observable at this moment is a revisionist turn of younger generations' jazz listeners/audiences to older jazz waves. The actuality of an old-generation- musician such as Pharoah Sanders to serve supposed young people's needs is an example of that. It can be seen as a direct consequence of the resounding success of the Los Angeles scene around Kamasi Washington with his newly shaped cosmic jazz, or Michael League's Austin originating soul-funk-rock inflected Snarky Puppy ensemble with its infectious rehash brew. The influential real electronic hipster, Flying Lotus however remains his own category. From an older generation's point of view this might be perceived as an odd step backwards. But why should younger generations step in at an older-generations point of departure or why should the labelling as 'jazz' be refuted? It wouldn't be natural or expectable. For German beer there is a centuries-long Reinheitsgebot/purity demand. For jazz there never was something like that. That older generations (for different reasons) cannot relate to new forms is a quite natural phenomenon anyway.

Through the historical circumstances of its originating jazz was a necessarily open, subversive and signifying form of expression that used other more flexible means of inclusion/exclusion, appropriation, expansion, transformation and self-assertion through practice. Through post-war Americanization it has spread world-wide to actors from other cultures and from that has stratified in manifold varieties.

There are lots of young musicians still pushing the envelope conquering new territories. Names like Julien Desprez, Lukas König, the Ceccaldi Brothers come to mind. And, there are also many that elaborate on their bop-or post-bop versions or elaborate manifold hybrids made up from rock, pop, techno-and hip-hop elements. Groups as Die Hochstapler, November, Post K or Marcin Masecki/Jerzy Rogiewicz or from the older generation Sex Mob or Swedish Ass are edgy examples of how to dive into musical heritage. These varieties have to be judged on their own merits. There is one thing all these varieties have in common: they clearly -noticeably and naturally, not as a conscious undertaking -aim at younger audiences' ears and perceptions and do not fit into the old canonized calibration of the style of perception and production of jazz. This applies equally to a variety such as the pop approach of young Norwegian unit Juno that follows in the footsteps of older groups like Pixel, Broen and Gurls, the bop-based approach of other groups or the free improvisational approach variants of Trio Heinz Herbert, No Tongues or Filippo Vignato Trio. It should be obvious that transcending all these calibrations is the highest achievement.

The point about the just mentioned names is just their unorthodox use of extended techniques and advanced elements from the free improvising, noise and other paradigms. Pop-inflected groups as Broen or Juno also make use of extended techniques in a different framing. In other words, the younger generations are freer in choosing and conflating things from different paradigms to serve their own way and form of expression. Surely, there are more or less conservative, more or less wild, more or less good and more or less successful variants of a certain variety.

A brief gardening glance

To finish, here's a short glance at the various garden beds this year's 12Points+Orange Line could be watched besides the already discussed ones. It seems not accidental that Irish Robocobra Quartet (residing in Belfast) and Family Band from London with a strong Scottish blend, fall in the message mode variety. Robocobra, which is Chris Ryan, Tom Tabori, Peter Howard, Nathan Roger, did it with a singing and yelling drummer, in your face hew-hew raw rock sound and stirring up lyrics. Robocobra sounds as a child of rock group Morphine infected by Sonic Youth also, not with guitars but with spun out multilayered and climaxing horn parts. Also, Finnish trio Katu Kaiku of Erik Fräki, saxophonist Adele Sauros and electric bassist Mikael Saastamoinen had this Morphine tinge but then the slow way of ample extension with a saxophone sound reminiscent of Trygve Seim's voicing. The group Family Band, a quadruplet of trumpeter/known activist Kim Macari, saxophonist Riley Stone-Lonergan, bassist Tom Riviere and drummer Steve Hanley alternated between sophisticated, dense weavings, fierce outbursts and spoken-word digressions. Both British groups were quite direct in addressing the audience to conjure up and reinforce communality.

Young Polish pianist Kasia Pietrzko convinced with deep architecture and mighty dynamics emerging from close interaction with her excellent trio partners bassist Andrzej Swies and drummer Piotr Budniak while Spanish pianist Xavi Torres in his solo-recital got lost in the beauty of his abundant harmonic excursions. The quintet of Sun Mi Hong united energy driven attack with beautifully shaped horn arrangements that also prevailed in the larger ensemble of the other drummer-led unit, the Guy Salamon Group, both part of Orange Line. Drummer Salamon from Israel gathered a not less than four horns frontline, Alistair Payne and Ian Cleaver on trumpet, José Soare and Brodie Jarvie on double bass. Elegant, then again, waywardly crooked and burlesque, this octet played a richly colored set at times reminiscent of Dusko Goykovitch's pioneering Swinging Macedonia (1966).

A rather sad case was the attempt of Dutch ensemble Ikarai to catch actions and personality of boxer legend and activist Muhammed Ali with a piano trio (Camiel Jansen, Julian Schneemann, Jeroen Batterink) with an annex of an all-female string trio (Tessel Hersbach, Yanna Pelser, Bence Huszar) in a suite centered around the 1974 historical Rumble in the Jungle boxing event in Kinshasa, Congo. It was a boxing match between undefeated world champion George Foreman and challenger Muhammed Ali attended by 60,000 people that Ali won by knockout just before the end of the eighth round. Being a quite ambitious undertaking that presented the musicians in a boxing ring on the Bimhuis stage accompanied by projection of footage of the boxing match and of Muhammed Ali talking/rapping outside the ring, the performance quickly fell dead due, amongst others, to non-synchronicity of footage and sound, especially Muhammed Ali's talk. The ensemble could not overcome it, and so it remained during the whole performance. Therefore, it was difficult to say what was due to the weakness of the set-up and elaboration in general and what was due to bad luck of a technical failure.

It is worthwhile to mention that boxing has been subject of a well-designed full evening Dutch music program some 20 years ago. In the 90s well-known reedist Ab Baars (of ICP) created the piece "The Dutch Windmill," an homage to Dutch boxer Bep van Klaveren. Baars expanded it to a full program in 2001 working amongst others with a classical vocalist and a jazz vocalist.

Wallonian The Brums from Liège (Alain Deval, Adrien Lambinet, Antoine Dawans, Clément Dechambre), with its three horns and drums line-up, brisent le brume, broke the mist, operating from a firm techno basis starkly resonating through, shook up and captured the 'Brumhuis' space. Self-conscious and determined Dutch duo of keyboardist Nils Broos and drummer Jamie Peet (Orange Line) entered the space of open improvisation. With thundering energy, they crashed solid piles into the ground but for the time being the promising rocket stayed on the ground. Peet excelled with firm and adjustable contemporary dance drumming. Broos was the man of thriving and flourishing, keyboard-steered garlands, distorted and elongated washes and wreaths—a nice Spielerei but somewhat static, lacking direction as you can find it in groups as Ambiq, sPacemonKey, Elephant 9, Electroshop, Schnellertollermeier or Three Trapped Tigers. Austrian Sketchbook Quartet, which is saxophonist Leonhard Skorupa, bass clarinetist Daniel Moser, guitarist Alexander Wallner and drummer Konstantin Kräutler succeeded in the triangulation of traversing different styles, creating high-level music and coming up with entertaining absurdo twists.

It should be clear that the music is a differentiated and, itself, differentiating spectrum, something distinguished from the hyperbole, windbaggery and mindless phrasemongers of an increasingly slack PR machinery.



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