Moers Festival: Moers, Germany, May 17-20, 2013

Henning Bolte By

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Day 2: Saturday Diversity

On the second day, Saturday, it was the day of three: three prominent vocalists, three prominent guitarists, three orchestras and three trios. The vocalists: Sidsel Endresen and Jenny Hval, from Norway, and Brazil's Lenine. The guitarists: Stian Westerhus and Håvard Volden, from Norway, and Finland's Raoul Björkenheim. The orchestras: The Dorf, from the Ruhrpott, Sweden's Je Suis and the Netherlands' Martin Fondse Orchestra. The trios: from Norway, Jenny Hval; from Finland, Sweden and the USA, Blixt;and percussionist Dafnis Prieto's Proverb Trio, also from the United States. Clearly all good things come in threes.

The opening The Dorf (The Village) was a mega ensemble of nearly thirty musicians recruited from the Ruhrpott area and held together by spiritus rector, saxophonist Jan Klare. The ensemble, which played Moers Festival for the third year in succession, can play really powerfully and loud—which they did, doing so with great fun and Freddy Mercury- like aplomb, and that was it. An abundance of great final chords, but in-between, the ensemble did not mine new territory.

That is, however, what Je Suis—a crazy young sextet from Sweden—did in its first performance outside Sweden. A three-member horn section—trumpeter Niklas Barno, trombonist Mats Äleklin and saxophonist Marcelo Gabard Pazos—was supported by the three-man rhythm section of pianist Alexander Zethson, bassist Joel Grip and drummer Magnus Vikberg. The group's performance was really something: accessible and sophisticated, too. It had the best ingredients from the tradition of famous ensembles of this size without resembling any of them. The group was able to balance the different input of all its members effectively, without anybody dominating. Je suis has a sound, texture, temperature and great dynamics. Je suis has excellent musicians—amongst them Äleklint, one of the most amazing trombonists around. And, Je Suis' musicians are crazy too—more or less...and differently.

Jenny Hval is a new kind of performer coming from the growing field of experimental pop. Hval has just released Innocence Is Kinky (2013), her second album on the Norwegian Rune Grammofon label. Together with guitarist Håvard Volden, she has also released Nude on Sand (2012), a duo album on the Norwegian impro-label Sofa; here, also with drummer Kyrre Laastad, she performed pieces from Innocence. Hval combined different vocal registers and modalities, which she channeled into her characteristically high, piercing voice. Live, most of the songs came out more straight more urgent and palpable. The drumming and guitar work constituted a counterpart to her seemingly static stage appearance. By their mutual effortless interplay, the trio brought into existence a solid sound basis to build up their special energy field. In that field, traces of 14th century composer Dufay crossed with traces of The White Stripes and—surprisingly—above all, the special attack of The Doors, reinforced by keyboard lines played by Hval. A valid and surprising performance, impressive in the consequent way it was executed by this trio.

Blixt, the next trio, is a group of great potential. Bassist Bill Laswell and guitarist Björkenheim were both Moers veterans, while Swedish drummer Morgan Aagre was a Moers novice. Blixt operates along the lines of The Golden Palominos, Last Exit, Krakatau, Massacre, Nils Petter Molvaer and Scorch Thing. The potentials surfaced in the performance without really igniting a fire of higher energy, an energy surmounting the brave and sophisticated grooves, blasts and smashes of each of these highly respected players.

As a festival with just one stream of consecutive concerts, Moers offers lots of nice— harsh, even—musical contrasts. The sequencing of closely related artists and groups needs careful consideration; from Blixt to Lenine, from heavy rock-infused jazz to a rock singer in an intimate acoustic surrounding.

Brazilian pop/rock-singer Lenine and Dutch composer/arranger, pianist Martin Fondse—who lives in Amsterdam and São Paulo—joined forces for The Bridge. The Bridge presents Lenine—normally a big hall-filling artist—in an intimate context with a nine-piece acoustic ensemble: Fondse on piano and vibrandoneon, three horns (bass clarinetist Mete Erker, saxophonist Søren Siegumfeldt and oboist Irma Kort), three strings (cellist Annie Tangberg and violinists Herman van Haaren and Vera van der Bie) and a rhythm section with bassist Robert Landfermann and drummer Dirk-Peter Koelsch. It was not new as such for Lenine, who had used varied electric and acoustic formats for his music. New, however, was this specific Brazilian-European combination, with Fondse as arranger and director of the ensemble. It was a big contrast with the preceding band and a nice surprise. Lenine came up with undulating pieces and catchy themes that swung and bounced along. The basic ingredients remained the same through all songs, with the mood changing now and then. It appeared to be an enjoyable act for a lot of people. The ensemble had a supporting role but also got some solo space for improvising on the songs. Sound and vision were focused on Lenine; consequently, the sound of the string section was poor and could not be heart at certain dead spots in the marquee, which did not apply to the string and horn solos in interaction with Lenine. It could be considered as a sympathetic format worthwhile to develop.

After Lenine/Fondse, again there was a switch to something radically different, the duo of already legendary Norwegian singer Sidsel Endresen and newer guitar hero Stian Westerhus. Many were eagerly looking forward to their appearance, with high expectations. It's nearly a miracle how these musicians have found each other again and again on their ongoing artistic/musical flights during the last two years. 2012 saw their album Didymoi Dreams (Rune Grammofon), a stunning all-improvised live document. Subsequent live appearances, such as at the 2012 Kongsberg Jazz Festival last summer turned out to be even better. It is as if a long incubated musical spirit had become awake and all of sudden fully unfolded.

The performance commanded the highest level of attention—full concentration, open mouths and gazes full of amazement, tension and expectation on the side of the audience. On the huge stage, sitting on a simple chair a female, like a divine oracle. At her side, a male, like an angel with a stringed sword, his magic key to the underworld, the spheres of the unconscious. The woman started to sing the air with her clickety-click sounds carried by the swooshings of the guardian's guitar. Out of the moment this couple created a deeply felt sound from the most elementary ingredients, both beautiful and threatening (which is called the sublime). Their sounds cut deep and deeper, staying with the audience. Not one single arbitrary expressive choice or void gesture, the performance had an urgent logic of a different order, the way they sang the air and the souls. It sounded as if it had to sound just that way, despite nobody being able to foresee or predict it. It was the power of singing pure sounds, the power behind it, the power within, which received an impressive manifestation. It all came out of Westerhus' swooping sword and Endresen's erupting tongue and throat, uncovering some of the deeper facts of life and nature. A performance of impressive, expressive, consistency and coherence.

After that, the steady hyper-grooves of Dafnis Prieto's Proverb Trio, with keyboardist Jason Lindner and Kokayi's big-mouthed raps, led the audience into ordered territories of bare beats' high energy. The trio knew how to hammer it out multilayered—speeding up, slowing down, overtaking and stumbling by means of feet, wood, skin, vocal chords, tongue mouth, hands and keys. They made the marquee vibrate into the cold night.


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