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Music Unlimited Festival 2014

Eyal Hareuveni By

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At first, this ad-hoc trio's meeting sounded like it would be governed by an immediate flow of manic inventions by Ratkje and Marhaug (using, for example, plastic wrap as a sophisticated sonic generator) while Blonk's idiosyncratic linguistic reconstructions and minimalist use of basic electronics would be lost in the mix. The charismatic Ratkje was wise enough to challenge Blonk to incorporate his impressive array of vocals with facial grimaces that integrated into a set full of healthy doses of wit and humor. The trio managed to assemble the distinct, highly nuanced languages of all three into an arresting set of what sounded as futuristic love songs for nervous workaholics and noisy, very noisy people.

The night ended quite late, or very early in the morning, with hypnotic, acoustic techno set by Austrian trio Elektro Guzzi—electric guitarist Bernard Hammer, electric bassist Jakob Schneidewind and drummer Bernard Breuer, all armed with an impressive set of pedals and effects, but refraining from any typical, techno-like machine-sounding loops or rhythms. This often slandered genre sounded fresh and y rich when this trio played and then, even much more so when sax titan Mats Gustafsson charged them with his powerful free jazz sensibilities. The repetitive, circular modules gained layers methodically, with power and volition, then disintegrated again, only to be formed as another powerful, acoustic techno improvisation that kept the elated audience dancing throughout the set.

Day Three: Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014

The last day of the festival began with another intimate performance at the Minoriten hall, by French musician Frédéric Nogray, who has mastered the art of crystal singing bowls. Nogary expands on the Far-Eastern art (mainly in Tibet) of resonant overtones and metallic singing bowls and introduces Western, contemporary sensibility. Nogray gently constructed a dreamy, ethereal suite of near transparent tones, accumulating more colors and shades and enjoying the unique acoustics of the historic hall and filling it with poetic and highly moving music.

The audience moved afterwards to the nearby local cultural center, MKH, for the trio of Japanese guitarist Kazuhisa Uchihashi, now based in Berlin and known for his exquisite use of daxophones, his Altered States group and collaborations with fellow sonic alchemist Otomo Yoshihide, cellist Noid (aka Steyrer Arnold Haber) and DIY- electronics player Tamara Wilhelm. The trio released I Hope It Doesn't Work (Mikroton, 2014), a debut that marked a construction and deconstruction of fleeting ideas---acoustic, electronic and sampled. All sounds were created in the moment, without trying to form a cohesive trio, but to emphasize different voices and detailed, subversive textures. Uchihashi demonstrated his virtuoso, poetic playing of the late Hans Reichel wooden shapes of daxophones, excrating surprisingly human sounding voices with a bow and a small mallet from these beautiful shapes.

The evening performances began with a powerful set by Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and the eleven musicians of Large Unit, that just now released a 3-album box-set Erta Ale (PNL, 2014). Nilssen-Love Unit presented his clever compositions that combines tight elements like those of Frode Gjerstad's Circulasione Totale Orchestra, and the immediate energy bursts of Peter Brötzmann's Tentet—two outfits in which he played prominent role—and adding an element of danger with noise master Lasse Marhaug and the quirky guitarist Ketil Gutvik. Nilssen-Love wisely chose some of the most distinct, personalities of the vibrant Norwegian free jazz scene for this "unit," with one Swedish player, trombonist Mats Äleklint Quartet.

At times this massive team sounded like two, even three groups racing against each other in tough, uncompromisingly orchestrated duels then uniting immediately for muscular climaxes. The tight pieces highlighted drummer Andreas Wildhagen, double bass player Jon Rune Strøm and trumpeter Thomas Johansson. Each have already developed their own, highly personal language. The Unit's triumphant set proved that this excellent ensemble has only begun to explore its options. It will be most interesting to listen to future endevours.

As often happened in this festival, the following set held a different kind of intense energy. Swedish double bass master Nina de Heney and French alto saxophonist Christine Abdelnour weaved delicate, highly poetic free improvised textures, often challenging essential aspects of conventional techniques or sound. Both players were attentive to any fragment of sound, playing in an intuitive, imaginative manner and introducing inventive strategies of playing. Abdelnour's breathing techniques playing with a plastic bottle stuck into the sax bell, questioned the accepted ways of holding or blowing this metallic instrument. De Heney's instincts expanded Abdelnour's ideas in a light, rhythmic basis. Nuanced textures were fascinating and received enthusiastically by the curious audience.

Next came the new improvising quartet Perch, Hen, Brock & Rain. The group is comprised of some the most successful duos in the free improvised scene—Dutch reed player Ab Baars and viola player Ig Henneman, with New York-based saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tom Rainey. In the middle of their debut European tour, the quartet delivered a set characterized by masterful know how and profound communal conversation. The quartet's subtle telepathic interplay offered complex polyrhythmic segments, abstract sonic searches (mainly Baars on the Japanese shakuhachi flute and Henneman with the viola bow) and playful, tight rhythms.This set stressed the quartet's great potential.

The final concert turned the Alter Schl8hof hall into a joyful dance party. The Dutch group The Ex, who just celebrated its 35th anniversary, had already performed at this festival eleven times before, and returned in expanded form with Brass Unbound, featuring sax players Vandermark and Gustafsson, Dutch trombonist Wolter Wierbos, Italian trumpeter Roy Paci and special guest Baars. Any attempt to define The Ex's aesthetics as a band is futile—punk, alt-rock, post-rock, free improvisation, Ethiopian rock—all is there and much more. And all is charged with manic, irresistible, intense, energy, clever, provocative lyrics, tight, danceable grooves and the unique ability to add any audience to the communal celebration.

The Ex + Brass Unbound released one album together, Enormous Door (Ex Records, 2013) and the set included some of the best pieces from that project like "State of Shock" and the inevitable closing encore, a powerful, infectious reworking of "Theme From Konono." Uplifting, raw energy radiated from the stage into the dense, dancing audience who laughed at the friendly banter of guitarists Terrie Hessels, Andy Moor and vocalist-guitarist Arnold de Boer. The crowd were moved by the singing of drummer-vocalist Katherina Bornefeld and overwhelmed by fierce walls of sound produced by the Brass Unbound. What an amazing, happy conclusion to a great festival.

Photo Credit: Eyal Hareuveni

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