McFerrin Moves Estonian Voices To Jubilant Heights At Jazzkaar

jazzkaar bobby mcferrin gimme

The second half of Tallinn’s 10-day Jazzkaar festival was particularly loaded with starry Americans, including the Joshua Redman Trio, Mark Guiliana’s Beat Music and John Scofield’s Combo 66, but the most anticipated gig of this 30th edition was that of vocalist Bobby McFerrin’s Gimme 5, the only show presented at the voluminous Alexela concert hall. New Yorker McFerrin (pictured above) doesn’t play so many dates nowadays: the joint was sold out, the show unusually featuring an a capella overload collaboration with the six-piece Estonian Voices, led by Kadri Voorand.

The two groups had only met in the afternoon, but an instant bond was apparent, with the best section of the set having McFerrin gently guiding all of the singers with his arcane hand signals, gestures of subtle coercion. The singers sat in a curved row, males to the left, females to the right. These early, long songs had the aura of improvised creation, as McFerrin built up patterns and layers with his humanoid looping pedals. McFerrin operates in very high and very low ranges, sometimes adjacent in spacing, or mingling simultaneously, as if operating twin vocal cords. Male bass raindrops joined in what began to sound like an Afro-Brazilian chant, then the Gimme 5 dudes introduced their snare and cymbal impersonations, this instant song building and intensifying.

A pair of more familiar numbers presented a different slant, with solo vocal opportunities distributed around male and female members, interpreting ‘Wade In The Water’ and ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours’. When Estonian Voices stepped forward to present a pair of their own songs, the sonics were much thicker, either using effects, or even digital vocal extras. While in the context of their own shows this is impressive, in this surround of soft subtlety, their pyrotechnics seemed shockingly brash by comparison with all of the delicate improvisational weaving of the preceding and following pieces. In this instance, Estonian Voices were best used under the direction of McFerrin, ably responding to his unfamiliar promptings. He sat in the middle, a wise lama of sonics, listening, ear cocked, then responding to find the next growth, often motioning for a volume drop, or a group-within-the-group embellishment of a particular recurring phrase.

jazzkaar Kirke Karja

The Estonian pianist Kirke Karja (pictured above) is one of the country’s most exciting and adventurous artists, and she usually reveals a new band, and a new musical path, during each Jazzkaar edition. This time, Captain Kirke & The Klingons featured the powerful Lithuanian reedsman Liudas Mockūnas in a quintet line-up. Okay, so that’s not the ideal bandname for such a severe outpouring of loquaciously arranged extremity, but it might give we Trekksters a certain quiver of cosmic anticipation. Karja played in the smaller Punane Maja alternative space, though this area has undergone an impressive expansion since last year, with stage placement improved, and milky lighting creating an atmospheric environment.

The Klingons also included a pair of French players, Pierre Lapprand (saxophones) and Etienne Renard (bass). Mockūnas and Lapprand combined sopranos to begin, mewling in harmony, with the former graduating to monster contrabass clarinet, hacking up substratum sputum, and indulging in industrial overblowing. Vistas of mordant meditation were unveiled. Mockūnas delivered a glottal soprano solo, closely partnered by the Lapprand tenor, in a crawling march, as Hans Kurvits used mallets on his drum skins. There was an abrupt jolt into a scintillatingly spiky jitter, Karja’s piano to the fore, as Mockūnas barked “less reverb!” (twice), and finally “no reverb!”, before a full icepick-in-the-forehead double tenor throttling alongside Lapprand. This is Karja’s best band so far, her swift evolution seemingly demanding no restrictions.

Martin Longley
Photos by Rene Jakobson 

 

 

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