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Like A Jazz Machine 2017

Ian Patterson By

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Like A Jazz Machine
Centre Culturel Regionel Opderschmelz
Dudelange, Luxembourg
May 25-28, 2017

Size, as Like A Jazz Machine knows, isn't everything. The audience in the Centre Culturel Regionel Opderschmelz amounts to just four seated rows downstairs, with a small standing section to the rear, and ten rows of seats upstairs. Yet this intimate setting is the arena for an international jazz program that would be the envy of much bigger towns and cities than Dudelange, whose 19,700 inhabitants reside half an hour south of Luxembourg, and close to the French border.

Held over four days—this review covers the first three days—the sixth edition of Like A Jazz machine 2017 featured big hitters like the Carla Bley Trio, Bojan Z, Nik Bärtsch's Mobile Extended, Nguyen Le, The Comet is Coming, Erik Truffaz and the Joachim Kuhn New Trio featuring Enrico Rava. In addition, a number of local artists, including Jérôme Klein, Pol Belardi, Niels Engel and the trio Dock in Absolute, proved that Luxembourg is indeed a fertile ground for contemporary jazz.

Perhaps, however, it shouldn't come as a surpise that Dudelange is host to such a dynamic jazz festival as Like A Jazz Machine, for the country itself is something of an enigma.

Size-wise, Luxembourg could fit into Rhode Island, while its 600,000 people makes it one of the least populous countries in Europe. Yet this tiny country, sandwiched between Belgium, Germany and France, has the highest population growth rate of any state in the world and ranks second in global GDP per capita. Luxembourg is also a visionary country, being one of the founders of the modern European Union as well as a pioneer in looking beyond our planet for resources in space. Big surprises often come in small packages.

Luxembourg's integrationist philosophy, its multi-lingual identity and its forward-looking dynamism make it in many ways the perfect house of jazz—a music that often makes similar claims, whatever their legitimacy. What is beyond doubt, however, is that jazz as an idiom and as a concept is always evolving, as the sixth edition of Like A Jazz Machine demonstrated in spades.

Day One

Klein

An Artist-In-Residence at Like A Jazz Machine 2017, pianist/percussionist Jérôme Klein got the festival off on the front foot with the world premiere of music for his trio featuring vibraphonist Pol Belardi and drummer Niels Engel. That these musicians already knew each other well from playing together in various ensembles was evident in the vibrancy of their interplay within Klein's artful orchestrations.

Engel's slow beat, Klein's melodious keyboard melody—fused with recorded voice—and Engel's arco-caressed vibraphones conjured a dreamy opening atmosphere, though it wasn't long before a shift in rhythmic gear, a joyfully tumbling keys solo and Engel's mini-Moog touches redirected the tune—the soundtrack to a drive on a sunny day. The synth-pop textures, melodious contours and infectious grooves made for a potent, highly seductive combination, setting the template for the concert.

With a Master's Degree in drums, it was perhaps a given that Klein's music was percussive and rhythmically driven to the degree it was. To that end, Engel's polyrhythms were central to Klein's concept, his quite thrilling stickwork evoking the contemporary idioms of drummers such as Mark Guiliana, Rob Turner and Joshua Blackmore. Fans of Mehliana, GoGo Penguin and The Strobes take note.

A pre-programed keyboard mantra of rattling gamelan frequencies formed the backdrop to extended piano and vibraphone explorations on another melodious, beat-centric tune, though one that harbored a brief passage of spacey abstraction, crowned by a stormy drum feature. The shifting of tempi and textures— drawing you in hypnotically, then just as suddenly recalibrating your senses—was a constant feature of the music.

Klein was the architect of free-flowing jazz trio excursions, ruminative, ambient terrain and bouyant poppish fare, but at whatever tempo imposed or mood conjured Klein's music constantly. A wonderful advert for the accessible yet still adventurous side of modern jazz.

Bojan Z

Belgrade-born, Paris-based pianist/keyboardist Bojan Z (Zulfikarpašić) was making his third appearance at Like a Jazz Machine, having played the inaugural festival in 2012 as well as the 2016 edition alongside long-term collaborator Julien Lourau. Another Artist-in-Residence, Zulfikarpašić was also premiering new music. For over twenty five years Zulfikarpašić has experimented with folk and electronic textures in jazz, with his Balkans roots a fairly constant thread. This premiere also evoked Balkan soundscapes, although the vibrant sonic tapestry was much broader in scope.

A regal, snaking melody delivered in unison by Zulfikarpašić, trumpeter Pantelis Stoikos and clarinetist Claudio Puntin uncorked the bottle, with the leader and then Stoikos unleashing fluid solos of contrasting styles—dancingly folkloric and boppish in turn, with drummer Martijn Vink 's lively percussion stoking the fires. Puntin's pedal-altered clarinet cries brought other-worldly edge to the mix before the quintet reunited on the uplifting head.

Puntin led a heady, Balkan wedding-flavored charge on the intro to another number, then steered by Zulfikarpašić, bassist Thomas Bramerie and Vink into more straight-ahead acoustic jazz of bristling energy, the pianist enjoying an extended solo of constant melodic evolution. Zulfikarpašić's colors, rarely primary, embraced more ambiguous rhythms and emotions, particularly on a slower number of bluesy impressionism featuring guest trumpeter Paolo Fresu.

Fresu combined with Stoikos on an episodic fifteen-minute piece that mutated from balladic terrain—underpinned by a gently bubbling, pre-programed keyboard motif and computerized beat—through howling ensemble freedom to heavy Miles Davis-esque jam. Zulfikarpašić's infectious grooves powered the sextet as spiraling trumpets fused with Puntin's pedal-altered clarinet in heady discharge.

The musicians took their bows to a loud ovation—an enthusiastic seal of approval for some of the most intriguing music that Zulfikarpašić has made to date.

Extended Hanoi Duo -Nguyên Lê & Ngo Hong Quang

Guitarist Nguyen Le's career has been marked by significant collaborations that have embraced the worlds of jazz, pop, rock and the folk music of Vietnam—the country of his birth. Lê's eclecticism has been extensively documented on the ACT Music label, including his duo recording with vocalist/multi- instrumentalist Ngo Hong Quang Hanoi Duo (ACT Music, 2017). This record, from which the set was drawn, returned the guitarist to his folkloric roots, via a pan-Asian, jazz-rock fusion prism.

The searing fusion of "Beggar's Love Song" kick-started the show, driven by Alex Beltran's cajon rhythms and Lê's biting funk. Hong Quang's vocals and dan nhi (fiddle) reflected the song's ancient origins, in contrast to Lê's spluttering post-Jimi Hendrix fireworks. Past and present were constantly entwined, as were the juxtapositions of pan-Asian colors, with tabla player Edouard Prabhu, koto player Mieko Miyazaki and percussionist/flautist Had Nhiem Pham weaving in and out of the mix, notably on the epic "Graceful Seal," which also featured Paolo Fresu's pedal-filtered trumpet and soaring vocals from Hong Quang and Miyazaki.

Although the music was very much the sum of its parts, Hong Quang's individual star shone brightly -his vocal range matched by his emotive delivery. He dabbled in throat singing and ripped into a jaw harp with a vengeance, while his Vietnamese fiddle wove glorious unison lines with Lê's electric guitar. His delicate delivery on the haunting ballad "A Night With You, Gone," with Miyazaki and Fresu lending perfectly pitched support, provided a set highlight.

The full force of the band returned on the vibrant set closer, "Chiec Khan Pieu," enlivened by Edouard's tabla-cum-konnakol solo and rousing ensemble vocal chants. A gripping concert that will linger long in the memory.

The Comet Is Coming

The Comet Is Coming's performance at Like A Jazz Machine was the last date of a month-long tour that has seen King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings), Danalogue The Conqueror (Dan Leavers) and Betamax Killer (Maxwell Hallett ) blaze a trail all over Europe. Less than a month before, All About Jazz had caught the trio in Belfast, a blistering concert played at ear-shattering volume. For this gig, the volume was at a more manageable level, though the trio's phenomenal energy was the same.

From the opening numbers, "Journey to the Asteroid" and "Space Carnival," with Hutchings' tenor flying nine sheets to the wind, Hallett pounding his kit with relentless fury and Leavers whipping up a wicked electronics/synthesizer brew, it was clear that this was not music for the faint-hearted. In the meeting of free-jazz and psychedelic electronics some of the wilder experimentation of Sun Ra sprung to mind, underpinned by contemporary dance club grooves that either stirred the blood or, the case of a small minority, stirred some to head for the exits. The Comet Is Coming's uncompromising musical vision left no-one on the fence.

The majority of the set came from the band's Mercury Prize-shortlisted CD Channel The Spirits (The Leaf Label, 2016). In Hutchings case the spirits channelled were those of Albert Ayler, Fela Kuti and Manu Dibango; in Hallett's, those of former Sun Ra and Fela Kuti drummer Steve Reid, and in Leavers,' the spirit of Kieran Hebdon, Merv Pepler and Sun Ra himself. The African connection was most overtly displayed on "New Age," with saxophone and keys playing seductive counterpoint to Hallett's frantically hypnotic tribal rhythms.

The tirelessly burrowing saxophone, pummelling polyrhythms and edgy electronics—culminating in the raucous "Neon Baby" were energizing and uplifting, even if the three musicians themselves looked, not unsurprisingly, a little drained by their exertions at the concert's end.

Day Two

Aki Rissanen Trio

Making its first appearance as a trio in Luxembourg, the Aki Rissanen Trio presented material from Amorandom (Edition Records, 2015), its debut for the notable English label, although the trio had played alongside Verneri Pohjola on the trumpeter's masterly Bullhorn (Edition Records, 2015).

The trio set out its stall with "Pulsar," whose simple melody served as the launching pad for the trio's interplay—at once elegant and rhythmically charged. Steered by the pianist's tightly woven circular patterns the music gathered force, typified by Teppo Mäkynen's machine-gun like pressed rolls. Antti Lotjonen's bass came to the fore on a spare passage—striking by comparison in its subtlety—before the trio returned to the head.

The pattern of moving from deceptively simple to denser, more complex terrain was repeated on "New Life and Other Beginnings"; an infectious bass ostinato and snappy drum rhythm soon dissolved into knotty, intricate discourse, pulled by Rissanen's expansive improvisation, which was melodically flowing and harmonically sophisticated. As before, the music petered out. Tempo and mood shifted on "Paysage Pas Sages," whose spare architecture centred on interlocking rhythmic/melodic mantras, Rissanen's left-hand ostinato maintained throughout even as he soloed—fitfully at first, then with greater insistence. The gradual wind-down of this composition too, was becoming something of a repeating motif in itself.
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