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Not Two...But Twenty! Festival

John Sharpe By

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Peter Brötzmann, Barry Guy, Zlatko Kaučič

There was something resolutely old school about the next set which reunited Guy with German reed titan Peter Brötzmann for the first time since an encounter in Stockholm in 1998. Slovenian drummer Zlatko Kaučič, who has previously collaborated with both, completed the trio. Brötzmann still burns with undaunted fire. His characteristic clarion call signaled full on assault and the other pair both leapt into the fray. They proved a superb foil to Brötzmann's cathartic wail, throbbing in stop start spasms of strummed bass and woodblocks on cymbals.

Kaučič revealed himself as a timbrally audacious percussionist, using one solo break to call forth scuffs, crackles and squeals from his kit by rubbing and rasping on the drum heads. But that's only one aspect of his work, as can be heard on the absorbing 5 CD set Diversity (Not Two, 2018), which also couples him with Evan Parker, Lotte Anker and the late Johannes Bauer among others.

Guy's amalgam of thorny plucks and swooping resonant slurs engendered an edgy undercurrent to a reflective passage from the saxophonist. But when Brötzmann launched a sudden scream, he and Kaučič responded with an instantaneous flurry of noise, only to cease in perfect attunement as the reedman once more turned reflective.

But they also showed a contrary streak. So when Brötzmann later began variations on his tender "Master Of A Small House" theme, rather than dial back the intensity, both maintained a monumental din, forcing the German to prolong pushing into the red, until right at the end a local power cut brought darkness and an immediate cessation to an extraordinary set. While it's unlikely to happen, one can only speculate as to what this trio could pull off as a going concern.

A quartet set involving Brötzmann the next evening alongside Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández, Swedish tubaist Per-Åke Holmlander and the aforementioned Trzaska was typical of the substantive fare presented over the three days, in that it evolved through a series of mercurial combinations, encompassing a range of moods, sensuous to brutal, cerebral to earthy. One particularly spine tingling moment occurred when the two reedmen hit on and then intermittently diverged from the same tone, while a brief closing piece was as taut as it was restrained.

As with all the sets, the level of listening and communication was at times simply breathtaking, making it both invidious to single out particular performances or to attempt detailed blow by blow accounts. Such accomplished improvisers make the off-the-cuff transitions and the collectively navigated endings seem preordained. It's no exaggeration to say that every set had something to recommend it.

Mats Gustafsson, Paal Nilssen-Love, Rafał Mazur

Nonetheless some sets especially lingered in the memory, one of those being the performance by Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, supplemented by Polish acoustic bass guitarist Rafał Mazur. Like many of the artists, Gustafsson has workshopped projects through residencies at the Krakow Jazz Autumn, one such being the amazing Hidros 6 -Knockin' (2015). With Mazur employing hefty amplification you could dub this threesome Almost But Not Quite The Thing.

And the understanding between the Scandinavians after years of touring meant that this was one of the most cohesive and focused shows of the three days. Their set commenced at blistering pace, with the customary 0-60 acceleration. Nilssen-Love showcased the relentless power and precision for which he's famed, egging Gustafsson into falsetto shrieks on baritone saxophone, while Mazur kept up a subliminal rolling thunder which contributed just the right amount of snarl.

Seemingly exhausted the hornman dropped out to leave Nilssen-Love to glean spectral tone colors from his kit, while Mazur took the opportunity for more nuanced play, sliding nimbly up and down the fretboard, his hands regularly meeting near the middle. A regular presence on the Krakow scene, Mazur's idiosyncratic instrument has appeared on disc with many of the visitors to the city's legendary Klub Alchemia, with titles including Spontaneous Soundscapes (2017) with Fernández and Threefold (2018) with drummer Ramon Lopez. He alternated between guitar and upright styles, applying a bow on occasion to grind out almost electronic screeches, and also exploited feedback from his amp.

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