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Maya Recordings Festival: Winterthur, Switzerland, September 23-25, 2011

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Maya Recordings Festival
Winterthur, Switzerland
September 23-25, 2011
The Maya Recordings label is unusual, if not unique, in that it releases CDs of baroque music (Bach, Biber, Telemann) alongside contemporary composition (Barry Guy) and some of the most exciting free jazz imaginable (Mats Gustafsson, Evan Parker and others). To celebrate 20 years of its existence, a three-day festival was held in Winterthur, a small city near Zurich, during which many of those who recorded for the label came together to reflect every aspect of the label's history, as well as much that was new.
That fascinating mixture of musical practices was perfectly represented on the first night with a program that brought together the written compositions of J. S. Bach and Evan Parker's improvised compositions. The concert began with Bach's Sonata in F minor, played by baroque violinist Maya Homburger and harpsichordist Malcolm Proud; Homburger demonstrated a wonderful way of leaning into the notes as if accepting the music, while everything Proud did represented a clear, egoless service to the music. This was followed by Parker playing solo soprano saxophone and, while his music made no direct reference to what had come before, it was, on its own terms, every bit as knotted and multilayered—and as absorbing and involving—as Bach's music.
Next, Proud played Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, with all of its complexity delivered with clarity and flowing eloquence. Silence followed, as it did after each of these performances, and then Parker performed another soprano solo. This time something immense occurred, with a solo of great intensity leading him to a dogged examination of phrases within the multitude of phrases he created. It was stirring, magical playing, decaying eventually towards a special kind of silence. To finish, Homburger and Proud joined together again for Bach's Sonata in C major, another compelling performance and finale to a concert which was, in every sense, about letting the music be heard. Finally the audience could clap.

The second concert of the night brought together bassist Barry Guy, saxophonist Mats Gustafson and percussionist Raymond Strid), collectively known as the Tarfala Trio. Beginning with such immediacy and urgency that it was like resuming a paused CD track, the music was already there, bursting forth with unyielding, unrelenting energy. Then, just as suddenly, it dissipated and turned to a moment of relative quiet from Guy's bass, joined by breathy tenor from Gustafsson and on to a perfect ending. Seeing Gustafsson on baritone is always enthralling; it's wonderful to watch him popping, heaving, and wavering on the cusp of letting go with a torrent of raw sound. Both Guy and Strid played with matching determination and precisely judged attention, adding exactly what the music needed at each moment of its formation.

For the opening series of concerts on the second day, the musicians present played in solo, duo and trio formation, starting with Maya Homburger playing Barry Guy's "Celebration," originally recorded for solo violin, but with percussionist Paul Lytton joining her on this occasion. A daring choice as, rather than underpinning or decorating her playing, Lytton decided, instead, to be playfully provocative, erupting at unexpected moments and confounding the music—even bowing part of his kit, as if in parody. The composition survived, but enmeshed in a lot of mischievous humor.

Homburger then performed another of Guy's compositions, "Lysandra," one of three pieces named after butterflies, which are paired on disc with Bach's Violin Sonatas and Partitas. This piece demanded a lot of the violinist, including, as it does, some very fast and intricate passages, which Homburger negotiated with vigor and unerring accuracy.

Guy and pianist Augusti Fernandez used delicate themes as the impetus for closely argued exchanges, where the melodic fragments were quickly shattered, the better to achieve the kind of quickly evolving, unpredictable changes of mood in which they both revel. This was only possible because both have such complete control of their instruments and because both listen with such attention to what the other is doing. This they demonstrated especially well as they moved from harsh, agitated playing towards the serene calm of "How to go into a room you are already in."

When Guy played in duo with Lytton, they both used a range of unconventional additions to their instruments and unorthodox techniques with which to play them. Despite having played together for many years, they still demonstrated a real joy in the childlike investigation of what-happens-if-I-do-this? Their pleasure was as much a treat to watch as it was to hear.

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