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Brilliant Corners 2017

Ian Patterson By

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A versatile musician, German saxophonist Silke Eberhard can be found leading her own ensembles, playing in duos with dancer Chrystel Guillebaud, pianists Dave Burrell and Aki Takase and drummer Alex Huber, or in Wayne Horvitz's European Orchestra. She has tackled, in most original fashion, the music of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, and with I Am Three—featuring trumpeter Nikolaus Neuser and drummer Christian Marien—the music of Charles Mingus.

It's a bold concept to approach Mingus's music without a bass or a piano, but fortune, as the saying goes, favours the brave. I Am Three's scintillating display was equal parts harmonic-cum-rhythmic sophistication, and visceral, quite exhilarating, edge-of-the-seat improvisation. Once Eberhard had launched the opening notes of "Moanin,'" the trio embarked on a very personal tribute to Mingus that captured the depth and vitality of the bassist's compositions without being overly reverential.

Tight unison lines and wildly interweaving trumpet and saxophone lines were two sides of the same coin on the riotous "Opus 4," with Marien interjecting with a bustling solo punctuated by gong accents. The trio's original approach to Mingus' music was typified by its arrangement of "Fables of Faubus," where an extended passage of introspective abstraction gave way to punchy interaction and uninhibited improvisations, buoyed by Marien's infectious rhythms. The drummer was at the heart of "Self Portrait in Three Colors," his vibrant solo sandwiched between Eberhard and Neuser's harmonic rendering of the melody.

Muted trumpet sounded the familiar melody to "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," although this spare arrangement of Mingus's homage to Lester Young featuring ghostly cymbals bore little resemblance to the original. "Oh Lord, Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me" was closer in essence to the blues spiritual of the Mingus blueprint, with saxophone and trumpet conjuring the sultry, charged chemistry between Mingus and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. A short but appropriately stormy version of "Better Get Hit In Yo' Soul" ended the set, with a rousing ovation calling the trio back for an encore of "Cannon" -Eberhard and Neuser's lament-tinged harmonies contrasting with Marien's mantra-infused bustle.

To date, I Am Three has released one album of Mingus compositions, the highly recommended Mingus, Mingus, Mingus (Leo Records, 2016). Hopefully there's more to come from this trio, one of the most original and invigorating of Mingus tribute bands.

Documentary Films@ Beanbag Cinema: The Black Power Mixtape

Though seemingly unconnected to jazz—no jazz in the soundtrack for starters—Göran Hugo Olsson's documentary The Black Power Mixtape (2011) lifts the lid on black American history in the tumultuous years of socio-political upheaval between 1967 and 1975, thus providing a context for some of the more radical avant-garde jazz of that period. Moreover, it's impossible not to wonder at the intent behind any form of African-American art created during that time after watching this powerful, important documentary.

Filmed by Swedish journalists, the narrative comes from the testament of a wide array of African-Americans, from leading figures in the Civil Right movement and Vietnam veterans to heroin addicts/dealers, and from doctors, academics and ex-prisoners to regular working-class folk. Further insightful commentary is provided by, amongst others, Eryka Badu, Kathleen Cleaver, Melvin Van Peebles and Talib Kweli.

What the film makes abundantly clear is that the issues facing African-Americans then, namely racism, poor housing, unemployment, drug use, disproportionately high levels of incarceration, violence and all manner of discrimination, demanded revolution.

That many of these issues are still salient in the America of today is another inescapable conclusion. This notion is underlined by a tale recounted by Kweli. The hip-hop artist/activist recalled how in 2001, shortly after 9/11, he was stopped at an airport and questioned by the FBI and the CIA because he had been listening to a speech by activist Stokley Carmichael from 1967, whilst working on a new record. "It shows the power of those words," says Kweli, who suspected he had been bugged, "that they resonate even to now."

Carmichael features prominently in the 100-minute film, and the charisma of the man is palpable. On the assassination of Martin Luther King he says: "When White America killed Dr. King last night, she declared war on us."

The language of war is repeated throughout the film, with political activist Angela Davis describing America's "internal war" as a "racist war." An inspiring leader, Davis is another central figure in the film. "When you talk about a revolution," Davis says in a 1972 interview, "most people think violence, without releasing that the real content of any kind of revolutionary thrust lies in the principles and the goals that you are striving for, not in the way you reach them."

One of the biggest problems facing poor African-American communities then as now, was drugs. There are harrowing scenes and testimony of the heroin epidemic in Harlem, described by Davis as the "collateral consequences of the war in Vietnam," where many African-American soldiers returned to the States already addicted. The detrimental effects of heroin, Davis explained, had much wider implications than human suffering and the erosion of communities. "Drugs were responsible for the receding of militancy and revolutionary impulses in black communities all over the country."

But if Olsson's film is a document of systemized racial discrimination, social depravation, and the human rights revolution that was the inevitable consequence of that, it is also an inspiring tale of the pride, courage and dignity of those like Carmichael, King, X, The Black Panthers, and Davis, who risked everything to transform a morally bankrupt country. Essential viewing. Available in its entirety on YouTube.

Dans Dans Day four of Brilliant Corners was not one for the jazz purists, featuring as it did Belgian alt-rock-cum-electronics outfit Dans Dans—whose guitarist Bert Dockx and bassist Frederic Lyenn Jacques spent almost as much time hunkered down over pedal boards and electronic knobs as they did playing upright—and heavy rock/metal practitioner Hedvig Mollestad.

Dans Dans brand of instrumental music isn't easy to categorise, but "TV Dreams," with its trippy, country-meets-jazz-rock guitar, metronomic rhythmic pulse, plus electronic effects, conjured notions of Bill Frisell at the helm of Radiohead. The trio-sound gradually swelled, drummer Steven Cassiers lashing his kit in explosive bursts as Dockx ventured into heady psychedelic terrain. Almost surreptitiously, the trio returned to the quietly hypnotic opening motif.

On more overtly rock ventures such as "Cargo" and the brooding "Thieves," with bass and drums locked in persistent grooves, Dockx' gnarly, effects-drenched soloing evoked Marc Ribot unleashed. Curiously skewed bebop, Quentin Tarantino-esque spaghetti-western noir, pulse-sure African ambience and searing rock aesthetics all combined to potent effect. The final number, an episodic prog-cum-jazz-rock burner founded upon driving bass and pounding drums, featured an expansive Dockx' solo that set the seal on a powerfully persuasive performance.

Hedvig Mollestad Trio

Norwegian heavy rock guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen has earned a growing international reputation since her debut recording Shoot! (Rune Grammofon, 2011). Subsequent albums All of Them Witches (Rune Grammofon, 2013) and Enfant Terrible (Rune Grammofon, 2014) cemented her position as a formidable technician and an uncompromising performer, bringing her invitations to play Molde International Jazz Festival, the EFG London Jazz Festival—supporting John McLaughlin's Fifth Dimension—Vossa Jazz and now Brilliant Corners.

The jazz festival invitations are, on the face of it, a little strange, for although jazz-trained, Mollestad Thomassen's music takes a lot more inspiration from metal/heavy rock progenitors Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin—and bands of that ilk—than from jazz.

The opening power chords of "Approaching" from Black Stabat Mater (Rune Grammofon, 2016) instantly made a few heads turn; for the uninitiated, the sheer force of the Hedvig Mollestad Trio can come as quite a shock. Ellen Brekken's driving bass lines and Ivar Joe Bjornstad's pummelling drums provided a relentlessly intense backdrop for Mollestad, who alternated between blues-rock charge, hanging chords and gutsy riffing. It was a powerful set opener, loud and energetic, setting the tone for what was to come.

The trio still had gears to climb, as the thunderous riffing of "In the Court of the Trolls" immediately demonstrated. Yet, in the midst of the rhythmic tumult, Mollestad spent as much time developing painterly sonic textures as she did unleashing torrents of heavy metal fire. The contrasts between drive and restraint, between unbridled virtuosity and lyrical intent, dissonance and harmony, was a recurring feature of Mollestad's playing, even in the music's stormiest passages. The doomy, Sabbath-esque grunge of "Code of Hammurabi" bled into "-40," an impressionistic excursion marked by delicate arpeggios, bowed acoustic bass and crying cymbals.

The trio seemed most at home, however, when at its most incendiary, dealing out meaty riffs, searing guitar and pounding rhythms with incredible collective energy. There was room for a little rock 'n' roll theatre too, with Mollestad and Brekken stepping off the stage to rock out close-up and personal, even playing each other's guitar necks in an episode that would have been worthy of Spinal Tap had the musicianship behind it not been so impressive.

A huge ovation accompanied the trio as it left the stage, having conquered another audience with its unique, adrenaline-fueled, visceral brand of heavy rock.

A very popular feature of Brilliant Corners has been the Saturday afternoon concert in Black Box. This year, guitarist Nigel Mooney's Organ Failure, featuring former Art Blakey Jazz Messenger Jean Toussaint, Dominic Mullan and Scott Flanigan proved a great draw, though unfortunately, due to foreseen circumstances, this reviewer was unable to attend.

The weekend also saw Shane Latimer and Steve Davis—respectively of OKO and Bourne, Kane, Davis fame—lead several informal workshops with young musicians aged 12-18. The focus of the three workshops—held in the Crescent Arts Centre—was on creating music and improvisation. This initiative by Brilliant Corners promotor Moving On Music is important in galvanizing and inspiring the upcoming generation of musicians. With such encouragement, today's young Belfast students of jazz/improvised music are the Joseph Leightons, Connor Murrays and James Andersons of tomorrow. To make it really meaningful, however, such programs might need to run with some regularity throughout the year.

Documentary Films@ Beanbag Cinema:Eat That Question

Taking a detour from jazz, Saturday afternoon's film at the Beanbag threw the spotlight on Frank Zappa. Thorsten Schutte's Eat That Question (2016), through interviews conducted over nearly thirty years, sheds light on Zappa the composer and Zappa the media personality. For although Zappa describes being interviewed at the film's outset as being "one step removed from the Inquisition," the fact is that the prolific composer/guitarist was never camera shy.

The earliest footage shows a fresh-faced Zappa on the Steve Allen show in 1963 playing the bicycle with "a pair of Louie Bellson-style drum sticks and a bass bow." A novelty act it may have appeared, but the addition of a tape of pre-recorded electronic noises and instructions to the studio musicians to "make any noise" showed that from the very outset of his singular career Zappa's penchant for combining humor and avant-garde experiment provided his road-map.
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