November Music 2014

Henning Bolte By

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November Music
s' Hertogenbosch
November 8-9, 2014

November Music is a festival of contemporary music, new music in the broadest sense, held in the medieval town of s'-Hertogenbosch in the southeast of The Netherlands and home of painter Jheronimus Bosch (1450-1516). Besides the core of contemporary composers' music there are neighboring branches such as experimental pop, sound art/sound installations, as well as jazz and free improvised music presented during five days in the first week of November. Concerts are spread throughout the city, with the transformed old rusk and cookie factory of Verkade at the center. The festival went immediately along with the factory's transformation during 1993.

November Music maintains a special focus on one or a couple of composers, zooming in on jazz and improvised music on Saturday, and offering the music route (kunstmuziekroute) on Sunday. In this article, we stick to the jazz parts of that program only, also paying attention to a concert with works of the young Australian composer Kate Moore as performed by pianist Saskia Lankhoorn.

Saturday's old jazz romantics

November Music strives to initiate interesting meetings between musicians during the festival. It has a longer tradition of inviting guest musicians to play with Dutch musicians or ensembles, especially in the jazz field. This year they initiated three colaborations. Friday evening the quintet of pianist Franz von Chossy, (Jeffrey Bruinsma (violin), Jörg Brinkmann (vocals), Alex Simu (clarinet), Yonga Sun (drums)) was presented in combination with Chinese sheng player Wu Wei. The other two combinations were part of a special Saturday night jazz program, "Colors of Improvisation." Here, Dutch string quartet Zapp 4 featured Marc Ribot as a guest and the US piano trio The Bad Plus featured Dutch guitaristic enfant terrible Anton Goudsmit. Compositions by those guesting groups provided the framework for unrehearsed, one of a kind meetings in this context. The program was finished by the trio of pianist Tigran Hamasyan. Ribot as well The Bad Plus were also performed autonomously with their own groups. Marc Ribot on Saturday afternoon with his trio of bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor.The Bad Plus was to perform its adaption of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" on Friday, but was not allowed to do so after a last minute conflict with the Stravinsky estate's publisher (see below addendum for details).

Ribot's trio, now almost 10 years underway, played its known Ayler-Coltrane hymns as well as some 'folk' material. Remarkably Henry Grimes performed on violin for longer stretches in the second half of the concert. It fitted in wonderfully and was an especially enriching experience. The way Chad Taylor was anchoring and propelling the rough rides of the trio was just amazing, time and time again. Even more impressive were his short and striking solos. He is fully in service of the music and significant as a voice simultaneously. The trio's energy to spin out, make burn and hail 'old' songs is unfettered and even J.J. Niles' adaptation of the old Appalachian traditional "Black Is The Color ..." broke through the grainy textures. As usual for Ribot's way of making music he seemed to be far out, but every time his music mysteriously found its way towards the very center of every piece.

Soon after the trio concert Ribot had to switch to four Dutch string players of Zapp, working in a collective called string quartet. The compositional framework provided by the members of the quartet provided a rich and safe enough vehicle to make the travel into unforeseeable, unpredictable, and hopefully challenging combinations of known and unknown territory. It was then a question of chemistry and navigating to yield surprising and captivating effects.

Ribot went into the concert trenchantly as he decided only a few minutes before the show to use Anton Goudsmit's guitar for his performance with the other four string players. Was this the necessary Ribot detour? Maybe, but it was a strong move and gesture anyway. Ribot employed his 'new' guitar from the first moment in abrasively contrasting ways, for example for acoustic autoharp effects and splintering sounds. With countering, distorting, mirroring, and various to and fro movements their meeting grew into an exciting and entertaining concert that showed both parties in unusual apparition. Cellist Visser characteristically struck a mighty chord at exactly the right moment. Van Geel was the man to enter a plugged duet on his viola with Ribot and the two violists did not only serve as a tapestry, but really entered the dialogue. It proved that a musician like Ribot surely is a match for this quartet, although not many special moments of higher affinity or catching fire appeared this first time. It would be interesting to figure out what is their common ground, how their different musical mentalities and approaches could mesh and push each other, how they could really ignite each other through their present artistic and musical focus.

It may be clear that these kind of combinations -falling back on the old jazz tradition of a (famous) musician sitting in with a group or a group featuring a high profile guest musician—have a limited reach, especially if it is an unrehearsed, purely festival-arranged one-off meeting. The meetings may be interesting for the festival (to attract an audience) and challenging for the musicians in some cases. The artistic value, however, is doubtful. The affinity and/or common ground to work on/from is not strong enough, resulting in a lower degree of commitment.

Last year's collaboration of Zapp 4 with electronic musician Jan Bangwas a very different affair. Bang was highly interested and motivated to work with an improvising string quartet and 'test' its capacities and possibilities. Both met some time ahead of the festival and very soon decided to risk a fully improvised performance at the festival as their common enterprise. In this case it worked out so well that both continued their collaboration at Norwegian Punkt Festival where they performed again together. What's more, Zapp 4 participated in the remixing of other musicians' concerts and were remixed themselves. One of the Zapp musicians also participated in a Norwegian group (more about this on All About Jazz).

For a festival like November Music it would be good to have an orientation for jazz and improvised music more into that direction as an addition or alternative to the old guesting/sit-in concept.

New sign posts in new music

In between 'Colors of Improvisation'—the moment The Bad Plus featuring Anton Goudsmit was about to start -I had to change places for the performance of young Australian-Dutch composer Kate Moore's Dances and Canons by young Dutch pianist Saskia Lankhoorn. This performance took place in the elegant club of the Verkade Factory. The grand piano was positioned in the center of the room with single chairs for the audience surrounding the grand piano quite closely in a semi-circle. The room was darkened, only lit by diffuse light from a big dimmed ceiling spot and a tiny bulb on each side of the keyboard. Pianist Saskia Lankhoorn was already playing when the audience entered the clubroom thus creating a gradual shift along a border zone into the concert's core. She would perform all pieces of the just released album Dances and Canons produced by Manfred Eicher of ECM, that is "Zomer," "Stories for Ocean Shells," "Joy," "Spin Bird," "The Body is an Ear," "Canon," leading to the climaxing "Sensitive Spot." That which at first may appear to be some kind of minimal music is quickly revealed as something totally different. Moore works a lot with different possibilities of layered repetition as in canons and she uses the cumulative effects of overtones. The resulting shimmering sound wavelets can cause a holistic bodily sound experience. Contrary to 'classical' minimal music, relying on sequencing and pulse, Moore's music allows lots of surprising modulation, turns, changes, (sub-)melodic shaping and may contain or suggest a profound dance feel. Our perception of the passing of time and sounding of sound is focused in this music. As a composer, Moore deals with that in such a way that it opens a 'field of playing' for the performer and listener. In addition, and contrary to known minimalism, this music has quite different, delicate dynamics with a constant alternation of crescendo and decrescendo. The decidedly approached fortissimo in the "Sensitive Spot" piece had an overwhelming effect on the listeners during the performance.

Lankhoorn rendered it all in an impressive and moving performance. It required concentration on a deeper level and a great balance of precision and looseness. It was an excellent example of the impact and effect of a close collaboration between composer and performer. In the concert Lankhoorn clearly outperformed the already impressing album. Through the high quality of the performance, it almost went unnoticed how many borders were crossed and how many new ways of performing were constituted in that hour. The sensation was completely embedded in the superior quality of the music itself and the related richness of listeners' experience. It was an hour that set new signposts.

It is remarkable that Moore's Dances and Canons, although different in approach and strategy, are quite similar in effect to the music of Australian longstanding improvising trio The Necks (Chris Abrahams (p), Lloyd Swanton (b), and Tony Buck (dr)). The music of The Necks has a very special, fascinating 'color' of improvisation and the rendering of Moore's Dances and Canons requires an engaged musician, a daring and technically accomplished interpreter able to create a sensible interlocking and balance of the pieces' sound layers.

Back at 'Colors ...'

The final act of 'Colors ...' was performed by the trio of American-Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan. Hamasyan without doubt is a highly gifted and creative musician who has gained increasing popularity. He constantly went into power play and high speed runs. It had a saturating effect after a while. It was quite overpowering and did not work the same way it does in his quartet or quintet line-up. It raises the question why presenters want to see and hear him in this less blooming trio line-up. Maybe it will change with the release of two albums he has up his sleeve. In early 2015 he will make his label debut on Nonesuch with Mockroot and later next year his album with Jan Bang, Arve Henriksen and Eivind Aarset will be released on ECM.

Sunday Music Route

The Sunday Music Route is a tradition deriving from another Dutch festival, the one day Zomer Jazz Fiets Tour (Summer Jazz Cycle Tour) in Groningen, a music route by bike, through the northern Dutch countryside. The November Music route—which you also can do on a bike—presented more than 20 musicians/groups who gave brief, 39-minute concerts at illustrious places spread throughout the old town. The musicians/ensembles have two or three slots and play several times so visitors can compose their own program and have a fair chance of seeing enough of the musicians/groups they want to see. The festival also included various signposted thematic routes to follow.

This was the selection made: the duo-concerts of British saxophonist Evan Parker and Swedish pianist Stan Sandell on organ, of the American duo of violinist Mark Feldman and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, the duo of Dutch bass clarinetist Joris Roelofs and Norwegian double bassist Mats Eilertsen, and the Dutch duo of guitarist Bram Stadhouders and electronic musician David Hoogerheide featuring classical tenor Sebastian Brouwer. There was plenty of time for visitors to attend five full concerts. In this case I decided to see one of the duos twice.

You can watch and listen to a variety of music at beautiful places, for example: The Toonzaal, a small concert venue with a very kind bar tender, the Statenzaal of Noordbrabants Museum—s'-Hertogenbosch is the capital of the province of Brabant—with its extraordinary acoustics, or the ZuiderZinkerk, with a completely white interior. All these places are only a few hundred meters apart.

It started at the Toonzaal with the Evan Parker/Stan Sandell duo. Watching and listening to the combination of tenor saxophone and organ was a special experience. Organ and organist were not visible, only great saxophonist Evan Parker. My first impression was that Parker was employing multiphonics. It was soon revealed that was not the case. The sound source was the organ that was placed on the first floor. Nonetheless, the meshing of sounds remained fascinating, maybe also because both musicians could not see each other. They had to react only on the sound. For the last part of the concert Sandell switched to the piano. (Alas) the default situation had been restored. The initial situation had a fascinating and surprising effect on the perception of Parker's playing and his sound. The musician could use only some of the potential of this combination. Moreover, this was the only fully improvised concert at the festival.

Next stop was ZuiderZinkerk, at just a five minutes' walk, where guitarist Bram Stadhouders, a well-known young musician in the Dutch scene, as well as a local resident, was playing with his long-time musical partner David Hoogerheide, featuring the classical tenor Sebastian Brouwer of his new project "Filgamet." It is a successor to his "Henosis" work that he realized earlier, with a choir. In the first piece the electronic processing of Brouwer's singing (voice) was very subtle. There was no clearly conceivable space, ether or layering. That all changed with the next pieces for which the singing voice was also manipulated electronically. The "classical" singing (in Latin, Dutch and English) and the ambient produced by Hoogerheide and Stadhouders' guitar fitted well together. The electric (nylon string) guitar merged with the ether in the electronic space, whereas the firm singing voice was in a way placed "opposite" to it—a hybrid form and clear contrast with the common forms of guitar plus voice. References could be Stella Maris of Vox Clamantis from Tallinn, and Ad Lucem of Swedish bassist Anders Jormin. The music fitted the setting of the small ZuiderZinkerk perfectly, but still needed some elucidation.

Then back to the Toonzaal where the duo of violinist Mark Feldman and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier performed a short program with pieces from John Zorn's "Book of Angels." November Music was the last stop of an extended European tour with their new quartet with bassist Scott Colley, drummer Billy Mintz and its new album Birdies For Lulu (Intakt), and the duo. Courvosier also just released the debut-album of her first piano trio with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen (Double Windsor, Tzadik). Feldman and Courvoisier gave two highly dynamic, stunning performances, fully captivating the entire audience, and finally played their own compositions in the third part of their series. Their "Book of Angels" rendition not only had their characteristic signature, it was interspersed with their own compositional elements as well as snatches and snippets from various classical sources. The enormous impact of their performance was the result of their quick and fluent assemblage of a diversity of perfectly fitting fragments of high formal significance and expressiveness.

Noordbrabants Museum is neighboring the ZuiderZinkerk. Its big Statenzaal is a hall with exquisite acoustics. Here bass clarinetist Joris Roelofs played in a duo with one of the most prolific Norwegian double bassist, Mats Eilertsen. Roelofs released his debut album Aliens Deliberating on the German Pirouet label this year, with his American trio of bassist Matt Penman and drummer Ted Poor. Roelofs exclusively plays bass clarinet on the album. To have these musicians with their respective instruments was a good choice of golden combination. Their set was highly entertaining with good introducing story telling. The way they distributed unison playing and changing roles was just masterful. The opening piece was reminiscent (in a quite positive way) of the famous piece "Scales" of the eponymous album of German trumpeter Manfred Schoof, recorded in 1976 with bass clarinetist Michel Pilz. Roelofs and Eilertsen played three different short concerts. No repetition!


This covers only a small part of the whole festival. During the five days of this year's edition there was so much more to see and hear, worthwhile to attend. November Music has developed and remains a real attraction in the city and surrounding region, and its reputation continuous to spread. Hopefully next year a full coverage will be supplied with more insight into context and interrelationships of different sorts of contemporary music and art disciplines.

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