December 1, 2010

Third time lucky

As readers of this blog know, I had two unsuccessful approaches to Brötzmann's music recently. It wouldn't be fair to this great artist if I kept silent about the most recent - and very successful - approach. Today I received an email from Classics Online, notifying me that my customer review of Be Music, Night by the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet that I left on their website has been rewarded with some bonus points. Here's what I wrote there some days ago:

A positive surprise
I've seen Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet at this year's Moers Festival and was very much disappointed. They mostly delivered an impenetrable wall of sound, without development, without dynamics, and seemingly without purpose. Nevertheless when I saw that Jazzwerkstatt albums are now offered here at ClassicsOnline, I had the impulse to give this group a second try. And what a difference this recording is when compared to my negative concert impression.

This music here is carefully and thoughtfully developing, it's a grand-scale sound-painting, coupled with Kenneth Patchen's poetry, which is recited during this one-hour, three-act large-form piece. The recording is pristine and clear, every musician's individual voice can be heard (well, Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello is maybe not always there, unfortunately). I used the metaphor "sound-painting" quite consciously and it's quite literally true: While the two arts of music and literature are combined here, the effect is quite visually evoking a great landscape picture.

Wonderful, recommendable sound poetry for everyone who's got an open mind for contemporary, modern/post-modern art - not just for jazz/free-jazz fans. I think this should appeal to friends of the modern classical / contemporary / composed avant-garde as well.
Now by putting this review here I am certainly bringing myself into some kind of trouble, as my words are not necessarily less esoteric than the words of the Allaboutjazz reviewer whom I criticized three months ago. I don't know if it would get better if I add more words, but at least I couldn't make it worse, so here's a try:
The exposition starts slowly and dissonantly. Interestingly in spite of the dissonance there is a sense of togetherness, a constructive togetherness in a reflective mood. After a minute or so the sax and drums start a dialogue, changing the mood from reflective to something more discursive. When the brass join in, the scene becomes more agitated and a light sense of struggle appears, though it's still far from being hot. This whole exposition tells me that this is music about the world and its people. Though we somehow all know how mankind is like, we cannot help to see the characteristics of mankind - as exemplified in individuals or with a large-scale view at the crowds - be reiterated and brought to our attention in the arts.
The main movement of this work then begins with a poetry recital (the album's subtitle A Homage to Kenneth Patchen has already prepared the listener for that). There are lines from "The Love Poems", very beautiful ones, and there are some very conventionally melodic lines of music supporting the words tenderly. Later come eruptions, noises, and beautiful melodies again. Several times some of the introductory lines to Goethe's Faust come to my mind:
So, in this narrow wooden house's bound,
Stride through the whole creation's round,
And with considerate swiftness wander
From heaven, through this world, to the world down yonder.
It's not so fitting at second thought, because in Brötzmann's case it's not a one-way. It's there and back again, and again, and again. It's an exploration informed by the hermeneutic circle. Your pre-knowledge shapes your understanding and your understanding becomes then part of your pre-knowledge, so you can have another glance at the thing from a new point of view.
These last words probably show, that my way of understanding Brötzmann's work is still quite rationalistic. Nevertheless, I cannot say that it's anti- or non-spiritual either. When we deal with the big words like "mankind" or "understanding" or "togetherness", I think there's a way to bridge the gap between ratio and spirituality. I have to admit that I can't fully, rationally describe words like these. They could be narrow, but open lanes to my own spirituality.

October 25, 2010

Listening to vocoder voices in 2010

Just tried the speech function of the Google translator for the first time. Somehow cool to have such a function, but also strangely reminding of these awful vocoder voices in 80's pop music. Grrrr.
(I tried this example, both in Chinese and German with a click on the "Anhören" button. This example sentence comes from here.)

September 7, 2010

Brötzmann tentet revisited

There's a new article on All About Jazz about Brötzmann's Chicago tentet, where Lloyd Peterson writes things like this:

Importantly, Peter Brotzmann has a phenomenal capacity to express astounding complex emotions through sound, and being able to understand music at this level is fundamentally about listening. He plays each note and each sound as if it is the last time it is to be performed. And though it is impossible to hear all things as there are always more ways to listen and more areas of sound to discover, it ultimately depends on your attitude and how much you think you understand at every instant you stop and listen.
Why can't people be a bit more specific? The article is spotted with rather abstract words signifying big concepts: "beauty", "harmony", "genius", "phenomenal", "energy". Some sentences sound certainly interesting and beautiful in themselves: "The creativity and character of the members of the Tentet mirror the global potentialities in music and life." But then it often goes right into the esoteric: "However, it is my sincere hope that he understands that every note and every emotion that he gives life, is a mirror of the human soul that creates a bridge to the spiritual universe." - Or: "Every note and every sound is unique in its own way at the moment of its inception but those of Brotzmann live on the edge between the known and the unknown and are able to elevate us to another realm of creativity."
Well then maybe that was my problem with the Brötzmann Tentet in Moers? Is it because I'm a non-spiritual person? Is it because even though I've been searching a bit, I couldn't find God? Well then, it cannot be helped. (Though I absolutely feel a sense of elevation when listening to Albert Ayler and "A Love Supreme", so maybe my soul isn't entirely lost yet.)
Can anybody be a bit more specific please? Can anybody describe the beauty, the depth and the spirituality of this music in a more detailed way? I'm aware of the renaissance of secret societies especially in jazz music (tonight there'll be a "Secret Society of Internet Jazzers" be playing in Berkeley), yet is it really necessary for me to become a kind of Rosicrucean or Free Mason to understand it?
Articles like that of Lloyd Peterson don't say anything at all.

August 30, 2010

Husband of the year

There's a husband of the year award going on at my wife's blog. No, no, don't worry, I'm not the one. But it's still worth to have a look...

July 14, 2010

New way of radio recording

Software for recording internet streaming radio stations is an old hat. I've tried some in the past, but was never satisfied with any of them. That's because I always found it too difficult to find a station that was a) professional and b) suiting my taste in music and information from these recording software.
Today I started a new attempt, and after installing it seems this recorder's going to stay with me for a while. It's another proof that within the vast sea of ever-availability called internet we need some guidance. What's the use if I can access/record from 5000 radio stations but cannot find one that I like? So, this here is the opposite way: A German public radio station (SWR, the "Southwest German broadcasting") is offering its own radio-recorder. It's a small, easy-download and easy-install program, which can play the several SWR stations live, browse the programme/broadcasting schedule for the next few days by categories and gives you the chance to just choose the things you'd like to record right from this programme schedule browser.
I'm really enthused by this, as now I'll never miss any "Radiophon" show anymore, a weekly one-hour show subtitled "Collagen aus Klassik, Jazz, Rock und Grenzgebieten" ("Collages of classical, jazz, rock and border areas") which I ALWAYS missed in the past few years - though back in the 90s this show was one of the five most important elements shaping my overall musical taste. You'd like to try the recorder yourself? Prepare your German and off you go.

(Besides tomorrow's "Radiophon" show I've also programmed the software to record a live performance of Frank Gratkowski, Chris Brown and William Winant. Doesn't that sound interesting?)

July 12, 2010

Mouthwatering

Hayden Chisholm is working on a documentary film on German folk music. What he writes on his blog about a bandoneon player in the Erzgebirge sounds mouthwatering. If it's only half as touching as "Eleven Voices" it will already be a very interesting affair.

Watch Eleven Voices on Plushmusic

July 9, 2010

What if Wilhelm Furtwängler met Mazen Kerbaj in times of war?

(image by Mazen Kerbaj, from his blog )

I am such a slacker when it comes to writing. It always seems to difficult to finish things. There are so many ideas and interesting questions popping up once in a while, yet I never get to write them down. I'm living in a state of a life-long writer's block, I fear. As you could see, I have quite negelected my Moers Festival reviews in the past days. And today another idea had formed, the idea for an essay about a) music in times of war and b) whether the context of a musical performance is part of the music. The latter question was formed (again) yesterday, when I listened (again) to a recording of Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1942. They were playing Beethoven's 9th symphony. A piece that has been performed a thousand times before and a million times afterwards. So, nothing special. But wait. 1942? Berlin? At that time that was the headquarter of evil. At that time German evil was bringing a desastrous violent inhuman bloodshed over the world. And at that time a man named Furtwängler, who has been instrumentalized by the Nazis to show the world what a high-class cultural life there exists in Germany, makes a choir sing joyously: "Alle Menschen werden Brüder" ("All men become brothers"). What is that? Starry-eyed idealism, chuzpe, misunderstanding of facts, insanity, an act of resistance? It's hard to say without doing a very deep survey on that matter. Yet maybe the even more interesting question is: Is the Nazi- and wartime context an inseparable part of this performance? Can we understand the performance without considering the Second World War? Or is the contrary true: Do we have to try neglecting the circumstances and concentrate on the "absoluteness" of the music itself? The question not only arises in the 4th movement where the choir sings lyrics that are in stark contrast to Nazi ideology, but already in the instrumental movement before. The first movement seemed not to conflict with the Nazis and the wartime, as it was played rather muscularly, in a swashbuckling way. The second movement didn't make much impression on me. But then, the third movement is not just played in a very beautiful and tender way, but also in a way that seems to depict a free exchange of human spirits. So I feel the starkness of the 4th movement is already prepared in here, in a purely instrumental way. By the third movement we could say, the performance turns into an anti-Nazi demonstration, probably right under the eyes and ears of the Nazis who were sitting in the audience.

I remember the French professor and writer Adrien Finck has written a short essay about this performance ("Musica in Extremis"), published in the Révue Alsacienne de littérature 84 in 2003. I've got to find this again and re-read it to see if Finck can help me answer my questions.

And then, I've got to think on, about what options musicians do have if they live in a country ravaged by war. I remember Mazen Kerbaj's recording of a trumpet improvisation, played and recorded on his balcony in Beirut while Israeli bombs were dropping onto the town. There's no question about it: the context in general and the war in specific are part of the musical performance here. Yet is it so different from Furtwängler? Isn't the music in both cases competing with the war, isn't it fighting the war with its own means, only seemingly week, but infusing us with sparks of hope?
I would like to write an essay about the questions raised here, yet I fear I never will. I am such a slacker.

July 1, 2010

A short video documentary of Moers Festival 2010

Today the official Moers Festival website has posted a 25-minute video showcasing short snippets of the performances. It brings back so many good memories. Yet on the other hand, while I have reviewed some concerts more positively than others, from this documentary I can hardly notice quality differences. Everything here seems the same good or bad - well, with the exception of Toshi Regon maybe, who is clearly out of place. Judge by yourselves.

June 20, 2010

Paolo Angeli's Sponde di Passione live at Moers Festival 2010

Paolo Angeli's project Sponde di Passione was mostly serving folk-based drone structures and adding a lot of visual food. There were black-and-white photos projected onto a big screen behind the musicians, photos of Good Friday ceremonies in (southern?) Italy. And there was a trapeze artist which for the first time made correct use of the Moers Festival circus tent by offering acrobatics. The little program booklet announced that the acrobat and the musicians were meant to influence each other, and the musicians on stage where really watching what she was doing high up there under the tent's roof. Yet I couldn't really figure out any mutual influence between them. (Which doesn't mean that there was none, I just didn't perceive it.) Short before the concert, while watching the preparations for the multimedia performance, I chatted a bit with a stranger and we remembered the 2001 or 2002 concert of the Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra with their many dancers and the giant dragon floating over the audience's heads. (We had a little controversy - while he found everything of that gig "spectacular" and great, I admitted that the show was, but that the music was a bit too much based on repetitive riffs.) So, we were asking ourselves, can we expect a show like that? Well, after the concert had started, this guy left after a while. I later met him again and he told me he couldn't stand these Christian photos. I replied that I didn't have any specific reactions to these photos: "I grew up in a protestant household, so these catholic processions are just strange to me, not touching me in any way, neither negative nor positive."

Takumi Fukushima's singing was maybe a bit harmless but nice. I knew some of her singing from Rale. The best moment though was when she left the tracks of harmlessness and suddenly burst into singing traditional japanese drama, alternating between female and pretended male voice. That might well have been the best moment of the whole concert, which was a little bit boring on the whole, because there was too few instrumental development. After I had seen the high number of sounds that Angeli could get out of his instrument in the duet with Jon Rose, the performance here on the main stage was a bit one-dimensional (or maybe it was the sound mix that was not detailed enough?). Drone music doesn't work so well if it is folk-based. (Lutz Eitel calls it "orotund sonorities" and up to now I've been too lazy to check the dictionary what "orotund" means.)

Paolo Angeli's MySpace site and the one for the Angeli and Fukushima duet.

As already mentioned in the morning session review, Takumi exchanged some smile with my wife as well. That certainly earns her a big bonus point.



June 13, 2010

Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet live in Moers 2010

(more photos on the festival website, quite wonderful ones)

Venit, videt, vicit – Moers veteran Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet rocked the tent and enthused the crowd, what else could be expected? A lot of tutti blowing at a high volume level, interrupted by a various solos and smaller group combinations. Glued together by a free funk rhythm unit, especially the twofold powerhouse drumming of Paal Nilssen-Love and Michael Zerang. Yet what was going on in my mind while listening and watching was rather alienating me from the enthusiasm of the crowd and the band. This process of alienation has been caused by my observation of cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Joe McPhee with his pocket trumpet. My considerations were not so much musical but rather socio-political, which I think is fair in this context, as free jazz and a lot of free improvisation are coming out from a movement of socio-political progress. However, whatever I'm going to say now, in this article, about the political matters that I saw to be encapsuled in this Tentet's music, does NOT mean that I think the musicians on stage are having the political points of view that I'm going to describe. On the contrary, I think the musicians on stage are forward-thinking, liberal, progressive and free minds who contribute to a better world, after all. Nevertheless, in any piece of art the author's intention – and in this case the collective author's intention – is one thing, and the meaning contained in the work of art is another. Any great piece of art contains more meaning than what the creator originally intended. What I'm going to describe later is one additional meaning in this improvised work, not what the musicians intended it to be. Please keep that disclaimer in mind.

In conversation with Karl Lippegaus Peter Brötzmann said:
„Das Tentett ist auch ein Beispiel gesellschaft­li­chen Zusammenlebens, in der Nachfolge von Sun Ra's Arkestra.“ (Süddeutsche Zeitung Nr. 119 / 2010, p. 13, translation: „The tentet also is an example for social living together, in succession of Sun Ra's Arkestra“).
So, my impulse to interpret what was happening on the Moers festival stage as a depiction of a society is somehow covered by the author's intention. Yet what repelled me during the concert was that I definitely wouldn't like to live in a society as the one represented by the Tentet. But please allow me to make a little detour and let me ask about the positive aspects of freely improvised music in relation to social life.

In the preface to „Noise and Capitalism“, Anthony Iles writes: „There is strong field of attraction to the cultural space of noise for the politicised musician – a music that does not have a set code or form nor an expected mode of behaviour. Those packing a liberatory politics with their music often turn up here.” That kind of describes my original attitude to freely improvised music – and to the recordings of Peter Brötzmann that I have heard in my life. I perceive (rationally and emotio­nally) freely improvised music as a liberation, as a partial loosening from the cultural and social ties that we are bound by. At the same time it is an alternative way of communication: between the musicians as well as between musicians and the audience. (In high school I had a wonderful music teacher who held some free improvisation sessions with us kids, too, so I had some positive experience with this early on.) Certainly the liberation and the communication aspects of free improvisation were pointless if after all they wouldn't mean anything to us human beings – zoon politikon that we are. Our cultural achievements are related to the states of our minds and the ways we live together. Freely improvised works can speak to body and mind, the first one on a more emotional level of evoking and/or recalling feelings, the latter one on a structural level by letting us focus on non-trivial, complicated relations within the musical material and/or among the musicians and audiences and by relating these musical structures to other structures we are experiencing. So from the listener's point of view improvised music can be a catalyzer for broadening one's mind and one's experience. And it at least can evoke the illusion that a society where self-expression is less restricted and more evenly distributed among the individuals is at least possible.

And now finally back to the concert. First, let's look at Fred Lonberg-Holm. He's playing an instrument, that is by nature more silent than many of the others. This would be true for a non-amplified, naturally acoustic context: When the two drummers, three saxophone and three brass players start to beat and blow like crazy, they can simply drown the cello. Now, this concert was not "naturally acoustic", but amplified in a big tent for an audience of 2000 people. Shall we call the amplification „realistic“, because even in this context the cello could not be heard? Well, to be fair, I must say, that Fred Londberg-Holm was given a slot for a solo, where he got the chance to get his sound through. But on the whole, I estimate the time that he was audible to me was less than 5 minutes. As a listener one would ask: What's the use to incorporate a player in such an ensemble who doesn't have the ability to make himself heard – and we're not speaking about a symphony orchestra context here, where players of the same instruments are combined to groups and therefore deprived of their own, individual voice? Well, there is one thing imaginable, I admit: Maybe the audience couldn't here him, but the players on stage could. If that's true then Lonberg-Holm had the option of triggering or influencing the other players and therefore assist in shaping the overall sound of the ensemble. This is something I certainly don't know, yet given the nature of the cello, it seems rather unlikely – he was put rather at the edge of the stage as well, so that his physical presence was marginalized as well.
Now case number 2, which is different but of equal importance for the string of thoughts that was aroused in my head during this concert. Joe McPhee was not marginalized on stage. He was right in the center of it. His instrument, though very small, was powerful enough to cut through the noise even at the loud moments. Yet there was seemingly a problem with Mr. McPhee's personality that made him not really fit in: He looked like too modest, too humble a person. The people around him were using their elbows, fighting. When things were getting loud they were blowing in a „take-no-prisoners“-approach. At such moments, Joe McPhee often retreated a bit. Though he had the physical ability to make his voice heard through his instrument, he often didn't play in such moments. And when he did, he didn't cut through the noise either, he restricted himself – and in effect wasn't reaching my ear.

Now, analysing these two individual players' roles in the tentet and bringing them into relation with society, we could see a symbol for the workings of a fascist or social-darwinist version of society. There are those who are strong by nature. (In this concert the strong ones were the ones with the loud instruments, the big lungs, and the will to play loudly without making sure that the disadvantaged players could still be heard.) And there are those who are weak either by physical nature (in this context the lack of loudness in the cello) or by spiritual / ethical / mental „weaknesses“ (just like virtues and ethical considerations can be obstacles to a person within a context of a fascist society).
I don't want to live in a society as the one depicted by the Chicago tentet in this concert. Now some people who have seen the concert as well may reject my view and retort that the concert wasn't always a full-noise, loud blowing, but that there were the smaller-group settings where the playing was more silent and every voice could be heard. Yes, that's true. But isn't that just due to clemency from the side of the noise-makers? It's as if the strong elements in a society said: „Well, you weak ones, we let you speak out now and we'll even listen to you – but as we have just shown, you're depending on our mercy. Whenever we want, we can muffle you again.“ That's not freedom, that's paternalism at best. The social elements as depicted by the players in this tentet are not on par with each other.

In effect this concert has challenged my formerly unreflected idea that free improvisation is a more or less unmediated expression of and contribution to freedom. When I got back home after the festival, I started to dig a bit deeper, because this question kept moving me. And with the help of a review in the Eartrip magazine #5 I found the interesting book „Noise and Capitalism“, edited by Mattin and Anthony Iles (I have already quoted from it above). I found that the danger of chauvinism in improvised music was only something I haven't thought about yet, but others were well-aware of it. In the eartrip review David Grundy speaks about machism of noise music and goes even further:
„So: why are so many of the artists mentioned men, playing at gigs attended by men? Is there perhaps something – dare I use the word? – phallocentric about noise, about the whole rock and roll myth of the singer with his phallic guitar or saxophone? They don’t use the term ‘cock rock’ for nothing, and they might as well invent a similar term for less mainstream manifestations of ‘aggression’ and ‘energy’ in music.“
So is Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet the free jazz version of „cock rock“? Maybe... (though I must admit that in one way Grundy's quote doesn't really fit here, because there were enough women in the audience.) What was possibly lacking in this concert (or this group?) was what Mattin describes as the will to take risks: „
Improvised music is not progressive in itself, but it invites constant experimentation. When players feel too secure about their approaches, the experimentation risks turning into Mannerism. What I would like to explore here are the moments in which players leave behind a safe zone and expose themselves in the face of the internalised structures of judgment that govern our appreciation of music. These I would call fragile moments.” (Mattin & Iles, Noise & Capitalism, p. 20)
I didn't see any fragile moments in the playing of the ensemble as a whole. But well – didn't my descriptions of what I saw and heard from Lonberg-Holm and McPhee clearly reveil that there was fragility? What if it was all planned? What if these two players were assigned the role of breaking through mannerism and introduce fragility into the proceedings? I don't know. But even if that was the case: Is it fair to discharge one's own fragility by projecting it onto others? Sure not.
I have learnt something.
„Just as ‘noise’ is neither more nor less inherently subversive than any other commodifiable musical genre, so the categories invoked in order to decipher its political potency cannot be construed as inherently ‘critical’ while they remain fatally freighted with neo-romantic clichés about the transformative power of aesthetic experience. (Ray Bras­sier: „Gen­re Is Ob­so­le­te“, in: Mat­tin/Iles: “Noi­se & Ca­pi­ta­lism”, p. 69)
So, improvised music doesn't help me per se to become a better or freer person or doesn't help me to live in a better society. It's good to know that and will prevent future disappointments. But then again, maybe my view is too simplistic:
“The same is true of collaboration in performance, which can be both at once competitive and mutually validatory for participants.” (Bruce Rus­sell: „To­wards a So­cial On­to­lo­gy of Im­pro­vis­ed Sound Work“, in: Mat­tin­/I­les: „Noi­se and Ca­pi­ta­lism“, p. 92).
So, in order to dig deeper and get further in this question, I'd have to ask Fred Lonberg-Holm and Joe McPhee how they perceived their playing in this group. Maybe they felt "validated"? Maybe other people in the audience don't share my view (as usual) and didn't think there was any problem with the integration of Lonberg-Holm and McPhee? At least Ken Vandermark found it successful, as he writes on his Facebook diary:
„5/23: Another night of 2 hours of sleep, then 2 planes to Dusseldorf. In a panic about checking the baritone but it arrives safe. Unfortunately, Fred Longberg-Holm's cello does not- somehow Air France finds a way to break 2 tuning pegs made of carbon fiber. Short afternoon sleep and head to the Moers Festival to play. ...Once again the band delivers a strong concert despite the exhausted odds- a ferocious 50 minutes of music, but even in the density the Tentet remains clear. I believe that this was one of the best sets the band has played for a large (2000+) festival crowd in its career.“

I let Josh Sinton have the last word for now (though he wasn't speaking about this concert but the work of Steve Lacy in relation to „assault-like“ music):
„There was a time in jazz when dissonance like this [a recording of Steve Lacy] was much more the norm. So much so, that the aural landscape became over-saturated with ‘unlistenable’ sounds. It makes sense that the cultural pendulum has swung back the other way in the past several decades towards the side of ‘pretty’ music. Maybe it’s time for it to swing back. Not so much to a place of full-out assault, but to an egalitarian place where all sounds are treated and represented equally.“ (Josh Sinton: A Deathless Valley of Mysterious Motherhood)



P.S.: Nono, the very last word is given to my lovely wife. She always has the last word ;-) See her comment on my Carlo Mombelli concert review:
"one sees understanding, generosity, tolerance, cooperation from the atmosphere built up with their music minds, an atmosphere which could provide a healthy and cozy living of human being, or even other beings. (who knows)"
So, if my interpretation of the tentet concert here can stand as being valid, then we had both depicted on the Moers festival stage: the cooperative and "nice" society as well as the struggling and fighting society.

June 12, 2010

Schneeweiß und Rosenrot live at Moers Festival 2010

(again I cannot provide a good photo - but the festival site can)

Another talented young group presented in Moers, Schneeweiss und Rosenrot, expressedly not referring to the Grimm brothers fairy tale. The line-up looks like a piano trio plus vocals, but they're not sailing in these waters. They're rather a pop group that knows about jazz than a jazz group that knows about pop. They're a broken pop group, though. They dare to lean out of the window, go atonal - or at least dissonant - for short moments. In these moments I imagine Irène Schweizer might have played like that if she had become a pop musician. But as I said, that's the short moments. For the longer moments they're somewhere in the realm of the latest Bad Plus album with singer Wendy Lewis, plus some very dreamy chamber-like moments, plus some occasional Brian Viglione-like rockout from the drummer. A nice mixture, indeed. And I agree with Josef Woodard of the Santa Barbara Chronicle: the pianist Johanna Borchert was the element that made the whole group something special. Quote: "nimble, new-sounding pianist Johanna Borchert (with the tart, fresh and alluring art-pop-jazz band Schneeweiss und Rosenrot)". Another positive point was the fact that Schneeweiss & Rosenrot had the most interesting picture projections on the curtains at the back-wall of the stage. They went very well with the mood of the music.

Georg Graewe's Grubenklang Orchester live at Moers Festival 2010

(If you want to see good photos of the concert, check here)

I think I have a soft spot for left-wing imaginary folklore. This big band was something to hit this spot. I've never heard the original version of Grubenklang Orchester from the early 1980's so I cannot compare this 2010 Moers incarnation with the earlier music. This is regrettable, because the past 30 years have surely brought a big transition in the "Gruben" (pit, i.e. coal mine) areas in Germany. (Note: Moers where the festival takes place is just a few kilometres east of the biggest German mining area, Ruhrgebiet, and while the closing down of mines has already started in the 1950's, at least there still were around 130,000 mining workers employed in the early 80's - nowadays the number has been reduced to below 40,000 - according to wikipedia that is.) So, though I know about the transition that is taking place in German coal mining, I cannot tell about the transition taking place in Georg Graewe's orchestra work during the same period of time.
How does this orchestra work sound like in 2010? Well, it's predominently collage work, taking traditional coal miner's songs as a source, enhancing it with chorale compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, Gil Evansian big band arragement work and some freer soloing passages. Due to the working class theme there sometimes was a bit of Sogenanntes Linksradikales Blasorchester spirit spreading in the tent, though in the case of the Grubenklang orchestra the musicians were certainly all professionals, not amateurs as in the SLB.
Graewe is mostly conducting, only adding piano two or three times during the set. Among the musicians of the band I remember the two bass players to catch a lot of my attention, though I must admit, that I mixed them and only found out in the very end that the one who I thought is John Lindberg was actually Dieter Manderscheid - and vice versa. (For those who want to know who else played in the band, check the festival website. Sure Gratkowski was good, sure Tramontana was good, sure Vatcher was good, etc...)

June 11, 2010

A Jon Rose / Paolo Angeli duet at Moers Festival 2010




That was breathtaking! The concert conditions were not ideal for us - only because we were too stupid to go up to the gallery and watch down on the musicians, but sat down on a normal bench in the main nave of the church. So we didn't see much of what Angeli and Rose were doing. (Just like you wouldn't see much from our as usual very blurred photos.) But what we heard them doing was terrific. The one-hour set was containing two duo improvisations and one solo of Jon Rose - rightly called a teufelsgeiger by Lutz Eitel. He also described the instrument better than I could because he obviously has seen more - I wasn't even aware of the foot pedals which couldn't be seen from my point of view. However, I certainly recognized the mechanical appliance for plucking the strings, that way doubling the hands of Mr. Angeli. This guitar/cello was becoming a kind of modern orchestrion, mostly used by Angeli for creating dense soundscapes and unusual noises. I've heard a few Jon Rose recordings that left me relatively unimpressed. I was very much looking forward to hearing him live, because I knew he's a great musician and a live contect can open up ways of musical understanding that a record can't. And it really worked as expected. The concert has opened my eyes concerning how he creates sounds but that wouldn't be enough. It also gave me an idea about why he creates sounds - though I couldn't put this idea into words yet. The improvisational interplay between the two (who had announced that they hadn't played together for 17 years) was great and in his solo piece Jon Rose proved to be a wonderful story-teller. This concert was another highlight of the whole festival - it is quite interesting that many of my favorite concerts were taking place in smaller settings, not on the main stage.

June 6, 2010

A Sunday morning session at Moers Festival 2010

After we had been so highly enthused about Saturday's morning session, we didn't get an early enough start on Sunday and only arrived on the festival site when the sessions had already started. We did a bit of session-hopping at first, peeking into this or that concert room. My wife wasn't satisfied with a trio improvisation of Eve Risser, Justin Veloso and Esra Dalfidian (we're a funny little family: whenever there's trouble, it's mostly caused by the drummers) and waited outside, where she met Borey Shin, the piano player and accordeonist of Super Sea Weed Sex Scandal, who smiled at her. (Later that day she exchanged a smile with Takumi Fukushima, too. It's interesting: While East Asians - my wife is Chinese - don't smile much at each other in their home countries, they would stick together and exchange smiles when they're in the western countries. On the other hand, when I'm travelling in China I think I don't smile at other western faces that I meet there - while I might smile at some people in my home country sometime. Sorry for that long aside...)
We ended up in the morning session where our beloved Tobias Klein was playing for the second half of the set. Yuko Oshima proved in this session that she can be more versatile at the drum set than what she had shown the other day on the main stage. She played a very funny and fierce duo argument with Super Seaweed Sex Scandal's tenorist John Stanesco. Viljam Nybacka was treating the electric bass again - he was always coming together with Tobias Klein, or vice versa. He had some especially good moments in a rock setting (with guitar player Paul Wheeler). The trumpet player of the session was Eiríkur Orri. I think he wasn't bad, but I don't really remember him too well. To see the Super Seaweed Sex Scandalists (Stanesco and Wheeler in this case, Veloso in the one that we had left) in these freely improvised settings with other musicians was also arousing some thoughts on the booking politics of the festival. In these improvising settings there were moments where they lacked a bit of self-confidence. Yet where else should they develop this if not by being confronted with situations that allow them to experiment in front of an audience? And the mentioned Stanesco/Oshima duo was really a killer.
Summarizing this morning's session experience, Tobias Klein reinforced our first impression of him: He was again our star of the set, we loved every move he made.

June 4, 2010

Dobet Gnahoré live at Moers Festival 2010

We didn't even take a photo of Dobet Gnahoré. She was on the one hand the dance-act for this Saturday night - and as such she was much better than Miss Platnum the night before. She was also more related to the Moers tradition, which used to have an African Dance Night in the old days, curated by Francis Gay, getting artists like Baaba Maal to Moers. The African Dance Night started used to start even later than this year's concert of Dobet Gnahoré. But after 12 hours of interesting, attention-grasping and thought-provoking music, our minds had their fill. After we had heard four or five songs, we started our way back to our hotel. We had heard a good, versatile and strong singing voice, a very powerful athletic way of dancing and hopping on stage, some accompaniment that seemed a bit unbelievable (virtuoso guitar-player and and dense enough sound from just a guitar-bass-drum backline and strong background singing from the instrumentalists). I once had a glimpse at the official Moers Festival's website guestbook and there was some controversy going on, if there was some playback involved. But that's not really a question. It was an enjoyable set of a strong West African pop singer. And there was definitely less playback then when The Residents played in Moers in 2001.

Another voice

On the whole my reviews of Moers seem sometimes a bit too critical to me. I think I haven't made it clear enough yet how much I enjoyed the festival, even if I am criticizing a detail here and there. It is a massive gathering of the finest and most creative musicians one can imagine and utterly enjoyable. So, as I haven't expressed that enough yet, I let the Jazztimes speak for me. Take over, Josef Woodard.

June 3, 2010

Bill Frisell, Eyvind Kang & Rudy Royston live in Moers 2010



For a German it is a bit disturbing how similar Bill Frisell and Harald Schmidt look like. They even smile in a similar way. So, I cannot really guarantee that I saw Bill Frisell on stage in Moers, maybe he was covered by Schmidt as a "stunt double"...
As I have already said before, this gig didn't impress me. It started in a rather free, abstract, atonal and promising way and turned into a fusion / jazz-rock jam after about 20 minutes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against fusion / jazz-rock, but Frisell seemed a bit lazy to me. When once he has spontaneously invented (or recalled) a riff, he kept playing it over and over again for too long, with hardly any variation. His handwriting remained still Frisell-ish from the point of view of sound. After the rocking had started, Eyving Kang on the other hand sounded quite like the famous fusion violinists of the 70's, Jean-Luc or Don-Sugarcane. If there were no chairs indicating that this was a listener's rather than a dancer's concert, the whole thing might have been better. But possibly even the musicians themselves didn't know in advance that they were going to rock away the way they did. While from the microscopic point of view (e.g. the aforementioned riff repetitions of Frisell) the concert seemed not spontaneous enough, I believe that on the macroscopic scale of the players' interactions not too much was discussed in advance. I guess they were letting things flow and surprising the audience and themselves with the results. Yes, improvisation.


May 30, 2010

Steve Lehman Octet live in Moers 2010

The internet media says: "pioneering, exciting, explore idiosyncratic sound, highly listenable, contemporary classical music, urban rhythms, striking new harmonies, sound very alien yet satisfyingly beautiful, academic jazz at its best, fresh, personal, unique, furious concentration, doggedly intense, unvarnished gutsiness, intellectual heft, fidgety beats and haunting counterpoint, tension between structure and spontaneity, clinical attention to frequency and overtone, knockabout post-bop avant-garde, perfectly ultramodern gesture, strong curiosity and identity, unique, thoroughly modern music, elusive style similar to rare true love or even passive/aggressive acquaintance, spatial alto, fresh and inventive progressive sounds, new, innovative music, intricate writing, brave journey into the future of jazz."

I didn't get it. I had read a lot about Lehman's octet, I had heard two or three songs from the latest album, and I really like Fieldwork (even the old one before the arrival of Tyshawn Sorey). But I didn't get it. The concert Lehman's Octet played in Moers was a gush of water rapidly passing by. It didn't touch me, didn't make me wet, didn't carry me away. I maybe didn't even get to the shore of this stream, but just beheld it through a slight layer of fog or through a stained window. Yes, I had read Lehman's introduction to spectralism on Destination:out, yes, I understood what all these long notes from the brass players meant, these notes that were popping up at seemingly odd moments of(f) the beat and introduce spectral harmony to jazz. I think the experience was overcharged. Though being theoretically prepared, my sensory organs couldn't grasp it and my brain couldn't make sense out of it. The wild and rhythmic groove from Sorey's drumset was sweeping, yet to me it felt like the peep-peep-peep from the other players was detached from that. The overall impression was: cold. The concert left me cold. And, while I have assembled random quotes of appraisal from reviews and blog posts, even in all these highly positive articles one could find the words, that are closer to my experience: "artificially created phrases, cold, rational and geometric, overall darkness, abstruse".
Lutz Eitel found this gig spectacular. /// edit 2010/06/02: see Lutz's comment below - there was some misunderstanding and misinterpretation of his usage of the word "spectacular". ///

A few days later, back home, I re-listened to a few of the pieces. Maybe the yeast is growing now? It seems on record I could get access to this more easily. I'm still not as enthusiastic about it as the internet buzz crowd, but the relationship between me and the Lehman octet might keep growing. As long as this relationship hasn't reached adolescence, I'll stick with Fieldwork. And I'm really not certain, if Lehman's spectralism would thrust jazz into the future or if it is merely a footnote. /// edit 2010/06/02: When thinking about the complicated music of Mr. Lehman again today, Shakespeare's famous line came into my mind: "a tale full of sound and fury / signifying nothing". ///

P.S.: Articles often mention as teachers and influences of Mr. Lehman: Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, George Lewis. But Threagill is warm, Braxton is flexible (amphibic?). Yes, George Lewis and Steve Lehman might be related in coldness.

(Shine on you crazy tuba cone)

The Steve Lehman Hype on the internet:
The interview buzz: By Jason Crane on his Jazz Session programme. A German podcast with some interview snippets at the Jazz Thing magazine's website - part one and two. By Josh Jackson on WBGO (plus a review in the Checkout New Music programme).
The blog buzz: Undomondo, Time Out New York, New York Times Playlist, A Blog Supreme, New Music Box.
And certainly the review buzz: Allmusic.com, Allaboutjazz.com #1 and #2, New York Times.
Already mentioned: Spectralism introduced by Mr. Lehman himself on Destination:out.

May 29, 2010

Carlo Mombelli & The Prisoners of Strange live in Moers 2010

The name of Carlo Mombelli's group was explained by the presenter before the concert: He said, Mombelli had played with big names of the South African music scene (like for instance Miriam Makeeba), but whenever he led his own groups, people felt them somehow strange. After a while the (mainstream) music business didn't want to produce or feature him anymore, so he became a prisoner of the label "strange", that had been stuck on him. It is important to stress that this story only works within a mainstream music business context - there's nothing strange to Mombelli's music in the context of Moers festival. The contrary is true: Within this Moers context his music sounded a little bit pop-oriented - which doesn't mean at all that it was bad music. The first and most obvious feature of the group's sound that attracted my attention was the lack of a harmony / chord instrument like guitar or piano. This was partly compensated by some synth-effects and loops triggered by Mombelli's bass and echos added to Marcus Wyatt's trumpet microphone. Furthermore Mombelli's way of playing the bass was often reminding of the Jaco Pastorius way - a way that needs to breathe freely and might be disturbed by chord instruments. I especially liked the overtone harmonics that he created with extended plucking or muting techniques on the bass strings. Justin Badenhorst's drumming was pertinent and Siya Makuzeni's singing very expressive - see a blogosphere appraisal of her skills at Free-quency.
And for Marcus Wyatt's trumpet playing I think I could use Kenny Wheeler as a reference point: just imagine a Kenny Wheeler who uses some of the above-mentioned electronic echo-processing techniques.
So much for the technical side of it. What made the set work so well was the spiritual side though. There was serenity flowing through it all the time. There were no extreme actions taken - they just didn't seem necessary -, yet still the musicians didn't avoid argument or to make a clear point. Sometime in the second half of the set Mombelli made some spoken statements too with a rather high and very tender voice. A voice you wouldn't associate with a bass man, but then again it made sense within the group's aesthetic. That was music to make people happy without blocking their ability of thinking. Music speaking to body and soul. Blogger Julia Grabsch loved it, too. Blogger Lutz Eitel didn't - so it goes (but his reference to Jon Hassell is true - he came to my mind as well).
After the show there was a rush from the audience area to the CD selling stand. It was a commercially smart move of Mombelli to tell people that the CD's not available in Europe yet.

There's a feature on South African jazz this week on the excellent Jazz Collection programme of public Swiss radio - it's downloadable (for four weeks at least - after that it can only be streamed, which is certainly also "downloadable" if you can handle streams) and there's a pdf sheet with info on the music played on the programme, all of it in German, but the music certainly speaks an international language. The programme also contains one piece of Mombelli and one piece of Marcus Wyatt.