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Jazzkaar 2017

Martin Longley By

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In the voluminous Nordea Concert Hall, the jazz-funkin' Spyro Gyra kept it harder than expected, with frequent tussling solos provided by guitarist Julio Fernandez and founding saxophonist Jay Beckenstein, with drummer Lionel Cordew unable to contain his own extended solo, close to the set's conclusion. A substantial show it may have been, but the Gyras kept on switching styles and altering internal relationships, maintaining the interest and avoiding any vocal or synth hysteria, often the double plague across this fusion landscape. Thankfully, not as smooth as feared...

Within the hour, back at Telliskivi, a very different band opened the later evening session at Punane Maja, the smaller stage that alternates with Vaba Lava next door. This was a quartet devoted to the upright acoustic bass, featuring four of Estonia's prime jazz low-toners: the father-and-son team of Heikko and Taavo Remmel, along with the festival's pair of ubiquitous players, Mihkel Mälgand and Peedu Kass. Much of the repertoire involved arrangements for all four players, but there were also a number of permutations, featuring various duo pairings. Even when all four were onstage, variation would be provided via differing methods, perhaps one bassist bowing, another rapping percussively on his wood- body, whilst the others flash fingers across the strings in the expected jazzin' fashion. They skated from Monteverdi to Massive Attack, the latter's "Teardrop" constructed via percussive raps and taps, with drawn-out bow-groans, Kass taking solo position, revealing a quavering, trebly-toned expressiveness. Then, the Remmel family took a tune, followed by a duo from the other pair, which opted for an open-form, clattery tack, making a rickety progress. As a full ensemble, the four succeed in coordinating beautifully, even including a choreographed twirling of their bulky axes. This was a relatively short 40 minute set, but nevertheless crammed with varied bass and repertoire permutations.

Your scribe witnessed the Estonian pianist Kirke Karja only three weeks earlier, during Tallinn Music Week. Her set was well-delivered, but very slight compared to the gripping show she played here at Jazzkaar. Karja's quintet features a reed front-line that swaps between various members of the saxophone family, choosing soprano, alto or tenor to suit the thrust of each work, which were premieres of an all-new songbook, "Earcut," hopefully with an album on the way.

Mairo Marjamaa and Lauri Kadalipp spurt out solos of writhing intricacy, followers of the Anthony Braxton, Steve Coleman and Steve Lehman paths. Karja has a hard, percussive, hyperactive piano style, making it difficult to avoid thoughts of such players as Cecil Taylor, Alexander von Schlippenbach, or even Don Pullen. There's a vigorous angularity, prompting shouts from the bar at the venue's side (whether of pain or ecstasy, it's hard to judge), but then a peculiar tranquility dawns during the following number, clambering up to doomy steps. Karja's combo projects an aura of youthful mania, against the stage's flashing LED cubes. There are subsequent sombre developments, and a completely stunned silence hangs in the air at the end.

A highlight of the next evening was Papanosh, a French quintet who have been together for a decade, but who aren't so widely known outside of their homeland. Here's a gang who sound like they're dipped in film noir, opening with a sleazy Earl Bostic crawl, gliding into a Latin alley, with the inevitable deep crimson lighting from the stage- cubes.

Actually, by this halfway point of Jazzkaar, we were really fully appreciating the imaginative variations possible within the square panels that cover both of the Telliskivi stages. They can flicker insanely during an up-tempo electronica outbreak, or remain cooly on shallow breathing mode for a more old school jazz quietness. Colour and line choices are seemingly unending.

Papanosh have a more spacious slant on the Lounge Lizards vibration, though slightly straighter in their approach. The following tune kept a detective pursuit character, but with a crabby Zorn-ed solo and splintered piano, switching to swirling Dashiell Hammond. There were under-the-lid activities, then two-in-the-mouth saxophones, finishing up with "Funereal Boogaloo," which wasn't noticeably deathly.

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