The White Night International Festival
July 3-4, 2008
This year the White Night Festival, 4th edition, will be remembered because of two playful and inspired performances by two master European musicians: German drummer Gunter "Baby" Sommer and Danish composer and keyboard player Christer Irgens-Moller. Both of them were scheduled well deep into the night, as if implying that all other performances were only appetizers for leading the devoted audience up to these cathartic musical peaks.
The festival began with Breaths Dvir Katz on flute, Yoram Lachish on oboe and Anat Cochavi on soprano sax and bass clarinet a well-balanced trio and a first-time collaboration among these gifted musicians. Cochavi is the more adventurous and uncompromising one, who pushed the timbral envelope of her instruments, flirting with Eastern-tinged drones and percussive sounds, while Katz and Lachish balanced her sonic forays with more structured improvisations and well-needed doses of humor.
There was no shortage of humor in the following performances by British performer, guitarist, vocalist and occasional dancer Daniel Weaver and the Israeli dance troupe, Octet. Weaver used his guitar, body and vocals in an associative and intuitive manner, quoting pop songs, including a dramatic version of Tom Jones' "Delilah," adding his flowing thoughts while manipulating skeletal and strange sounds from the guitar with a set of pedals and effects, but always communicating and commenting on the dancers' moves with his own spastic ones. This kind of kinetic collective improvisation was quite remarkable in its natural flow and continuing series of surprising interactions between Weaver and the dancers, until he decided to join the dancers.
Israeli composer and reed player Steve Horenstein debuted his new composition "Night Train," written for his students at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem. As the title suggested, this composition offers different views, colors and tonalities from an imaginary journey, and clearly demonstrated the hard work of all the participants. But none of Horenstein's students has as yet found his individual voice, so Horenstein was left as the only impressive soloist. And he is indeed a incredible soloist, but alone Horenstein could not have transformed this interesting composition into much more than a compositional practice piece.
Next was a short set by the SternSchuss Trio Cochavi, who now resides in Berlin, and two like-minded Berliners, Sebastian Hilken on cello and Klaus Janek on vertical upright bass. This trio had released a self- produced debut recording No. 1, and toured Israel before landing in the White Night Festival. Their set exemplified their form of determined and inquisitive free-improvisation using timbres and colors, where all three developed intuitive and nuanced ideas through immediate, spontaneous communication. The Sphere Duo--- Zvi Joffe on vibes and Arnon Zimrah on piano followed them with a beautiful and gentle composition that offered a glimpse into the rich vocabulary of this duo, which has been working steadily since 1994. Unfortunately, these two fine sets were too short.
The Polish quartet Robotobibok and German sound artist Erwin Stache were the most disappointing performances in this festival. Robotibibok Arthur Majewski on trumpet, Marcin Ciupidro on vibes, Michal Karlowski on electric bass guitar and Jakub Suchar on drumsdid not manage to add electronics and analog synthesizers to their set, but did offer an outdated version of muscular fusion, with no sense of irony or brilliance, and even worse, with a too obvious set of musical references. Stache brought with him a giant set of his invented instruments as if to prove that he could produce sounds from any domestic utensil, processing tones through electronic gizmos accompanied by humorous gestures. But the effect of such a audio-visual act vaporized quickly without leaving a memorable musical statements, as Stache chose to focus on extracting sounds and not on articulating them into a meaningful and coherent composition.
Gunter "Baby" Sommerwho has performed with top European improvisers such as Peter Kowald, Peter Brotzmann, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Evan Parker as well as American innovators such as Cecil Taylor and Wadada Leo Smith, and managed to perform and record in his short stay in Israel with Israeli musicians such as the Chameleon Trio, Jean Claude Jones, Assif Tsahar, and the Sphere Ensemblewas next in line. Sommer began his remarkable set with a heartfelt tribute to the late "Dean of Modern Drummers" Max Roach.
Sommer's musical language is clearly indebted to great African-American drummers like Roach but even more so to hard-bop master Art Blakey, and he enjoys incorporating African polyrhythms and swing into his music as primary references. Yet Sommer always strived to vary his vocabulary with other musical traditions and his conventional drum kit with inventive toys and artifacts, which he played with an almost childish and innocent joy sufficient to turn this performance into the emotional peak of the festival. On one of his solo improvisations Sommer even added a mouth harp and began to play on a blues scale that flirted with European folk songs, frequently alternating rhythms and accentuations.
Gunter "Baby" Sommer
Sommer demonstrated he is also a true collaborator, and his first-time meeting with Danish Irgens- Moller, a member of the Danish composers collective Skraep, was a kind of heavenly match. Both of them investigated non-European musical cultures (Irgens-Moller has studied Ghanaian and Afghanistan musical traditions), both of them rarely succumbed to conventional linear articulations of their improvisation, and both of them proved highly inventive and resourceful musicians with a healthy sense of humor. Their brief duo showed how even the most obscure and often abstract musical ideas can gel and mutate into sensible and charming themes, if you have ears large enough and are sufficiently sensitive to pick up on one another's gestures. It was a fantastic set but, again, too short.
Irgens-Moller stayed on and continued to conduct the White Night International Big Band, which united members of all the performing ensembles and members of the Tel Aviv Art Ensembles and Israeli sax players Albert Beger and Abate Brihun . Irgens-Moller cleverly played among the horns, the chamber-associated instrumentalists, the audience members who happily filled the role of the intoxicated choir (shouting in Hebrew Irgens-Moller's invented phrases such as "move the mountain," "ant colony" and "white night") and the unstoppable Sommer. He left enough room for solos, especially for the sax players, and Horenstein and Brihun shined in these segments, but throughout he never allowed this open-ended, improvised-spontaneous composition to lose its imaginary focus, and he kept surprising the players as well as the audience with his original ideas and unique way of creating a most satisfying, bold and inspiring musical statement out of a seemingly chaotic assemblage of musicians.
Christer Irgens-Moller Conducting the White Night International Big Band
The festival concluded with another too-brief set by Israeli pianist Maya Dunietz and New-York based multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, a member of Carla Kihlstedt's 2 Foot Yard and Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog. Dunietz played inside the piano, plucking the strings and sticking objects and rubbers into the strings, while Ismaily lightly rubbed the strings of the electric guitar. The sounds that both of them extracted from their instruments were atmospheric and dreamy, floating slowly in the large hall as if coming from other worlds, yet serving as a fitting, optimistic finale to the festival.