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Jazzkaar 2016

Martin Longley By

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On the last Friday of the festival, a 10 Years Of Jazz Awards set provided a showcase for the Estonian artists who had won the Jazzkaar votes over those years, united in a large ensemble that changed its shape and emphasis as each player hosted their own tune-selection. Bassman Taavo Remmel turned up again, joined by singer/pianist Kadri Voorand , guitarist Jaak Sooäär and one of this year's freshly-anointed winners, saxophonist Maria Faust. Sooäär led the opening quartet in an angular post-prog riffer, duelling with Raivo Tafenau's tenor saxophone lines. Voorand's versatility shone through during her various appearances, but she was brightest during her own section, matching voice to piano, looping a folksy refrain, tingling on xylophone, then layering up further vocal parts. Her melding of vocal, electronic, piano and acoustic permutations has a deftness that unites all the elements into a single Voorand-sound, her expertise at communicating innate personality via musical construction being remarkable throughout. Faust appeared last, her alto partnered by Voorand in Brechtian mood, unveiling yet another facet.

The late night set on the smaller stage featured Faust as part of the Shitney threesome, an all-female cabal devoted to electronically-dominated improvisation. Their extremity and dedication to sonic disruption, their scaly, untouchable textures, can all be admired, but ultimately, their end-product tended to drift inconclusively, lacking the desperate energies that such an orientation requires. Shitney ran out of juice at several points during the set.

There could be no greater contrast than the music presented on the following afternoon by Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren, along with bassman Mattias Svensson and a string quartet. Fellow Swedish pianist Jan Johansson played at the first Tallinn jazzfest in 1966, and this set reflected the contents of Lundgren's recent homage album on the ACT label. Temperamentally, and visually, this ensemble could have been a throwback to the 1970s, choosing a formal, graceful presentation of Johansson's folkloric transformations. The naked source matter arrived from Russia, Hungary and Sweden itself. The strings were employed with restraint, allowing several piano/bass duets, before the violins, viola and cello made their jaunty rhythmic chopping, often filling a percussive role. This was a conservative folk-jazz fusion, but consistently pleasurable in its inevitable plangent smoothness.

Further folk forms were explored on the festival's final afternoon. The local Estonian violinist Maarja Nuut has been developing an increasingly international profile recently, with regular appearances in London and New York. Outwardly, she seems to be reflecting the folkloric sounds of her homeland, but she's involved with drinking in so many other musical sources that the 'folk' is of her own making, often involving original compositions. Her presentation has been further refined, with evocative Northern wasteland images flickering on a large back-screen, the lighting set at low-intrusion dimness, for maximum atmosphere. The subtle opening revealed Nuut's growing skill with looping pedals, softly building up vocal tones, then repeating the process with violin layers. The whole hour or so, steadily consolidated a similar feel, interspersed with tales (this time in Estonian, but she weaves them in English when playing in other lands), in a multi-media experience that didn't draw too much attention to its use of technology, ending up as a decidedly organic experience.

The closing gig involved a new Maria Faust piece, "Velocipede," for an expanded group that had Shitney at its core. On paper, the advance intentions were promising: to address the culture of fitness, not least with several rows of going-nowhere exercise bikes. In the imagination, it was hoped that these would actually generate some of the music, either by direct microphones, electronic transformation, or the simple act of pedalling affecting the musical process. In reality, they just seemed to be lined up for the use of audience members who felt like cycling whilst watching the show, there being an initial uncertainty over whether this was welcomed by the band. It was pleasing to hear, once Faust introduced her repeated vocal pronouncements into the sludgy wash, that she was making an anti-fitness confession, or at least struggling with some form of guilt. But ultimately, nothing was extreme enough to court controversy, either verbally, sonically or visually. Faust's stance and intentions are to be admired, but as with Shitney, the final manifestation was strangely lacking in power and motion.

Photo Credit: Rene Jakobson

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