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2013 Jazztopad Festival

John Kelman By

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There was plenty of interview footage, ranging from Michael Cuscuna and Earshot Festival's John Gilbreath to Stanley Crouch, Petrucciani and, of course, Eicher. There was also significant live footage, ranging from a Montreal performance in 2001 to recordings, in Lloyd's home, with Billy Higgins just four months before the drummer's passing, which resulted in Which Way is East? (ECM, 2004). What came through, loud and clear, was Lloyd's spirituality, and his desire to look for something that music can help find but still needs more. That he gave up music for a period of time at the height of his popularity only serves to emphasize that Lloyd's life has been a search for something yet to be obtained...but with each passing year, even as that objective continues to be just out of reach, he's clearly getting closer.

A two-drummer improv opened the evening, and was much better than the night before. Fabian Jung and Gabriella Fernandini demonstrated that drums and percussion instruments can, indeed, be melodic, with Jung, in particular, using resin on his fingers and bass drum to create deep glissandi.

The following evening was even busier. First, a workshop by koto master Michiyo Yagi demonstrated both her understanding and adherence to tradition and, in many contexts, her complete and utter irreverence for it. Yagi's husband, Mark E. Rappaport, provided the narration (being raised in California, his English was better than Yagi's), first describing the history behind the instrument, and how Yagi's two instruments are more modern updates, both in some of the materials used and in her use of, for example, piezo pickups to allow her to amplify her instruments and apply contemporary processing.

It was a revealing session; while traditional playing is monophonic, with the left hand used to bend notes, and the bridges under each string (21 for the standard koto; 17 for Yagi's larger bass koto) movable to adjust the tuning. That said, this transverse harp has been adapted by Yagi for more modern purposes, and she is, in fact, an almost paradoxically aggressive player, given her diminutive size and gentle demeanor, using all kinds of extended techniques and collaborating with everyone from Peter Brötzmann and Paal Nilssen-Love to Elliott Sharp and her Trio Deluxe, which features Japanese drum legend Tatsuya Yoshida and guitarist Tsuneo Imahori, and was scheduled to perform with Yagi later in the week.

From there it was off to the cinema for a film that was both life-affirming and life-changing. After a saxophone/bass Concert in the Dark duo, the film Intangible Asset 82 was screened, featuring Australian drummer Simon Barker's search for a mysterious Korean shaman, Kim Seok Chula. Barker's search was facilitated by Korean Pansori singer Bae Il Dong, with whom Barker now plays in the trio, Chiri. Il Dong's story is fascinating in itself, and the film revealed how he learned the art of Pansori singing by practicing at a waterfall for 20 hours a day for four years (the story goes that monks from a nearby monastery came to him and asked him to sing less as they couldn't sleep; his answer? "Go back to your monastery and close the door!").

Barker finally found Chula, and even had the opportunity to play with him just three days before the shaman passed away, but what came through so strongly in the film was the story of a western musician convinced that there was much more to life and music, and so his search was more than just to find a legendary shaman/musician, it was to change his own life. One of the great things about Jazztopad is that artists are invited to stay for many days, rather than flying in, gigging, and leaving the next morning. This provided plenty of opportunity to speak with Barker in informal settings like breakfast at the hotel (and what a hotel! The Monopol was one of two five-star hotels that Jazztopad used to house its artists and festival guests, and while most festivals take good care of its guests, this was on a whole other level), where Barker talked about various methods to relax, techniques that not only help his music, but his life in general. The only sad thing about Chiri's appearance at Jazztopad was that its third member, Australian trumpeter Scott Tinkler, had suffered a serious stroke just two days before he was to leave for Poland, and so Chiri was forced to perform as a duo while Tinkler recuperated.

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