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BAN BAM: Music Talking

Ian Patterson By

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It’s not an option to program without thinking about gender balance... —Aoife Concannon - BAN BAM Creative Producer
BAN BAM
The Complex
Dublin, Ireland
November 25, 2017

BAN BAM is a new, one-day festival by Improvised Music Company—an initiative to address the gender imbalance in jazz/improvised music. A related All About Jazz article covered the conversations by industry professionals around the gender issue that took place in the afternoon. This second BAN BAM article turns its attention to the music side of the festival. A wickedly varied line-up of five acts attracted a good crowd to The Complex, a studio, performance and gallery space run by an artists' collective.

Catherine Sikora

The opening gig of BAN BAM featured saxophonist/composer Catherine Sikora, who recently returned to her native Cork after a decade in New York. With five recordings as leader to her name as well as collaborations with Han-earl Park, Ross Hammond and Eric Mingus, Sikora stepped out on her own with her debut solo recording Jersey (Relative Pitch Records, 2016)—an adventurous outing that garnered critical approval. It was as a solo artist that Sikora performed at BAN BAM.

A series of long, tenor fog-horn notes sounded, gradually bending and shortening, infused with a faint strain of blues. The saxophonist soon ventured into freer territory, her tightly coiled motifs spiralling ever-faster. Sikora, however, altered the pace to good effect, moving between slower plateaus and rapid, more expansive forays—her improvisation compositional in the arc of its logic. A stronger melodic vein colored the second piece, Sikora juggling relaxed phrasing with knotty flurries, as though deciding which path to dive down. Opting for the latter course, Sikora took to the task with total conviction, like a terrier shaking the life out of a bone. It was, however, with a soft landing that she guided the music home.

Switching to soprano, Sikora combined dashing technique with mellifluous intent, her mazy course alternatively biting and meditative. What was perhaps most impressive about Sikora's short but intense performance was her flow of ideas; dynamic narratives—tales of the unexpected—that twisted this way and that before resolving gracefully. An imaginative musician that would enrich any context.

Dorata Konczewska

The very sizeable Polish community in Ireland has left its mark in multiple ways—economically, socially and, naturally enough, in the arts. Polish-born, Dublin-based multi-media artist Dorata Konczewska brought her highly contemporary and personal vision of popular music to BAN BAM with a set that wedded song form, visuals and real-time sampling.

Konczewska opened with "Angel Eyes," a striking slice of electro-pop marked by the contrast between the dreamy melancholy of her vocals and bassist Ogie Doyle's more animated groove. The wall behind the musicians filled with artsy video of naked bodies, drawing the eyes and rendering the music as soundtrack. Stood before her synth, patches and electronic gadgetry, Konczewska's use of visuals added a sensual dimension to an otherwise fairly static stage presence.

"Psycho Suzie," with its infectious bass ostinato and hypnotic vocals—real time and looped—provided a set highlight and wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Susanne Sundfør album. The sparer architecture of the slower "January Blues" put Konczewska's attractive voice in sharper relief, while the dissonant electronics and brooding layered vocals of "Bag of Cats" painted a more dystopian picture, albeit one with a pronounced rhythmic finale.

The gothic electro-pop of "Curl Up and Die" was a little too short to take off. More satisfying an untitled number with a lilting melody and slow-grooving rhythm that worked its way under the skin. The final number was the most rhythmically upbeat of the set; driven by Doyle's funk bass, Konczewska sculpted vocal harmonics of otherworldly beauty.

Konczewska first made her way in Limerick a decade ago as a standards jazz singer but by following her own muse she has developed a unique and charismatic musical persona—one whose language is both daring and accessible.

Izumi Kimura & Cora Venus Lunny

Whether solo, in duos with the likes of Joe O'Callaghan or Barry Guy, or whether tackling John Cage's "Sonatas and Interludes" for prepared piano, Izumi Kimura has earned a reputation as an outstanding and most adventurous pianist/composer. Cora Venus Lunny is as much at home in classical orchestras as she is playing Jimi Hendrix with Nigel Kennedy. A member of Clodagh Simonds experimental group Fovea Hex and Nick Roth's Balkans-inspired Yurodney, Lunny's solo recording Terminus (Conscientae Diatribe Recordings, 2014) is further proof of her fearless approach to music.

It was a coup for BAN BAM to bring together two of Ireland's finest contemporary musicians for the first time in a specially commissioned project.

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