Tallinn Music Week 2017
March 30-April 1, 2017
Although running for the advertised week, this festival-cum-conference concentrates its actual showcase concerts over an intense three-day period. The remaining days are taken up with art exhibitions, food-tasting sessions, and conference/seminar/talk events. Besides the delegate and general ticketed programmes, there is also a City Stage element, where freebie gigs manifest themselves around Tallinn. The scale of TMW is very impressive, with its attendees seeming to arrive mostly from the northern European regions, from the UK across to Russia. Most of them are music biz types, whether promoters, managers, agents, publishing or record company employees. Much of the festival happens just outside the Old Town (Vanalinn), in the Nordic Hotel Forum, or on the other side of the tracks, at the Telliskivi Creative City, accustomed home of Tallinn's Jazzkaar festival. There are also several small venues actually in the Old Town, so the city is thoroughly inhabited for the duration.
The opening concert was held in another outer haunt, the Kultuurikatel, a converted power station with attendant hardcore industrial chic chimney. Its chief set came courtesy of Danielle De Picciotto and Alexander Hacke, the latter mostly known as an old member of Einstürzende Neubauten (he joined in 1980, at age 14), that mighty German urban grind combo, masters of drilling, hammering, pounding and creatively-tuned guitar eruptions. The following day, this ex-Berlin pair were interviewed by journalist and musician John Robb, probing their recent tendency towards nomadic living, and its effect on their music. This Thursday evening, they simply demonstrated that existence via sonic disruption, as Hacke hurriedly chopped out real-time guitar loops, then switched to booming his single floor-tom, again cracking out further repeats, immediately altered or tweaked via his laptop and hands-on (or rather, drumstick tip-on) screen-pad. Picciotto had a more direct time, mostly swelling out violin lines, enveloping Hacke's barrage, soothing it around the perimeter.
In the afternoon of the second day, we could sight Flamingods playing a City Stage freebie, just across the street in the Viru Keskus shopping centre. They're a rapidly developing UK/Bahrain band, now trimmed down to a quartet core, and best described as an ethno-hippy-alternative rock combo, perched as they are on the intersection between strumming singer-songwriter, flighty dance-pulse and orientalist fantasists. Even though their roots aren't quite discernible, and their style is un-graspable, this band have honed their music considerably since your scribe last caught them at the Green Man festival in the summer of 2016. The band must surely have initially been doubtful about just turning up to play in a Thursday afternoon shopping mall environment, but as the 30 minute set unwound (most sets during TMW are such a length, in the showcase tradition), it was clear that many audience members had specifically turned up to see them, and even those who looked like they'd wandering along at random soon appeared to be captivated. There's much swapping around of instruments, between guitars, keyboards and drums/percussion, with frontman and main singer Kamal Rasool often plinking along on his small saz/lute-type instrument. Just when a song might sound containable, it's gliding off into another direction, mostly the Middle East, or further down in South East Asia, then back up to London, or across to NYC.
After the opening concert, there are two evenings of intense showcase sessions, with multiple choices to be made, but studying the programme, your scribe elected to concentrate entirely on the sessions at Vaba Laba, a venue in the Telliskivi Creative City, already familiar as one of the chief locations used by the Jazzkaar festival every April. The Friday night showcase was indeed organised by Jazzkaar (and the Estonian Jazz Union), acting as a preview for the 10-day festival which would follow around three weeks later. Here, some of the finest Estonian artists delivered teaser sets, peppered with a few visiting acts from beyond. Indeed, your scribe already has a couple of fave artists from Tallinn, and both of these performed in the early stages of the evening: guitarist Jaak Sooäär
and singer/pianist Kadri Voorand
Sooäär can alter his style and texture according to the setting, and his trio with the Armenian bassist Ara Yaralyan and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari requires a softer sound, more in keeping with the jazz tradition. In other bands Sooäär can be rocky, gritty and aggressive. For this set, he focuses on twanging pools of thoughtfulness, interacting subtly with his playing partners. Voorand plays in a duo with bassist Mihkel Mälgand, although she's always the absolute centre of attention. The jazz tradition is also in evidence here, but Voorand doesn't alight on it for long, always restlessly flying off into a bout of abstract vocal improvisation, or reciting Estonian poetry, or creating an imaginary intercom announcement (this last was a composition-in-the-moment, inspired that very day), her voice flitting from purist acrobatics to electronics-filtered extremes. All of her vocal perversion is in real-time, as she resourcefully knits a construction of rhythmic repeats, or flicks on a horrific distortion effect, often snapping back into something profoundly unsettling in its depth of contrast. Meanwhile, she's back at the piano, marrying voice and keys in a completely symbiotic existence.
On the stage 'next door' (the two stages were set back-to-back, the audiences moving along the created 'corridor' between the pair, as each act alternated in the spaces) a discovery was about to be made, your scribe missing the first ten minutes of Robert Jürjendal and Kaido Kirikmäe's set. With performances so constant, having an almost instantaneous changeover time, any refreshment break can result in missing half an artist's set. Fortunately, your scribe caught enough of this guitar/electronics pair to be converted. At times, Kirikmäe seemed to be taking Jürjendal's guitar matter and shaping it live into an electronic cloud, responsive and sympathetic. The pair's ambient surround possesses a brooding darkness, slow-shifting and twinkling in space.