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Punkt in Mannheim: Enjoy Jazz Festival: Days 11-12, October 30-31, 2009

John Kelman By

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Live Remix: J. Peter Schwalm and Eivind Aarset

With so many strong performances, it was almost a certainty that the Punkt Live Remixes would be just as powerful. Still, they are risks, each and every one of them. Sometimes remixes fall into the category of failed but worthwhile experiments; sometimes they are actually better than the source performances. But the best possible outcome of is when a remix takes parts of the original show and creates something new, but which could not have existed were it not for that source material.

Not only is Eivind Aarset a Punkt regular—a part of what Honoré and Bang call "The Punkt Family"—but so, too, is J. Peter Schwalm. It was his material that was the basis for the Wagner Reloaded Project in 2006, and he's been at Punkt every year since, either in concert performances or remixes. Both artists have an acute ear for possibilities and for twisting sound every which way, to create music that consistently defies categorization. Remixing Sweet Billy Pilgrim was, in some ways, especially challenging since, despite Elsenberg's distinctive writing, at the core it's still song form. How to take music that, at least, skirts the edges of convention and turn it into something even more?

With a clear understanding of arc, Schwalm and Aarset started with a looped drone that began to take shape with Aarset's remarkable mbira-like rhythms. Some guitarist's work at advancing their technique; Aarset, instead, works at expanding the timbral palette of his instrument, and it's fascinating to watch, year after year, as it continues to evolve. The remix may have begun in near-ambient territory—hypnotic and soothing—but what was evident throughout was the interaction between Schwalm and Aarset, as each pushed and pulled the other, Schwalm introducing new samples from Sweet Billy Pilgrim's show that included a snippet from "Future Perfect Tense"—even some processed slices of the group's between-song patter. Just when it appeared that the remix was coming to a close, things turned more eminently aggressive, as both Aarset and Schwalm introduced more jagged textures and turned up the volume before, finally, fading to an end.

Just as compelling were Tord Knudsen's visuals, sometimes using a camera to record the musicians, only to—much as the players were doing with sounds samples from Sweet Billy Pilgrim's show—process the source samples and project images that, overlaid on top of Schwalm and Aarset, worked as a discrete visualization of the music being presented.

And so, the Mannheim edition of Punkt finished on a very high note. With Rainer Kern already thinking of bringing Punkt back to enjoy jazz next year, it's proof that, slowly but surely, Punkt's reach is expanding as it conquers the musical world, one festival at a time.

Caravan Palace

While in North America, there's much discussion about the demise of jazz and, in particular, how to attract a younger demographic to the music, attending festivals in Europe tends to suggest that this is a problem that doesn't extend to the rest of the world. Of course, there are groups attracting under-thirties in North America— Medeski, Martin & Wood, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Charlie Hunter and Benevento/Russo Duo just a few of them. But one issue with most of the more contemporary groups is that they bear little connection to anything resembling the roots of jazz, which makes France's Caravan Palace all the more intriguing. The group calls itself "Electro-Swing," and if the sextet's Enjoy Jazz performance on the last day of October was anything to go by, they may well be on to something.

The veneer may have been that of rock spectacle—a stage combining the old with the new, and enough lighting and smoke to fuel a KISS concert. But when the instrumentalists hit the stage running—guitarist Arnaud De Bausredon, bassist Charles Delaporte, clarinetist Camille Chapelière, turntablist/synthesist Antoine Toustou and violinist Hugues Payen—it was an exciting blend of old style swing and contemporary beats. Toustou's scatting through a vocoder, Chapelière's moves and the programmed beats all felt like a modern hip hop show, but Delaporte (playing an electric upright bass) swung mightily, as Payen and Chapelière wound serpentine old-school lines over De Bausredon's accompaniment. This was a group of young players who understood the tradition but were bringing it into the 21st Century with, in many ways, the same focus on entertainment that the swing bands of the 1930s and '40s did.

The spectacle heated up even further when singer Sonia Fernandez Velasco took to the stage after two songs. Dressed like someone out of the roaring '20s, she scatted with aplomb as she strutted the stage, engaging her band mates in some serious call-and-response and whipping the audience into an even greater frenzy. It's important to recall that in the original swing era, it was dance music, a characteristic not lost on Caravan Palace or the sold-out crowd—ranging in age from teens to seniors—who not only danced inside the Karlstorbahnhof hall in Heidelberg, but out in the foyer, where there was considerably more room to move.

The group is already on a rapid trajectory in France, but in some ways it may have been a risk for Enjoy Jazz, as the group is virtually unknown there. Still, between a French community in the region, regular Enjoy Jazz attendees who try things out faith in Festival Director Rainer Kern's clearly strong instincts, and the promotion in the region—it's impossible to walk anywhere without seeing at least one festival poster—the show was a resounding success. To some it may seem anathema to combine the swing tradition with hip hop attitude, but if it brings more people to the music, how can it be anything but a good thing? The group's shelf life may be limited—the shtick factor is definitely high—but based on the number of CDs, LPs and shirts that were leaving the concert with new fans of Caravan Palace, at this point the group has nowhere to go but up.

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