First Contempo Festival Events in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Contempo Festival Events
Uganda, Jerusalem, Levontin 7, Tel Aviv and The Yellow Submarine, Jerusalem
February, 19, 20 and 22, 2009
The first edition of The Tel Aviv International Festival of Contemporary Music and Video Art offered dozens of current musical happenings all over Tel Aviv along with some blessed excursions into Jerusalem. The most attractive series of events, The Night of the Unexpected, was curated by Ilan Volkov at Tel Aviv's Levontin 7 club.
Nils Okland

It began with an intimate recital by Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and violin player Nils Okland at the small Uganda bar in Jerusalem and continued a day later in a completely different set in Tel Aviv's Levontin 7. The modest and under-recorded Okland has so far released only two solo albums, Straum and Bris (Rune Grammofon, 2000 and 2004), which capture only part of his great artistry. Okland's playing references the rich Hardanger fiddle tradition of Norway that stresses individual style and inventive new tunings, but his compositions and improvisations are much more personal than those of other traditional players and paint much more abstract musical landscapes. As with other traditional players, his compositions cite references to communal ceremonies and services, in which Hardanger fiddlers still play a central role, and are inspired by the mighty natural landscapes of Norway, but Okland's wise use of the sympathetic string of the Hardanger fiddle allows him to move freely among common traditional themes, early Baroque stylings that reference composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber's pioneer tunings of the violin, and even much more adventurous overtones that sound like electronic drones, all in short and usually minimal musical sentences. On other compositions, his tunings of the violin evoked ancient Persian scales and Celtic airs, but it all was channeled into a highly personal articulation that had a deep and lasting emotional impact, challenging the listener to re-think his own definitions of the very concept of a musical tradition.

Wolfgang Fuchs, Roni Brenner, Ariel Shibolet

The first concert in Tel Aviv brought together German reed player Wolfgang Fuchs together with Israeli soprano saxophonist Ariel Shibolet and the Haifa-based Tanaka Quartet. Their improvised set emphasized slow and patient, subtle and often minimal timbral interplay in which each note and articulation of the instrument counts as much as the intervals between the notes. The members of Tanaka— Udi Snir on tenor sax, Roni Brenner of e-bowed guitar, Michel Mayer on guitar and electronics, and Ofer Bymel on drums—chose to set the foundation for much more expressive lead roles by Fuchs and Shibolet, both erupting with multiphonics that outlined a sonic map for the sextet. Throughout this set, tiny-to-small fragments were constructed and deconstructed till all were weaved into a larger and always interesting canvas of sounds.

Bass clarinetist Yoni Silver was next in line, performing a humorous and challenging interpretation of late composer Mauricio Kagel's composition from 1996, "Schattenklange" (Shadow Sounds): Three Pieces for Bass Clarinet. Silver, accompanied by inventive lighting, played this highbrow, theatrical and often absurdist musical essay with charm, beauty and authority.

Hild Sofie Tafjord

Norwegian French horn player and noise-maker Hild Sofie Tafjord, member of the Spunk quartet and Fe-mail duo, began the loudest part of the evening with a fascinating set of boisterous electronics. Her supposedly gentle sounding horn was sampled, manipulated and modified by a set of electronic gizmos that generated intriguing sonic storms that had a remarkable physical effect on all who experienced this set in the small hall of Lovontin 7. You could really feel your body vibrate as Tafjord sculpted and constructed extreme layers of thick and dense sounds, some raw noise and distortion, but most refined and nuanced. As the set progressed, the origins of the sounds were drowned in the coming waves of sonic onslaughts, but exciting new, chaotic dynamics evolved where the new sounds had by now acquired their own life, all enriching the complex textures that Tafjord delivered in such a magical way.

The Italian punk-jazz trio Zu— Luca T. Mai on processed baritone sax, Jacopo Battaglia on drums, and extraordinary electric bassist Massimo Pupillo— closed this evening with a short set. Zu, who are known for their frequent collaborations with such prominent improvisers as Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson, Thurston Moore and Mike Patton, featured material from their new release, Carboniferous (Ipecac, 2009). On the new release as on this set, Zu manages to bridge punk aesthetics of playing fast and extremely rapid passages with short and powerful phrases along with maniacal and brutal, free-jazz articulations. Their own tight interplay sounded at times like a jazzier and humorous transformation of Japanese Tatsuya Yoshhida's drums and bass duos for his band, Ruins. This highly energetic set, with the constant bantering between drummer Battaglia and the audience, especially with anthemic tracks like the "Carbon," contributed to the feeling that such hyper-aggressive, pushed-to- the-edges playing cannot help but be an amusing experience.

Peter Brotzmann

Bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmuller participated in the Contempo events in a joint concert of contemporary acoustic ensembles, the Israeli Nikel and the Berlin- based Mosaik ensembles, where they premiered a new composition by Wertmuller. Their set in Jerusalem, now as part of Peter Brötzmann's Full Blast trio, was something completely different. This trio still performs a high-octane version of free jazz, but as their new release, Black Hole (Atavistic, 2009) attests, their approach and delivery is much more sophisticated and collaborative now than it was in their first concert in Israel a year ago or on their debut release (Jazzwerkstatt, 2007). Not that Brotzmann's playing is less powerful and commanding than it was before before, or that the trio has lost its take-no-prisoners approach, but there is more now than sheer power and aggressiveness.

It was clear after a slow introduction that Brotzmann was angry about the too-colorful lighting in the Yellow Submarine club: "We are no fucking Rolling Stones," he roared, and as soon as the lights came down to a more natural mode, he began a long, emotional, bluesy solo, sometimes producing a ragged, low, vibrating sound from his alto sax, almost as if he were quoting Ben Webster. Pliakas was busy with producing a whole array of dense and fast chords from his electric bass, often taking the lead with complex riffs that were enhanced by his use of electronics, while Wertmuller pushed the trio with his relentless energy. Such intense support enabled Brotzmann to focus his solos on expressive and much more explicit feelings—anger, pain, sorrow, and a lot of compassion, with an uncompromising conviction that couldn't help but grab the listener's complete attention.

Photo Credit

Eyal Hareuveni

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