Atmosphères, Apneseth, Westerhus and Wesseltoft mix it up for Punkt

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If there was an air of self-congratulation about this year’s Punkt festival then it was entirely justified: now in its 12th year, this ‘small, but perfectly formed’ niche festival in the Norwegian city of Kristiansand looms impressively large on the international scene. Its reputation largely rests on the quality of the programming and the festival’s unique founding principle that each ‘live’ act is immediately followed by a ‘live’ remix of the music, with anything from a solo producer to another band emerging at the back of the stage. 

This process is deliberately very open-ended, as festival co-curator Jan Bang explained to Fiona Talkington in an interview on the opening night, and indeed would prove so over the next two days. It also lends itself to an eclectic programme, since each act is both a performance and a source of stimulation for the remixers. Thus the 2016 line-up included elements of Norwegian traditional music, hard-hitting jazz, post-rock, ambient soundscapes, pure improvisation and even a pop act straight from the Norwegian charts. Both Ingfrid Breie Nyhus’ piano and Hardanger fiddle virtuoso Erland Apneseth root their music in the distinctive phrasing and rhythms of Norwegian folk music, but where Nyhus’ compelling solo exploration had a careful unravelling of repetitive phrasing and a studied harmonic discipline that was almost academic, Apneseth’s trio with drums and acoustic guitar built similar elements into something altogether more rowdy and rocking, with incessant guitar and rolling drums more than justifying the flashing light show and smoke machine embellishing it. 

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Nyhus was the opening performer in the highly formal setting of the Klubben gentleman’s club on Thursday, followed by the playful improvisation duo Streifenjunko, who used trumpet, tenor sax and electronics to create an endlessly inventive soundworld. Rarely using their instruments conventionally, they wove a bewildering range of vocalisations and percussive effects around a steady rhythmic evolution that provided remixer Erik Honoré (the other co-curator of the festival) with the basis for a thick electronic restaging of their piece, taking the ideas into a bleaker industrial place and allowing them to flourish into something compelling and affirmative. It was a much more satisfying pairing than that offered to Ingfrid Breie Nyhus, whose piece was followed by what seemed to be an entirely autonomous electronic performance from Jon S Lunde and Morton Liene, onto which they had awkwardly grafted a closing coda sampled from her performance.

Saturday’s proceedings moved to the much less formal nightclub venue Kick Scene, allowing for a two-tier stage setting with the remixers set up behind the live band: a particularly dynamic arrangement for Erland Apseneth’s set with a trio of Stian Westerhus, Arve Henriksen and oud-player Rolf Lislevand assembled in waiting. Accompanied by vivid projections and moody lighting, they did a great job of adding deeper resonances to the Norwegian themes, Henriksen’s trademark siren-call trumpet nicely bridging the gap between Scandinavian fiddle and Arabic oud. It was a distinct contrast with what followed: to judge by the response of the people sitting next to me Band of Gold are a bona fide pop sensation in their home country, and their demeanour suggested they belonged on much bigger stages. The music was brash and direct, too, mostly four-to-the-floor rockers with an oddly retro feel of early 1970s Fleetwood Mac, all driven by the ferociously busy bass of Elephant9’s Nikolai Haengsle Eilertsen and fronted by Nina Elisabeth Mortvedt’s assured rock-chick delivery. The brilliant remix, by ‘cosmic Balearics’ Mungolian Jetset was a proper dancefloor number, vocal samples given sub-bass resonances, lyrics slowed down and the beats weighted against chattering live drumming to build a powerful contemporary groove. 

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The insistence of the remix paved the way perfectly for the final live act: the UK’s Three Trapped Tigers kicked straight into their trademark hard rock wall of sound, each number a construction of riffs and dynamics launching surprisingly disciplined solos and letting loose cheeky drops – Rage Against The (Soft) Machine? It was properly electric and electrifying, cramming an immense amount of music and energy into 45 minutes, and the remix trio of Jan Bang, Auden Klieve and Band of Gold’s bass man Eilertsen were gifted a groove which they stripped away and rebooted with samples into a Friday night variant that finally slid away in the back seat of Kraftwerk’s tour bus.

If Saturday saw a final triple bill that would eventually culminate in something the uninitiated might recognise as jazz in headliner Bugge Wesseltoft’s newest band it began very much in rock god territory with guitarist Stian Westerhus’ solo set. From the start he looked imposing: raised on a small plinth, surrounded by a complex ring of pedals, underlit to emphasise his deranged hair and shadowed eyes, he launched into songs from this year’s Amputation album, building the dark and forceful music behind his fluting falsetto vocals. It was powerful, visceral stuff, somehow managing the balance between increasingly impassioned singing and storming noise-rock freedom and the technical dexterity needed to control the sounds and structures. At times it was as though his roaring voice was what triggered the guitar, at others the electronics seemed to have a life of their own. Combined with the high-energy lighting and projections it was not for the fainthearted and remixer Eric Honoré wisely chose to distil the music, adding Moroder-style sub-bass and tentative saxophone textures, with snatches of vocals emerging in a more refined version that reduced to a closing choral payout. 

The festival’s one disappointment had been the cancellation of an appearance from ECM’s Manfred Eicher that afternoon, but his presence was clearly felt in the set from the Atmosphères band that followed, Tigran Hamasyan’s all-star quartet with Arve Henriksen, guitarist Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang playing spacious explorations based on traditional Armenian melodies. With four players with nothing to prove, the sense of relaxed economy and reflective interaction was palpable, producing moments of spell-binding beauty as well as sudden shifts in tone and texture. Nothing jarred in their set, yet an ongoing sparring between the electronics and acoustic sounds gave a creative tension that produced the occasional wry smile onstage. The music’s ethereal integrity presented a challenge to remixer Simen Løvgren who felt his way into it from a fairly urban insistence, hinting at piano and muted trumpet, adding a bassline that became a heartbeat around which the sound coalesced. 

Serious stuff, then, but the evening ended on a much more straightforward, joyous note, with the latest incarnation of Bugge Wesseltoft’s New Conception of Jazz band. Twenty years after that group’s album was released, the Jazzland label founder has begun an entirely new ensemble with four young musicians and his own brand of youthful energy to urge them on. This was fun jazz in the Wesseltoft style, combining tight rhythms on drums and table, with intricately written parts for sax and guitar, all held together by the man himself behind his keyboards. Each player got at least one chance to solo, with Marthe Lea’s mature tenor sax especially impressive, while drummer Siv Øyunn Kjenstad did well to stay locked into Wesseltoft’s combination of playful funk and edgy whimsy. There was a quirky Zappa-recalling song about buying stuff to help the economy that nicely combined structure, freedom and a free jazz interlude led by a tabla/sax double solo that gave an idea of how skilled these young players are and how this new band could develop over time. It was a great way to end the festival but, being Punkt, it couldn’t do that because there had to be a remix that almost inevitably felt like a slightly damp squib as some people left before the end.

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Notwithstanding that, however, there was no doubt that this had been a great event overall that showed both the Punkt concept and the Norwegian jazz scene remain vibrant at the centre of European jazz development.

     Tony Benjamin (Story & Photos)

Nightingale Quintet Fly High For Porter At Henley’s Phyllis Court Club

 

Mark Nightingale, easily our premier jazz trombonist (though Alistair White is snapping at his heels, in my opinion), had assembled an all-star quintet for this occasion, with that stalwart of British jazz Alan Barnes alongside on alto and baritone, the rarely seen Jim Watson (depping for the absent Graham Harvey) on piano, bassist Simon Woolf and drummer Matt Skelton.

In what may be imagined as a gesture to the age profile of the audience, Nightingale had subtitled his concert as ‘Totally Cole Porter’ and presented exactly that. If the audience (or the reader) might have expected a sing-along, or even a vocal or two, then look away now for this was largely a stern examination of the improvisatory potential of Porter’s timeless pieces, long known for their harmonic interest. If I say that it took a while for the group to cohere and swing, that’s no reflection on their individual efforts just the way it was. When it came, it was Jay and Kai’s classic version of ‘It’s Alright With Me’ (suitably adapted by Nightingale) that did the trick, unlocking the rewarding surge that had been missing earlier.    

On this Barnes played baritone, building well, his gutsy fluency a foil for Nightingale’s busy, almost forensic foray in the harmonies. The trombonist is an extemporiser who, having found a note, likes to add a good few more before moving on. Always intricate, sometimes startling, even ribald at times in his playing, and good-natured in his bandstand communication, Nightingale never takes the easy way out.

Other highlights included ‘I Concentrate On You’ in an intriguing stop-start arrangement by Woolf, whose basslines always compelled attention even if his arco solos were something of an acquired taste, and ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ in a solo version by Barnes on baritone, that was unhurried, heart-felt and touching, with Watson’s piano commentary similarly outstanding. In fact, Watson’s playing throughout was intriguing, creative, frequently dazzling, all of which suggests that he should be heard far more often in this kind of out-and-out jazz context. ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’ came out just fine, the ideal closer, all five at one, pleasingly exultant, with swing uppermost.  Good news all round.

– Peter Vacher

Stian Westerhus and Three Trapped Tigers power PUNKT remix festival

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If today’s mainstream music is now regurgitating ever shortening cycles within cycles of half-remembered cover versions of last week’s latest covered Youtube wonder, the PUNKT remix festival is like some kind of organic sonic food spa for the ears – with only freshly performed, reassuringly real sounds created and recycled in state-of-the-art remakes – right before you in real time. Now celebrating its 12th edition this year’s event presented two slyly contrasting main evenings; the first with a triple bill of folk-tronica, warm 1970s harmony-laden prog rock and biting electro-thrash that got the jazziest remixes, while the second night pooled together more overtly jazz artists undergoing remixes that plumbed the darker recesses of electronica.

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Opening proceedings was Hardanger fiddle player Erlend Apneseth (above), who first emerged as a heralded new star of his country’s traditional instrument, yet who’s Trio have forged a new path exploring drones, glitchy trilling effects and reverb-soaked spaces. This was perfect fodder for their remix partners Stian Westerhus, Arve Henriksen and Rolf Lislevand to stretch and spin into a brilliant if all-too-brief remixed response. Band of Gold (below), a group that includes members of In The Country and Elephant9 and won the Nordic music prize last year for their beautifully burnished eponymous debut that while nodding to the luxuriant harmonies of Fleetwood Mac, boasted horn arrangements by Jaga Jazzist’s Lars Hornveth. It was soulfully affecting stuff and was given a sympathetic reworking by Mungolian JetSet. But better was still to come.

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British trio Three Trapped Tigers (below) formed several yeas ago to create their own take on the music of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher but have since forged their own heavyweight maelstrom of industrial strength beats, blazing guitars and face-slapping synths. Their jazz-trained drummer Adam Betts is actually part of Squarepusher’s live band, Shobaleader One, and as for TTT their head-banging, floor-shaking sound more than matches their inspiration’s menacing assaults. Reshaping this set immediately after, festival founder Jan Bang, drummer Audun Kleive and Elephant9/Band of Gold bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen brought some artfully funky moves to bear on TTT’s titanium-coated chaos. The whole evening wound up in suitably twisted beat-laden style.

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Saturday’s line-up was almost in reverse with opener Stian Westerhus (top of page), with his vast array of pedals and four huge amps, creating a cathedral of sound that’s as crushingly powerful as any five-piece band. Westerhus’ past includes stints with Jaga Jazzist and his own bands Monolithic and Pale Horses, but it’s his newly unbound vocals that created the biggest stir among those present – his phenomenal guitar work is already a known quantity – but his startling, rasping yet eminently soulful voice is something of a revelation. Creating intense loops of surging guitar, it’s the otherworldly sounds extracted from his archtop that send the coldest chills, as when he breaths like Nosferatu across the pickups to produce wraith-like veils of sound or when he unleashes a magnetic storm of thudding, shuddering sonic waves that crash over the speakers, before bringing back his anguished vocals that rise like voices from the other side. It sounds like a personal exorcism of thunderous proportions, wailing in the void, poems from purgatory, one never sure if we're heading to heaven or hell. There's something dark and devilish about it all, that, along with the macabre lighting and Westerhus' haunted features makes for the most transfixing spectacle. Remarkably he even bows the guitar to create a fiddle like sound akin to those of Norway's rich folk roots. He may be impossible to categorise but Westrhus is some of the most astonishing music today.

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If Stian represented the devil, then the Atmosphères band is certainly as angelic as you would wish them to be. Tigran Hamasyan (above) has long brought the Armenian music of his culture to the mainstream, with a finely wrought precision, and he's found the perfect partners in Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang (below) and Eivind Aarset to take this music and into the realm of the ambient and the ethereal. Creeping like mist over some spectral plane the music slowly built to a nebulous cloud of notes, Henriksen making the first advance with some melodic ideas soon followed by Tigran, yet it was Bang’s extraordinarily flexible live sampling that jerked this out of its torpor, sending electric shocks across the layers of sound. The quartet finally dug into something deeper with Tigran piling up up the bass notes and Henriksen finding purchase with some diminished runs – out of which emerged another Armenian piece that was doubled by his voice and Heniksen’s trumpet. Far from being me are ambient wallpaper or flotation tank music, this is a deep cultural dialogue between four extremely compatible friends, yet its a soundworld that needs to be pushed into more challenging sonic areas. The ensuing electronically charged remix by Simen Løvgren hinted at the deeper, more threatening textures the group could explore, with powerful bass notes and twitching rhythms lurching out of the sonic fog.

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A beaming Bugge Wesseltoft fired up his latest incarnation of his New Conception of Jazz band – notably an all female one featuring tenorist Marthe Lea, guitarist Oddrun Lilja, tabla player Sanskriti Shresta and drummer Siv Oyunn Kjenstad (below) – on what he said was the second date of their tour that would visit Japan, the US, Europe and UK. It probably wasn’t meant as a caveat but, while this group is another that’s taking its first steps, it also sounds like its still finding its feet. Lengthy guitar and sax intros added suitable amounts of tension and the opening song’s multi-layered groove-while-soloing approach revealed much empathy between Bugge and the band, yet it was often his keyboard wizardry that upped the ante. Things peaked with Bugge foraging for filthy synth bass line which underpinned a striking sax melody and some shimming chords from Lilja, the band cranking up to a higher gear with all signs pointing to lift off. And yet this funky storm soon blew over and things settled back down into a lower simmering groove, which still held the attention but didn’t pack the same pulse-quickening punch. If they can build a set around these electro-funk foundations, then they’re on to a winner – the talent is in no doubt – it’s direction they need now. The ensuing remix from guitar/electronics/drums trio of Jens Kola, Johannes Vaage and Stian Balducci once again brought out a heavier darker side to the music, providing a darker reality to the lighter one before.

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The wonderful thing with PUNKT is that it provides a state-of-the-art space for some of the world’s most restlessly creative musicians to experiment on a grand scale – fearlessly diving into the unknown – while giving the audience the chance to hear some extraordinary music for the first time ever. Twelve years and counting and this great sound experiment continues to cook up sumptuous sonic surprises.

– Mike Flynn 
– Photos by Petter Sandell 

Thomas de Pourquery’s Supersonic Honour Sun Ra At Saalfelden Jazz Fest 2016

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This year’s Saalfelden Jazz Festival boasted an excellent mix of well-known international stars and relative European newcomers, all performing in this delightful scenic town in the Austrian Tyrol. The main concerts took place in the Saalfelden Conference Centre, a modern purpose-built venue with a fantastic VIP roof terrace offering a glorious view over the surrounding mountains. Supporting this main site were a smaller club-type venue presenting intimate shows under the banner of ‘Short Cuts’ and a City Stage, hosting free concerts with an emphasis on world-type music in front of the region’s town hall.

Most interesting of the gigs on the City Stage were Douba Foli, featuring a host of DiabatesMamadou, brothers Abdoulaye and Mobido, along with Brahima – playing joyous West African rhythms in their brightly-colored costumes; the Mostar Sevdah Reunion which brought the Balkans beat to bear; and lastly China’s amazing Dawanggang, with their incredible mix of classical Chinese tradition and more modern jazz and rock styling.

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The Short Cutsvenue showcased more adventurous music – the Tim Berne/Marc Ducret duo and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit were both outstanding, as was a solo set from bass clarinetist Michael Riessler. Saalfelden regular Jim Black was in attendance with his New Quartet, featuring the excellent Elias Stemeseder (piano) and Oskar Gudjonsson (sax). Meanwhile, a great find was Jamie Saft’s crack unit Starlite Motel, with Norwegians Rune Nergaard (bass) Kristoffer Alberts (sax) and Gard Nilssen (drums).

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The main venue always offers an eclectic mix of music and this year was certainly one of the best – from the New Orleans jazz of Steve Bernstein/ Henry Butler and the straightahead bebop of Marty Ehrilich Sextet to the strange world of Chiri, mixing free playing from Aussies Scott Tinkler (trumpet) and Simon Baker (drums), with the vocal contortions of Korean Bae il Dong – very leftfield. Highlights mostly came from the op names. The Emile Parisien Quintet featuring Joachim Kuhn and Michael Portal were just immense, Kuhn and Portal are world class and Parisien isn’t far behind. Cellist Vincent Courtois’ trio with Daniel Erdmann and Robin Fincker on saxes were beautiful and along the same lines Hardanger fiddle player Erlend Apneseth’s trio with guitarist Stephan Meidell and percussionist Oyvind Hegg-Lunde were sublime, both bands providing deep contrast to the more robust music on stage.

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Jim Black reappeared with his old band Human Feel, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Chris Speed on great form, and Susana Santos Silva continues to impress, this time accompanied by the great Lotte Anker on sax. Tomeka Reid, another cellist, has rapidly risen from the Chicago AACM school and here displayed poise and confidence playing alongside Mary Halvorson (guitar) Jason Roebke (bass) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums).

Austrian Lukas Kranzelbinder’s Shake Stew, featuring two drummers and two bass players, were an interesting concept but, for me, fellow countrymen Edi Nulz, propelled by drummer Valentin Schuster and driven by bass clarinetist Siegmar Brecher and guitarist Julian Adam Pajzs were the hottest new band on show. The energy, enthusiasm and sheer class of their musicianship was evident to all. They remind me of Acoustic Ladyland for the sheer power of their performance.

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Most fun were Thomas de Pourquery’s Supersonic, his homage to Sun Ra. The band, all Ra aficionados first, rather than out-and-out jazzers, made a slightly manic, but absolutely joyous journey through the Cosmic Captain’s interstellar material, molded perfectly to the capabilities of the musicians who were obviously all having a ball on stage. The audience were clearly loving it too. What more could you ask for?

– Story and Photos by Tim Dickeson

 

Clarinet maestros Peplowski and Stringle pepper-up Pizza Express with collaborative masterclass

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This brilliant Anglo-American pairing has form: they toured together a year ago and recorded a pair of CDs, this latest successful round-up, a probable precursor to a repeat next year. Their one-off Dean Street date came mid-tour, the quintet combination run in and road-worthy, the two front-liners clearly at ease with each other, the irrepressibly creative Ken Peplowski balanced by the more pristine, cool-sounding Julian Marc Stringle, the latter still identified by his hipster-style shoulder-length hair. A further benefit of their road time came in the performance of the rhythm section, with pianist Craig Milverton, something of an unsung hero on the UK scene, impressing with his range of ideas, crisp attack and commitment to swing, the rock-steady bassist Sandy Suchodolski a heartbeat away and drummer Nick Milward giving everything an extra sense of dash.

Crazy Rhythm’ opened, taken at pace with a neat, harmonised twist to the melody, as Peplowski went straight into overdrive, his solo building layer upon layer of invention. It’s widely thought that he’s the finest clarinettist active today: on this showing few would quibble with that assessment.  What’s more, he’s a stylist and recognisably so, owing little to his predecessors, harmonically canny and urgent. Stringle has his own strengths too, a fine command of tone and a sense of theatre in the way he builds his solos. This was especially evident on the bossa-flavoured ‘Triste’ and ‘Pequinita’, a pretty Neil Angilley song. Mind you, his standout performance was on ‘Maria’ by Bernstein, this something of a bravura affair, cleverly thought-through and rising to an imposing climax. That said, my preferences were for their all-out clarinet duet on ‘Airmail Special’, hackneyed maybe, but given quite a torrid seeing-to, this only equalled by their two-tenor reading of ‘Sometimes I’m Happy’ with Stringle quite robust and KP sinuous and serpentine, hinting at a liking for Lucky Thompson. Best of the night? Peplowski back on clarinet, with just Suchodolski for company, playing the usually schmaltzy ‘Smile’ entirely sotto voce, the audience rapt, and the sound quite sublime. Masterly.

– Peter Vacher

– Photo by David Thomas

The Clarinet Maestros by Ken Peplowski, Julian Marc Stringle and the Craig Milverton Trio is on Merfangle MM415 and Together Again by the same line-up is on Merfangle MM816                                                                                                                                                          

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