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Not Two...But Twenty! Festival

John Sharpe By

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Even when wielding brushes, Nilssen-Love achieved more volume and attitude than many drummers with their entire arsenal. When he and Mazur abruptly paused, Gustafsson plugged the breach with gargantuan howls, before subsiding to expose an unsuspected folky side. As Nilssen-Love delineated a tribal cadence with a pair of shakers, the saxophonist reiterated his incantatory phrases with vocalized inflections, physically twisting as if trying to emulate their shape. As they shifted from a roar to a whisper, illustrating once again their command of dynamics, Gustafsson incongruously squeezed the tiniest of murmurs from the giant baritone, before a gentle lullaby to end the rapturously received set.

Joëlle Léandre, Barry Guy, Zlatko Kaučič, Steve Swell, Ken Vandermark

The closing set of the second evening was another humdinger. It started with a duet between two of the finest proponents of their instruments, Guy and French bassist Joëlle Léandre which blended humor with stunning prowess. Léandre too has benefited from the Not Two largesse, notably through the issue of the acclaimed 8-CD collection A Woman's Work (2016). The joshing and conversation prior to the start spilled over into the performance as well. Each watched the other like a hawk, ever alert to the slightest nuance, quizzical expressions morphing from surprise to shock, supplying a visual commentary on the musical wellspring.

Their level of interaction verged on the preternatural. Guy evoked Léandre's vocal sigh with his bow, while Léandre answered Guy's delicate pizzicato with an arco phrase of her own. When Léandre scraped her bow upwards across the bridge, Guy took up his bow and did the same, but at a slower pace, conjuring apposite counterpoint. While Guy exploited a rack full of implements in a continuous exhibition of extended techniques, Leandre's retained a relatively traditional approach, albeit enhanced by vocal gymnastics, but each deployed whatever they needed as the musical imperative became apparent.

Léandre panted, groaned and muttered as she played. Guy activated a volume pedal to bring the quieter sounds into sharp relief. He also interpolated John Edwards-type slapping on the body of the bass to throw in rhythmic accentuation. As they negotiated the ending, each stretched a hand towards the other, connecting literally as well as metaphorically in a delightful gesture. Cue frenzied applause.

The pursuit of novel timbres resumed when they welcomed Kaučič onstage. He brandished a pair metal cups which he grated and struck on the cymbals in bursts of noise echoed by the twin basses. Moving on, Kaučič introduced some bubble wrap which he scrumpled and rustled. Guy emulated his lead, crinkling up some brown paper. Then things took a theatrical turn as both started to dust and wipe Léandre, who offered her shoe for Kaučič to shine. Guy again followed suit by offering his sandaled foot. Somehow this comedy cabaret birthed a high voltage furor with Kaučič thrashing his kit with metal wires while Léandre and Guy sawed to a frantic conclusion.

At which juncture American trombonist Steve Swell joined the ranks, adding his mastery of timbre and exploratory restlessness. Swell, who traded in a refined personal language that embraced the history of jazz from New Orleans to freeform, has featured regularly on Not Two, since presenting his dynamite Slammin' The Infinite band on Remember Now (2006) and https://www.allaboutjazz.com/steve-swell-swimming-in-a-galaxy-of-goodwill-and-sorrow-and-live-at-the-vision-festival-by-john-sharpe.php>Live At The Vision Festival (2007), right up to the release of Kanreki: Reflection & Renewal (2015) celebrating the trombonist's 60th birthday. Interplay between the four blossomed in a series of fast changing convulsive exchanges, neatly sidestepping expectations, as at one point Léandre's bowed whistle butted up against Swell's brassy melodicism, undercutting any sentimentality.

Finally American reedman Ken Vandermark completed the quintet. Among all of the artists present, Vandermark was probably the most strongly associated with Not Two, thanks to its unswerving support for his vision, embodied in the renowned 10-CD box documenting the Vandermark 5seminal week at Alchemia (2005), as well as further multiple disc sets devoted to his Resonance Ensemble (2009) and the DKV Trio's Sound In Motion In Sound (2014) as well as Nine Ways To Build A Bridge (2014) honoring his half century.

Having waited so long to take part, his arrival onstage heralded some fiery tenor skronk which pushed the group into driving free jazz territory at which it also excelled. But tension dissipated, as it was succeeded, in a study of opposites, by a piece as soft as the first was loud, drawing listeners to the very edge of their seats.

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