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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.

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