Not Two...But Twenty! Festival

John Sharpe By

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Although the duo was complete in itself, Vandermark quipped "About time!" as Swell and Holmlander walked onstage. The tuba player has been a fixture in almost every European improvising ensemble of note over the last decade or more, appearing with the Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble, Guy's New Orchestra and Gustafsson's Fire! Orchestra. In 2017 he also enjoyed a residency in Krakow, which has resulted in the 3-CD Carliot—It's Never Too Late Orchestra (2018). His low harumphing grounded an exchange of chamber sonorities which quickly heated up, only for everyone to halt in unison. While it would have made a fabulous ending, they'd only been going two minutes, so Swell pulled out his slide for a long exhalation. Holmlander blew pithy rejoinders and gradually they embarked on a droney section, both reedmen utilizing circular breathing to sustain their braided lines. As different groupings came and went, Gustafsson softly chanted on baritone, laying the foundation for a concluding polyphonic tumult.

Zlatko Kaučič, Barry Guy, Rafał Mazur, Agustí Fernández

While the final set of the festival might have looked like an augmented piano trio, in reality that was far from the case. With only a Yamaha digital piano available due to the remoteness of the setting, Fernández was unable to indulge his penchant for under the bonnet resonance manipulation. So if anything it was the twin basses of Mazur and Guy which formed the centerpiece of what was a truly democratic interchange. Of course Fernández confined to the keys still constituted a major force as evidenced by the choppy opening he sculpted with Kaučič, as his gnarly runs vied with the Slovenian's scrap metal textures.

While Mazur investigated the bottom end, Guy erupted into sudden spates of activity or nimble treble flutters which contrasted with the Pole's buzzing rumble. Kaučič too was always on the lookout for the unexpected. At one point when he was extracting utensils from his suitcase, he alighted on the zip and started rhythmically jerking it to and fro. Not to be outdone, Guy found a case of his own and began a zipper duet, causing the affronted drummer to shout: "don't steal my tricks!" From there, they built through a series of crescendos, Fernández hammering the treble register, until a gradual wind down brought the proceedings and the evening to an engaging halt.


But it wasn't quite the last act. Unbeknownst to Winiarski, the organizing team had one last stunt. They had prepared a series of cards containing instructions, pictures and oblique symbols which were laid out on a table. So now the label supremo had the opportunity to become an orchestral supremo too and lead the assembled musicians in one final conduction. After much persuasion he showed the band a card and they were off. Fortunately they were all much more practiced at this sort of endeavor than him and weren't phased by anything he threw at them, such that a coherent piece of music arose from the random instructions. All the concerts were recorded for potential future release, though whether this set makes the cut remains open to question. But such was the overwhelming success of the event that, future birthday celebrations notwithstanding, there must be every chance that musical happenings at Wlen come along more often than once every twenty years.


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