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Jazzkaar 2017

Martin Longley By

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Randalu and Janke returned three days later, on the Vaba Lava stage, with the pianist's Limes Occidentalist outfit, an aggressively internationalist quintet, featuring the French guitarist Nguyen Le. The other two members are clarinetist Kinan Azmeh (Syria) and bassist Petros Klampanis (a New Yorker from Greece). Janke's background is complicated, born in Poland, but living in Germany for most of his days, and seemingly with strong Russian connections. In this band, he comes across as more of a conventional big-sound sticksman, compared to the subtle tinkerings he made during the earlier house concert. Clearly a player of diverse methods.

Lê, of course, is completely steeped in the Vietnamese tradition of his parents, managing to infuse jazz-rock licks with a completely bendy-string tonality, as if he's simultaneously playing several of the traditional one-string đàn bầu instruments, complete with foot-pedal distortion. Starting slow and sombre, with a wailing, funereal clarinet solo, it's soon apparent that Azmeh and Lê have already grown a close rapport, matching their high-toned whines towards the tune's climax. Lê is particularly precise, whether playing clipped riffs or streaming off into an elaborate solo. The two have a returning dialogue throughout the set. A clarinet-guitar duo has Randalu joining soon, then Lê rising up for his own solo. A heavily reverbed pairing of piano and clarinet ensues, and the other players gradually re-enter. Randalu and crew keep up the chase of shifting dynamics with remarkable dexterity and balance.

There's a Jazzkaar approach which favours earlier evening sets for a seated audience, switching to a mostly- standing environment for the later show, usually presenting a band that will appeal to a younger crowd, playing music that surges up to the edges of jazz. Sometimes, with a band such as GoGo Penguin, a trio from Manchester, England, the 'sideways' act can be emphatically jazzy. Back on the festival's opening night, at Vaba Lava, the piano-bass- drums formation of the Penguins acts as a tightly locked, glass face of post-minimalism, another one of those combos who collide repetition and force with the jazz equivalent of post-rock, or math-rock, whichever we shall call such a complex thrusting motion.

This is quite impressive, but has the disadvantage of sounding way too worked out, and inevitable. The Gogos gig together so frequently that they're now a precision machine. This might be a lack felt only if the audience member has already caught them on several previous occasions. To the newcomer, they must surely retain the old power that we can recall from our very first confrontation. The Penguins do manage to fulfil the promise of a jazz intricacy, informed by rock and electronica motions, but with an actual acoustic bent, even if heavily amplified through the sound system. They just need a gnarly old stick slipped through their well-oiled spokes.

On the festival's third day, the Sunday tradition of Telliskivi freebie gigs is maintained, with a liberal programme of short sets, scattered around the entire area, most of them lasting around 30 minutes. It's the open-day, completely accessible part of Jazzkaar. Around noon, Maimu Jõgeda (accordion) and Kaari Uus (enhanced cello) played a restful set in the busy Pudel Baar (the crafty beer joint mentioned earlier), just sitting on chairs in the corner, and establishing a folk-classical calm around the interior, ensnaring the assembled within their sonorous mist.

Later in the afternoon, saxophonist Aleksander Paal Quartet was in the same house, returning after his higher profile, and stormier, appearance at the 2016 Jazzkaar. He was joined by guitarist Jaan-Alari Jaanson, not straying from a mellow jazz mainline, but still having the sound of shock, given that the festival didn't include a massive amount of old-school soft-swinging. The climax of this Sunday freebie-feast was, not surprisingly, provided by Estonian singer/pianist Kadri Voorand , this time in duo setting with her new regular bassman Mihkel Mälgand. All areas are covered, including jazz, free-form, dramatic song and electronic interference. There's a slight hesitance due to a tight turnaround, and the stage set-up not being fully arranged, but Voorand's quick-thinking solves any technical hitch, turning it into part of the show.

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