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Hitch On 2017

Martin Longley By

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The last outfit in competition were Quantum Trio, cleverly stepping aside from the oft-chosen orientation, instead matching piano and drums with saxophone. Most of the acts in competition have been formed during the last year or two, but this threesome came together in Rotterdam, 2012. The line-up combines a pair of Poles with a Chilean. They were a tad mechanically clever, nay robotic, at times, but their performance was greased by virtuoso abilities. Seemingly obsessed with hard-paced time swerves and scientific precision, they lacked in the area of organic feel. It was puzzling that the Quantums chose a very lengthy drum solo for the limited time allotted, but the good news was that this happened in the setting of their best work on display, "Entropy," a powered charge with a recurring Balkanoid stutter-theme, which became increasingly compulsive each time it hoved forth.

The evening showcases (7.30pm) had a slightly different home, this time in the larger back room of Zet Pe Te, darker for increased atmosphere. There were eight acts performing over the two nights of showcase sets, four per evening.

The Kamil Piotrowicz Sextet had bass and drums twinned for sharp stab-tattoos, with crisply enunciated horn lines from their trumpet and two saxophones. The Sextet's pianist-composer leader operated in the freedom zone, working around his slinking themes, the instrument's interior becoming prepared for "Popular Music" (the title of their recent album), prior to the re-entry of the tripled chaos horns. Shockingly, after a brief moment of silence, the bassist and tenor saxophonist switched tools, to rend the night air with harsh electronic eruptions, in the old school Stockhausen vein. This was a truly revolutionary act, and completely unexpected, presaging a phase of ultra-minimalism, with bass singing high like a cello, a skipping, rotary drum solo capping off their "Cobra Blues."

The LRK Trio take their name from the initials of their members, being a Russian power piano threesome, together for a decade. Intent on precision linear racing, Evgeny Lebedev's keys triggered beats, and the trio lurched into a swampy dub interlude, eventually attaining a muscular ending, embellished by a relaxed accordion feature.

The Tomasz Chyla Quintet had an atypical orientation, devoted to a hard-assed folk-jazz fusion, dominated by the swooping and sawing violin of its exuberant leader. They opened with a folk song from the Kashubian region, led by Chyla's raw violin and Piotr Checki's lusty tenor saxophone. Next came an original work, with tension encouraged via an electronics-topped piano, holding a very varied palette, heading from lyrical swathes down to darkened blobbiness. A dervish dash highlighted another tenor solo, pushing to the very edges, and then riding back towards the governing theme.

Another festival highlight was provided by the Wójcinski/Szmanda Quartet, which includes three brothers and a bonus non-sibling member. This band might be the most experienced of the entire Hitch On, with a substantial playing history together. They are immersed in the hardcore improvising method, though not without returning themes and phrases. They encouraged an open sensitivity and calm, particularly in relation to all of the other bands on show. A luminous subtlety walked gruffly, with peppery stalactite trumpet falling onto an insistent piano vamp, steadily intensifying, with drumming punctuations and lowdown bass pulsing.

When the competition and showcase sets concluded, there was the more relaxed late night ambiance of the Harris Piano Bar, a lively basement den, right on the edge of the city's main square. These sets were straightforwardly divested of any competition or showcase responsibilities, 'merely' bent on creating a strong aura of groove, swing, stepping or funking, with two sets topped by a jam session, heading late into the night.

The NSI Quartet, together since 2012, operated a horn front line of trumpet and either alto or soprano saxophone, with bass and drums lurking tough to the rear. An overblowing Bartlomiej Prucnal held steady, whilst Cyprian Baszynski speckled trumpet on the run, both players weaving with quicksilver intensity. They opened a number with just soprano and trumpet, darting and minnowing before the bass and drums entered, bringing a complex funk into play. Later, as the jam session developed, it was virtually the same core band members that were central to the proceedings, but this was more due to a shortage of late night midweek participants than any egotistical desire for the quartet to dominate.

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