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Ljubljana Jazz Festival 2014

Henning Bolte By

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Portuguese bassist Hugo Carvalhais brought his trio with pianist Gabriel Pinto and drummer Mário Costa, extended by two high calibre French players, violinist Dominique Pifarely and saxophonistEmile Parisien (on soprano), the group with whom Carvalhais recorded his last Clean Feed album, Particular (its predecessor, Nebulosa, was recorded with Tim Berne). Carvalhais' music possesses special vaporous qualities with lots of erring will-o'-the-wisps and a decisive role by Pinto. Its swathes broke into lots of sharp edges and vice versa , thanks to Pifarély's trenchant articulations and its intensification through Parisien's soprano work. Increasingly, during the set, Pifarély found his tone, held his focus and gave the music its definite impact.

Cortex, an upcoming quartet of Norwegian cornettist Thomas Johansson, together with saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts, bassist Ola Høyer and the ubiquitous drummer Gard Nilssen, delved from different sources and blew into a kind of opposite direction, extending the line of Pan-Scandinavian trailblazer Atomic. This band was really digging and pursuing the melodic side of Albert Ayler—his hymnic song side—a rare thing to hear unfolding with this quality. Johansson, another new Norwegian trumpet voice of importance, was the driving force; he was brilliantly assisted by an extraordinary "beating" section, the firm rhythm furred by Høyer's remarkable bass work, which gave Nilssen a lot of chances and freedom to color and counter-balance, thereby providing the music's breezy quality.

Alberts was a hard-hitting element—moving, searching and finding his way in coloring, reinforcing, roughening and extending in accordance with the trumpet on one hand, and the rhythm section on the other. Cortex's music was on the visceral side as the band name (and the title of most pieces) indicated. Hence the band was glad to present its newest album, Live—recorded at Nasjonal Jazzscene in Oslo and released by Clean Feed—live at the Ljubljana festival.

The evening presented two special configurations at the bigger Linhart Hall: the Slovenian- Spanish duo of percussionist Zlatko Kaucic and pianist Agusti Fernandez; and, second, the legendary Australian trio The Necks.

Percussionists do not have just one clearly recognizable instrument but, instead, a lot of devices and materials with which to make sound. Every percussionist therefore has his/her very own collection and set up which makes them all look differently. Zlatko Kaučič is the percussive gardener or, put differently, a percussionist who is "gardening" his sounds. This is a specification due to his posture when playing percussion: he is knelt like a gardener in a plant bed. That offered him a special range to use devices in a specific way. One of the specialties in that performance was a table zither on the left side behind him, which he would strum with his left hand while banging different devices in front of himself with his right.

Kaučič has been working in Spain, Switzerland and The Netherlands for longer periods and has collaborated with musicians and groups of a greater variety of styles and genres. More recently he has worked with the likes of Stefano Battaglia, Javier Girotto, Evan Parker, Saadet Türkoz and Paul McCandless, of the group Oregon. He has an impressive discography which means he is highly respected among fellow musicians, but is a bit underrated and not so well known yet in the media and by audiences.

Fernández, on the other hand, is a well-known and accomplished pianist of free improvisation who has worked with many of the leading figures in that field. A match between these two musicians made a lot of sense and was something to look forward to. Kaučič and Fernández engaged in quick, playful and intriguing interactions from which beautiful fine nerve pieces of musical sound emerged that connected to a richly textured whole. Kaučič played the more impulsive visceral role, whereas Fernández—assisted by his physiognomy, his way of moving around the grand piano and his snake-like diving to the inside of it—played the more elusive, drawn-into-subtleties part. These contrasts worked well but also meant that no major elevating effect took place. It came about more in a calm calculated way which was fine, too, and supplied lots of enjoyment.

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