Barry Guy Blue Shroud Band in Krakow, Poland

John Sharpe By

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Day Two

The second evening furnished a study in polarities. The opening combination of Guy, Niggli and violinist Maya Homburger performed "Rondo for Nine Birds," a composition by Guy inspired by a picture which adorns the wall of their home. In the through-composed piece, the players returned at regular intervals to a jaunty ditty, interposed between diverse vignettes. Niggli interpreted the repeating theme differently each time, varying between fingers and sticks, and between exact and loose, while Homburger and Guy's parts intertwined, sometimes austere but at others nervy and staccato.

If much of the first set dwelt in the chamber, then the quartet of Niggli, Lopez, Fernandez and Evans. was probably in the garage, with a default setting of all out aural assault. Evans' bravura trumpet cut through the waves of noise with aplomb, dipping into the troughs and skimming above the surf. He and Fernandez once again united in a high energy face off, fuelled by a clattering accompaniment. But there were astonishing contrasts too, as when Evans key pad popping prompted the Spaniard to delve into piano's innards. But the respite was brief. Fernandez hammered the keys, smashed his forearms and used his fingers in sewing machine motion, while Niggli excitedly bounced on his stool translating the fervor into apocalyptic tumult.

Day Three

On the third night high points included the duo of Guy and Niesemann, the larger grouping growing out of the initial threesome of Godard, French violist Fanny Paccoud and Guy, and the Aurora Trio with Evans and Yannatou. Niesemann alerted unsuspecting listeners to his qualities with a searing clarion call on his alto saxophone. It heralded not a maelstrom, but an interlude of subdued intensity in which plaintive alto vied with fluttering bass. That pattern of alternating animation and meditation continued, as Niesemann's short guttural phrases matched Guy's sudden switches between bow and hands. Such was the combustive zeal, that their first selection peaked in frenetic oratory, as Niesemann screeched multiphonics, with the veins on his neck looking ready to pop.

Paradoxically given their backgrounds, Paccoud, Godard and Guy gave rise to some of the most swinging sections of the three nights. From the serpent, a convoluted wooden ancestor of the tuba, Godard drew a jazzy buzz, which encouraged Guy into a relaxed lope. When Paccoud entered from backstage she picked out Godard's rhythm on her viola, before sawing a bluesy wail. Once Per Texas Johansson joined on clarinet his jagged lines brought about a return to the accustomed abstraction, which turned into a garrulous swelling collective with the addition of Gabriel's baritone and Snekkestad's reed trumpet. At one point Johansson arrested the whole audience's attention by affixing a balloon to the mouth of his clarinet, which he inflated and then allowed to deflate with a booming gasp.

Guy programmed the Aurora Trio for the final set of the three nights. Completed by Fernandez and Lopez, the trio's blend of soulful balladry and spiky invention is immortalized on three acclaimed outings: Aurora (Maya, 2006), Morning Glory (Maya, 2010), and A Moment's Liberty (Maya, 2013). However tonight they were supplemented by Evans' trumpet and Yannatou's voice, and as a consequence eschewed the melancholic lyricism which so strongly pervades their repertoire for a set of daredevil flights.

A special bond was evident between the members of the Aurora Trio, manifest in the shared rhythmic attack between Guy and Lopez, and in the instantaneous trafficking between the bassist and the pianist. Fernandez spent most of the set with at least one hand under the piano lid. Evans was once again an scorching presence. His narrative ripened and evolved at breathtaking pace, transmuting into a stream of highly detailed fizzing sound. Yannatou took the opportunities as they arose in the ebb and flow to interpolate her wordless vocals. It made a cracking finale which engendered keen anticipation of the band's final show.

Polish Musicians

Festival director Marek Winiarski harnessed the attention focused on Guy's project to present Polish improvisers probably unfamiliar to most listeners outside the country. On the night prior to the Blue Shroud groupings, Alchemia hosted an unlikely lineup: a power trio, featuring the block flutes of Dominik Strycharski, flanked by the amplified double bass of Ksawery Wojcinski and drums of Pawel Szpura (both part of the well-regarded group Hera). Their brand of full-on commotion (which can also be sampled on Prophetic Fall (Not Two, 2014)) utterly confounded expectations of how a flute-led triumivirate might sound.

The following evening pianist Mateusz Gaweda and tenor saxophonist Slowomir Pezda began their opening number with what sounded like a John Coltrane cadenza, but proved to be the first part of a written chart. However once the theme was out of the way, the pair partook of unbridled conversation which showed nary a trace of the thematic material. They maintained that ethos throughout their set. The final Polish pairing of tenor saxophonist Tomasz Gadecki and electric bassist Marcin Brozek fared less well than the previous sessions. They covered a broad swathe of improv tactics, from lower case minimalist noise to full on skronk. Both wearing while boiler suits, they played in virtual darkness, the only illumination supplied by a psychedelic light projection, which didn't help their music engage.

Post Script

After the Blue Shroud premiere, the last night of Guy's residency afforded a release from the responsibility of leadership. Back in Alchemia, the bassist renewed acquaintance with Chicago reedman Ken Vandermark, on a bare stage cleared of piano, mics, music stands and drumkits. One previous encounter produced the highly regarded Fox Fire (Maya, 2009), and given the American's history in the venue, it was no surprise the space was rammed.

Over two sets, the pair refreshed the connection between them until it seemed they had never been apart. In a highly responsive stream of twisting tonality, each gesture was variously answered, opposed or ignored. When Vandermark invoked a breathy didgeridoo on baritone saxophone, the bassist responded by taking a short stick to his strings for a series of scratchy harp like tones which contrasted with the American's luxuriant smears. Later, Guy took a brush to the body and open strings of his bass while Vandermark pursued fractured darting lines on clarinet. At times they recalled a deconstructed Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa, as brush in hand, Guy delivered a percussive tour de force. A well deserved encore capped an enjoyable reunion.

Earlier in the week, Festival Director Winiarski had admitted that he didn't know what to expect from Guy's new project. But by the end he must have been absolutely delighted as the artistic success more than repaid his trust. After such a sensational accomplishment, the challenge will be how to go one better in the 10th Krakow Jazz Autumn. Come next fall, jazz fans will be checking their schedules expectantly to see whether that challenge has been met.
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