Dutch Jazz & World Meeting 2012: October 5-6, 2012

John Kelman By

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October 6 Afternoon: Conservatory

Opening the second afternoon series of showcases, pianist Amina Figarova—who, with husband/flautist Bart Platteau, relocated to New York City in 2011—made a return to Amsterdam with her longstanding sextet, performing music from her latest release, Twelve (In + Out, 2012). An Azerbaijan expat, Figarova has been slowly building an impressive body of work—including Come Escape With Me and September Suite (both Munich Records, 2005)—built on a solid foundation of the American jazz tradition. Unlike many of the jazz acts showcased at DJ&WM, Figarova and her group know how to swing, and did so in an elegant and refined fashion.

Part of the secret of Figarova's success is the frontline she's chosen: saxophone (Marc Mommaas on Twelve, with Johannes Weidenmueller here) and trumpet (Ernie Hammes)—especially on flugelhorn—blended beautifully with flute to create a distinctive frontline with enough brass to be sharp when needed, but softer, and more rounded when necessary. And Platteau, one of a very few musicians today for whom flute is their primary instrument, is an especially fine player, one who deserves broader recognition and might just get it, should flute ever come into vogue again. With bassist Jeroen Vierdag and drummer Chris "Buckshot" Strik keeping things swinging, grooving and, at times, even pushing with a little light funk, Figarova has a group of strong soloists and empathic ensemble players that's been largely stable since Above the Clouds (Munich Records, 2008).

As a soloist, Figarova's touch is light, her solos combining lithe dexterity with flashes of muscularity; a female player who manages the yin and the yang, not unlike American bassist Marc Johnson. If ever there was a DJ&WM 2012 show that deserved to go on longer than 30 minutes it was this one; still, given that opportunities to catch Figarova and her wonderful sextet live are relatively rare (though the group has played 40 dates this year) , it was certainly a fine and very welcome half hour of mainstream-centric, elegant music from a composer and performer for whom relocation to the United States, based on Twelve, has clearly born tremendous fruit.

Boi Akih is a mutable group that ranges from duo to sextet, but the constants that give it its unique blend of composed song form and freewheeling improvisation are singer Monica Akihary and guitarist Niels Brouwer. For their DJ&WM 2012 performance, Akihary and Brouwer fleshed out to a quartet, with drummer Kim Weemhoff and, most notably, Wolter Wierbos—a busy player who truly is one of the most distinctive trombonists alive today. Coming into the set a few minutes late, it took a few moments to recognize the song Boi Akih was singing, though it's one that has been interpreted in a jazz context before: singer/songwriter David Crosby's "Guinnevere," first heard a decade after trumpeter Miles Davis recorded it, on Circle in the Round (Columbia, 1979). With Brouwer on an acoustic, twin-necked harp-guitar, the quartet stayed close to its compositional framework while, at the same time, opening it up for more broad-based interpretation, in a take longer than that on the quartet's recent Circles in Square Society (Bromo, 2012).

The group also covered Jimi Hendrix ("The Wind Cries Mary," rather than Circles in Square Society's "A Merman I Should Turn to Be") and Bob Marley, in a particularly powerful "Redemption Song," that closed the set. In the midst of all this, passages of free play where Akihary proved an intriguing improvisational foil—at times touching on scat, but more often than not relying on more unique and unusual vocal approaches. Wierbos, using mutes and just flat-out spontaneous creativity, was never less than perfect, whether he was dropping down into his instrument's lower register, to assume some kind of bass role, or soaring with nearly human-like articulations, turning his interactions with Akihary into some of DJ&WM's most compelling moments of connected chemistry. Brouwer was capable of greater beauty on his acoustic harp-guitar, but when he turned to electric his approach became far more angular and aggressive, while Weemhoff's ears were clearly open throughout the set, pushing hard as needed, but equally appropriate as a textural player.

The final show of the afternoon, before another trade dinner—this time at Zouthaven, one of Bimhuis' restaurants—was The Nordanians, a trio comprised of violist Oene van Geel (who also performed earlier the same day with the intrepid Zapp 4 string quartet, whose forthcoming recording tackles the music of Radiohead), guitarist Mark Tuinstra and tablaist Niti Ranjan Biswas. Fans of guitarist John McLaughlin's longstanding East-meets-West explorations will be somewhat familiar with The Nordanians overall space, though what this trio does is more like a funky Shakti, blended with occasional electronics and, in contrast to McLaughlin's deeper spirituality, a greater sense of levity...humor, even.

Set up with van Geel stage right, Tuinstra stage left, and Biswas center stage on a riser towards the back, communication was key as the three maintained strong eye contact throughout the showcase set. Tuinstra may not be the legend that McLaughlin is, but neither was he a slouch, playing a more conventional rhythm guitarist role at time, something McLaughlin rarely does with Shakti, where he remains more closely aligned with Indian music's linear nature. That said, when it came to soloing, Tuinstra kept up with the clearly virtuosic van Geel, who has clearly studied Indian music and nailed its microtonal nature. In addition to being a fine tablaist, Biswas also performed Konnakol (Indian vocal percussion). A set highlight came when, with Biswas doing Konnakol, both Tuinstra and van Geel joined him, with something that, at times, approached Konnakol but other times was more akin to scat. The three built to a climactic pitch only to resume on their instruments to tremendous applause. Like Kapok the previous evening, The Nordanians made clear that serious music could also be fun.

October 6 Evening: Bimhuis

But no show was as entertaining as the 30-minute set from Tin Men & The Telephone, which opened DJ&WM 2012's final evening at Bimhuis. This evening there were two staggered showcase streams taking place: one in the main Bimhuis performance space, the other, downstairs in the Main Hall—where the acoustics weren't as good but, at least, it was easy to move back and forth between the two venues, unlike 2010, where it was oftentimes virtually impossible.

A trio featuring pianist Tony Roe, bassist Lucas Dols and drummer Bobby Petrov, Tin Men & The Telephone's setup included a microphone and music stand center stage and, as the group took its place, Roe announced that their singer was late, but that they were going to go ahead without her. It became the running joke through a show that combined comedy and tough, tough charts for a 30-minute set where, as time went on, a telephone placed beside Roe continued to ring: sometimes the singer, informing the band that she was still on her way; other times, someone from a dry cleaner letting the trio know its clothes were ready.

What began as a conceit became something more when, midway through the set, the band began to play along with the dry cleaner's voice message in a style not unlike American drummer Dan Weiss did on his remarkable Timshel (Sunnyside, 2010), with a sequence of dialog between Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino, from the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross, turned into music, picking up on its intrinsic cadence.

From there, Tin Men continued with arrangements that were all the more remarkable for the lack of charts onstage, as a rear screen lit up with a field of cows who turned to look at each player as Roe and Petrov traded solos, positioned at opposite ends of the stage. Soon after, another phone call from the singer suggested they play "that song you like" and, as the group continued, the written music began to show up on the screen, note-by-note in time with the performance. As the set reached its conclusion, a computer screen came up and, as Roe began typing out the band introductions ("You have been listening to..."), complete with typos to be corrected with a backspace key, Roe mirrored it precisely on piano.

The performance was so engaging and so funny that it was easy to forget that this was also music of some depth, with twists and turns, tough to unravel knots and rhythmic stops and starts. As presenters flocked to the back of the room to meet with the group's management and, hopefully, pick up a copy of its debut, Moetjenou?! (RoeM Records, 2010), there was one final joke: at a time when vinyl is making a serious comeback, especially in Europe, Moetjenou?! was vinyl...or, at least, it appeared so, its 12x12 gatefold cover holding a piece of old vinyl, to which was attached the actual CD. Loaded with subterfuge and deflection, Tin Men & The Telephone were jokesters, right until the very end.

Fugara (DNL, 2012)—recorded at a December, 2011 Bimhuis performance—is the debut from a new group of names ranging from well-known to deserving of greater recognition. Alto saxophonist Paul Van Kemenade will be, perhaps, familiar to ECM fans who have 1989's Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, conducted by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach. Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari will also be known to fans of the German label for Kuára: Psalms and Folk Songs (ECM), a recording that, with pianist Samuli Mikkonen and Norwegian trumpeter/singer Per Jorgensen, was one of 2010's best recordings. Trumpeter Markus Stockhausen, son of classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and a composer in his own right, will also be known to ECM followers for his late '80s group Aparis, as well as Karta (ECM, 2000), an outstanding record with bassist Arild Andersen and percussionist Patrice Héral, and featuring guest guitarist Terje Rypdal; that same trio would continue to record with guitarist Ferenc Snetberger, last heard on Joyosa (Enja, 2004), and with pianist Vladislav Sendecki on the two-disc live set, Electric Treasures (Aktivarium, 2008).

Pianist Stevko Busch was the least-known of the bunch, but acted as prime motivator behind the project's formation, also producing the recording. Together with van Kemenade, Busch released the duo recording Contemplation: On Songs, Russian Chants, Miniatures (DNL, 2010), the conceptual precursor to Fugara, with its emphasis on Russian chants. Busch recently wrote, "My goal is to dive into 'European roots,' so to speak, which brought me to Russian chants, and there are more doors. With Fugara I'm able to walk through some of them." The addition of Stockhausen and Ounaskari allowed the quartet to demonstrate a moving ability to respect its spiritual sources while, at the same, time expanding upon its foundations. Choosing material from the recording (largely originals from Busch, Stockhausen and Kemenade, with one group composition/improv and a cover of pianist Abdullah Ibrahim's "The Mountain"), the quartet opened with the trumpeter's melancholic "Mondtraum," with Ounaskari's textural approach and Busch's arpeggiations creating a context for Kemenade and Stockhausen's flowing, interweaving lines—both scored and improvised.

Busch's "Cheruvimi" was an understated highlight of the set, a delicate tone poem that was largely a duo with the finessed Ounaskari, as the pianist quietly whistled its soft melody. There's a lot about Fugara that could make it an appropriate act for ECM; whether or not that happens with the quartet's subsequent work, its showcase at DJ&WM 2012 suggested plenty of potential yet to be tapped.

After Fugara's sublime set, Rubatong came as something of a shock. John Gilbreath—director of Seattle's Earshot Festival (who acted as master of ceremonies, introducing the acts in Bimhuis' performance space on both evenings) suggested, after the curious but compelling quartet's showcase, it wasn't in any way jazz, but did it really matter? Put together by Han Buhrs—an alum of post-Punk band The Ex with bassist Luc Ex, another member of Rubatong— the singer also tapped into the contemporary classical world for percussionist Tatiana Koleva (here playing percussion and vibes) and guitarist Renévan Barneveld, a member of the rap-meets-rock group Urban Dance Squad.

It was a strange combination, and yet it worked—and worked extraordinarily well. A hint of Captain Beefheart once more reared its head, with Buhrs ranged from spoken word to screams and from singing to shouting, all delivered with a crazy, spasmodic kind of dance move. Attitude dominated, with lyrics that were largely sung in English, contrary to the mix of English, German, Dutch, French and, as the program notes call it, "self-made German" on the group's 10-track CD. While scratchy electric guitar and visceral slide would seem to be a strange partner for bowed vibraphone, Rubatong managed to bring together a series of strange bedfellows for a set that rocked hard, but also worked more delicate textural plains. And while her background may have been in contemporary classical music, Koleva's strange percussion rig worked hand-in-glove with Ex's heavily amplified acoustic bass guitar for a set that may not have been anything remotely like jazz...but who cared? Certainly not the audience, which gave the group one of the most powerful responses of any showcase at DJ&WM 2012.

Closing DJ&WM 2012—at least in Bimhuis' main performance venue—renowned cellist Ernst Reijseger, rising star pianist Harmen Fraanje and vocalist/percussionist Mola Sylla delivered a showcase that featured music from their upcoming Winter&Winter soundtrack to Werner Herzog's 2010 3D documentary, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams. Reijseger and Sylla have worked together for some years, and the cellist has long been known for his passionate improvisational skills and longstanding working relationship with Herzog, but with Fraanje—known for his own trio work and his collaboration with trumpeter Eric Vloeimans in Fugimundi—this trio adopts a more expansive stance, one predicated in spontaneity but within the framework of classically tinged, occasionally Afro-centric composed structures.

With Sylla beginning on mbira (thumb piano), the trio opened with a song of almost childlike naïveté, the percussionist singing in his native Wolof as Reijseger's pizzicato and Fraanje's spare chordal accompaniment created a soft, warm cushion. While never exactly moving into aggressive territory, when Sylla began roaming the stage and singing, things did turn a little harder, as he began to shout out, not unlike Norwegian trumpeter Per Jørgensen and his vivid vocalization. Reijseger is one of just a few cellists who can improvise at this level, with soaring lines that orbited in, out and around Fraanje, who is emerging as one of the most impressive young European pianists of the past decade. Towards the end of the set, Reijseger took a particularly impassioned solo, made all the more so as he suddenly linked, lock-step, with Fraanje for the composition's repetitive, minimalist-tinged arpeggiated motif, and Sylla approached Fraanje, shouting loudly and gesticulating wildly.

It was surprisingly powerful stuff for a cello/piano/voice trio, and an ideal end to DJ&WM 2012's showcase series in its combination of freewheeling lyricism with a broad emotional palette, and its distinctive blend of African vibe and classical ambience.



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