Jazz em Agosto
August 6-15, 2010
If music-making were as simple as putting things in a box, a review of Lisbon's 2010 Jazz em Agosto festival might go something like this: The duo of John Surman
and Jack DeJohnette
put as much as they could in the box, while Evan Parker
's Electro- Acoustic Ensemble realized the box didn't need to be filled all the way. Guus Ganssen and Han Bennink
discovered you can put more in if you keep dumping it out again, as did the Luc Ex band El Sol 6, if more methodically than the former. Red Trio found you can fit more in if you pack it just so, whereas the trio of Pat Thomas, Raymond Strid and Clayton Thomas filled the box with smaller boxes and Steamboat Switzerland packed so much in it had to be taped shut. And while Louis Sclavis
wrote "Odyssey" on the side of the box, he filled it with pleasantries and forget-me-nots. Frode Gjerstad
's Circulasione Totale Orchestra, meanwhile, didn't restrict itself to the box at all.
It's not as easy as that, of course, but making music is a matter off filling space, which is all that's in a box before it's filled. The festival could be looked at more methodically, of course, by pointing out for instance that while the median and mode band sizes were both three, the big band's of Gjerstad and Parker brought the mean average up to 5.4. Here we can see the stronghold staked by the trio over the course of the two long weekends, along with an intimation of the diversity in workforce numbers, even if still it does little to characterize the diversity of actual music produced.
And it was a diverse program to be sure, with a variety of approaches to setting structures for improvisation, or to letting the improvisation flow freely, on display. Not to mention allusions to classical and heavy metal, as well as The Carpenters, an engaging lecture on source materials within the jazz tradition by music scholar Francesco Martinelli
and documentary films on Bennink (Hazentijd
) and Albert Mangelsdorff
(Die Posaune de Jazz
In magnitude if nothing else, Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble was the keynote event of the fest. Key to the sound and structure of the sprawling 19-piece band's sound was the real time processing of the instruments, especially impressive in the surround-sound of the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian's open-air theater. Sounds occurring onstage were thrown to the back of the space, setting the audience squarely within the sound field from the opening electronic wash against objects bowed by Paul Lytton
and Aleks Kolkowski with Augusti Fernandez playing inside the piano case. That coupled with the flashing white noise video projection created an overall sense of being in the center of an electrical stormand finding it calmer than would have been anticipated.
This is, or at least for the moment, the avenue by which Parker the improviser has positioned himself as composer. He created the ensemble and environment, and shaped both in real time. Sitting at the front, facing the ensemble, Parker arranged the elements as they were created. When the acoustic instruments came in, it was subtle with a steep ramp, avoiding the "weirdness as intro" cliché, they integrated elements seamlessly (abetted by the integrated circuitry). The band blurred both time and space until trumpeter Peter Evans
was given the first unaccompanied solo, using the opportunity for a wonderfully sparse soliloquy, the bell of his horn over the microphone, his breathy exhalations circling back on him. Much of the long performance was built around small groupings and ghostly apparitions, with distinct voices (Ikue Mori, Ned Rothenberg
) occasionally rising only slightly above the surface. The piece ended with a beautiful sho passage by Ka Ishikawa set beneath a low-flying plane overhead.