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Jazzkaar 2017

Martin Longley By

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Jumping ahead another day, the line-up is one of the best in a single evening, being topped by the wondrous Steve Gadd set, detailed above. The Randalu band (also dealt with earlier) started off the run, then were followed at Punane Maja by The Firebirds, a Danish trio, formed by drummer Stefan Pasborg, and devoted to jazz-contorted interpretations of classical greats. They use Igor Stravinsky as a Rite Of Springboard. The Firebirds dig Russian composers, but have also lately dug back into their own roots, peaking the set with some Carl Nielsen. They began with three movements of "The Firebird" (from said Stravinsky). Three movements of a piece is a good chunk, and this a ratio they repeated later in the set. Not that much of the threesome's resultant interpretation was often immediately recognisable, as they favoured a heavy jazzing approach, an orchestral palette crumpled down into drums, keyboards and clarinet or saxophone. Given a lounge-y, kitschy treatment, before beefing up on tenor, they breezed into "The Rite Of Spring," with a raunchy Fender Rhodes groove, almost turning into a Duane Eddy styled driver as it move on, and once again, we might be forgetting the source now. When Nielsen's "Aladdin Suite" arrived, its perky orientalism was much closer to the sonic nature of the original, and Denmark provided its sons with the set's best stretch.

Following the Steve Gadd set was a tough circumstance, but the Estonian saxophonist Mairo Marjamaa acquitted himself quite well, next door at Punane Maja, launching into a marathon alto solo, powering at a hurtle from the outset, maintaining a crazed momentum, as each quartet member ran through their own solos, fully establishing their sonic wares, making a group entrance statement before piling up the hardcore density and bullish rushing.

The Estonian drummer Toomas Rull is an old hand on the scene, an eccentric composer, given to inserting narrative, deep-voiced pronouncements during his pieces for quartet, as featured on his current Quotes album. There's quite a significant dosage of funksome jazz present at this year's festival, with Rull's input being no exception. He prefers a 1970s fusion aura, with keyboardist Raun Juurikas feeding his gear through a laptop-and- effects array, painting a soundscape, whilst bassist Mihkel Mälgand (him again!) extrudes mutated, tarry tendrils, and trumpeter Allan Järve pokes thistles through his mute. Rull has a clay-pot Indian ghatam to slap, making up loops on the spot, before elaborating around them on his drum-set. Following a period of introverted drifting, they launched into another fully funked number, again with Rull's vocal intonations, and a hard Fender Rhodes crangle on the keys. Rull's voice was distorted into a robotic tinniness, for a Frank Zappa-styled blues, reaching into a soft soul heart.

On Jazzkaar's penultimate day, the German singer Alice Frances was flanked by a pair of keyboard/sampler multi-instrumentalists, offering energetic tangents on electro-swing, taking the usual fusion antics over an extreme border that nudged towards a ridiculous parody. Initially irritating, their sheer manic pumping soon courted feelings of amusement and wonder, as each perverse sonic pile-up developed. Few combos can make such a balance between sickly commerciality and avant-swing knees-uppery! Diseased horn samples blurted forth, as Frances trotted onward in her conventional 1940s vocal incarnation, pushing this style further than usual towards modernism. The beats got heavier, the samples more extreme, and the vocals more stylistically exaggerated, with operatic outbursts, matched against techno, ragga and Cabba (Calloway).

Tigran Hamasyan played a solo piano set, the Armenian subtly vocalising percussion sounds, emulating his own sometime ensemble, imposing a concentrated, meditative, mood-soaked atmosphere, and just about the only artist during this festival to request a dulling of the stage-cube illumination-activity, settling on a row of simple cloud- white spotlights, all angled downwards. Perhaps his approach was too pointedly set around announcing how meaningful and artistic his display was going to be, a touch too aloof, but it was hard to argue against the current of his expressive, virtuosic river of notes.

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