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Not Two...But Twenty! Festival

John Sharpe By

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Maya Homburger

Every set of the final evening was a treat. It commenced with an atmospheric candle-lit recital from Maya Homburger in a high ceilinged semi-restored outbuilding chosen for its wonderfully resonant sound. With intense concentration, it felt as if she imbued every note with emotion and a higher meaning in a program featuring movements from Bach "Sonatas and Partitas," which bookended a dramatic rendition of Guy's "Aglais" written for unaccompanied violin, from the album of the same name (Maya, 2008).

Joëlle Léandre/ Mikołaj Trzaska

Once the audience had relocated to the room in the main palace building where the majority of the music took place, they were regaled by a further solo recital, this time from Joëlle Léandre. She exulted in electrifying, rich bow work full of light and shade, which pitched deep reverberations against fizzing harmonics, and intimate string caresses against abrasions below the bridge, all complemented by her vocal embellishments. Insistent repetitions vied with intermittent motifs in a transcendent stream of invention which spoke of a vigorous unbridled joy.

Trzaska's initial alto trill echoed Léandre 's vocalizations in a quicksilver hook up which was full of responsive dialogue and exuberant interplay. The reedman remains one of the stalwarts of the Polish scene and can be heard in tandem with Joe McPhee on Magic (Not Two, 2009) and Vandermark on Last Train To The First Station (Kilogram, 2011) as well as the excellent Riverloam Trio (NoBusiness, 2012) with Olie Brice and Mark Sanders. Just one dazzling episode among many came about when his expressive vibrato-laden alto intertwined with the Frenchwoman's bowing in a wavering colloquy, gloriously weaving in and out of consonance.

Peter Brötzmann/ Paal Nilssen-Love

Two birds of a feather, Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love combined to breath-taking effect. They have toured and recorded together since 2001, in duo, trio and quartet format and in Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet, as well as enjoying a clutch of live dates in the company of Steve Swell on Not Two. As such their inspired synergy could be anticipated, but it still didn't prepare for the sheer muscle and élan of their partnership. Nilssen-Love met the reedman's annunciatory tenor bellow with a typhoon of ferociously crisp figures. And so it went on until Brötzmann stopped on a zloty and the drummer instantly latched on, seizing his cymbal to stop the vibrations.

Although calmer, the next piece still came freighted with tension, as Brötzmann's throaty lyric growl drifted atop Nilssen-Love's malletted tattoo. As the German paraphrased some of his favorite melodies, he grabbed the neck of his instrument, as if trying to throttle it, producing an effecting muffled yowl. His piping distortions enticed the drummer to reboot on brushes, cycling through a variety of translucent percussive patterns. There were further lyrical overtones to the last piece, where the saxophonist seemed to channel his hero Sidney Bechet on something related to Gershwin's "Summertime." As the seasons turned distinctly inclement, Nilssen-Love ratcheted up the energy for the set to culminate in a viscerally-charged maelstrom. Fantastic!

Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson, Steve Swell, Per-Åke Holmlander

The Swedish/American summit was another of those unfettered sets that unfolded in a liquid flow without any recourse to meter or melody. It began with an arresting juxtaposition between Vandermark's clarinet and Gustafsson's baritone saxophone. Their collaborations harks back to the late 1990s so it was little surprise when Gustafsson seamlessly rounded off Vandermark's abbreviated opening gambit almost before he had finished it. That established the template for a formidable duet at first pointillist but then garrulous. All the years of joint working were coming through when Vandermark's plosive popping was answered by similarly compacted baritone formulations. But even then Gustafsson had a trick up his sleeve, spreading yet another layer of sonic complexity by brushing the lower keys of his horn with his hand to fashion a ghostly metallic pulse.

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