REVIEW: Aarhus Festival, Denmark

Julie Kjær and Daysuke Takaoka
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Aarhus Festival, Denmark, 15-22 July
(Various venues, Saturday 15 July. Review & photographs by Henning Bolte)

Aarhus is in the west, Copenhagen in the east of Denmark. Both summer festivals connect closely to each other in time and programme (see also 2015 review). This year Aarhus is European Capital of Culture under the motto “Let’s Rethink”. It’s annual Jazz Festival had a strong Japanese focus. The official opening of the jazz festival went with a Japanese street parade of the many-headed Mitamurakandadan troupe.

The same day there was a Japan Now! program at the Hotel Carmel venue. It is a fine new venue in an old redbrick building that functioned as a mission house until 2006 and recently was re-determined as a hotel annex with various art saloons.

The Japan focus was part of the ambitious Danish-Japanese exchange OPPOSITE 2017, which brought 30 Danish jazz musicians for 58 concerts during 16 days to Japan, and Japanese musicians amongst others to the two Danish summer festivals. For the Tokyo part Copenhagen’s main jazz venue Jazzhouse took over the Tokyo venue SuperDeluxe. Jazz Denmark organises this kind of event regularly. Next month the second edition of the five-day Sounds of Denmark will be held at Pizza Express Club in London.

At Hotel Carmel pianist Makiko Hirabayashi, who arrived in Denmark in the 1990s, performed with her long-standing trio of double bass player Klavs Hovman and master percussionist Marilyn Mazur. They have been playing together for more than 10 years. The threesome has a deep understanding of the art of connecting a diversity of pieces and yielding a flowing movement to let the song sing itself. With a neat and delicate connection of rhythm and melody and a sensitive timing of turnabouts, of the moment to leave space, accelerate or drop back, rise or linger, the diversity of the pieces blossomed.

Marilyn Mazur
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Marilyn Mazur’s flowing body movements between drum-set and shimmering percussion rack were the most extrovert part of the whole. Hovman was far more than the stoic anchor. With his bass and subtle electronics he provided melodic sustain and depth of field. Hirabayashi worked in deep concentration – with occasionally a brief smile – with a wondrous hidden force feeding into her music. The music itself was charmingly playful, rolling strongly and highly infectious. It was an upbeat generously opening up of the playing field.

Next was a remarkable trio configuration of internationally acclaimed Danish reedis player Julie Kjær, Japanese tuba player Daysuke Takaoka and drummer Noritaka Tanaka. Takaoka’s operations on the tuba were flabbergasting and his musical manoeuvres highly fascinating – comparable to Peter Evans’ trumpet playing. I haven’t experienced such vehement tuba playing over such a long stretch of time before.

The three musicians built their music improvising about some rudimentary specifications, often repetitive riffs or ostinato-like motifs – Kjær alternatively on alto, bass clarinet or flute, Takaoka mostly on a viable tornister tuba and Tanaka on usual drum kit. For Takaoka it meant all hands on deck in order to keep up with Kjær’s alto as they met again and again in their rhythmically intense runs firing off each other. The horns captured most attention such that Tanaka’s excellent and precise drum work served an indispensable function but most of the time remained outside conscious perception.

In a piece with Kjær on flute – she is one of the few giving this instrument a serious place in free improvisation – Takaoka did not confine himself to the lower register as dark counterpart but went into ‘competition’ with the highest tones on his tuba. Of course he used multiphonics including vocalizing through the tuba and even used his tuba in a shō-like manner (Japanese bamboo mouth organ).

During the brutally loud sound-check of the following group, Goat, I was wondering if I should really attend the concert. I did and have no regret. This collective of young musicians from Osaka is spearheaded by electric bassist Koshiro Hino, a touring member of noise act Boredoms and leader of the Osaka band Bonanzas. It comprises Akihiko Ando (saxophone) and the two percussionists Tomohisa Suzuki and Takafumi Okada. Goat has already gathered a bit of attention in Europe and released its first album on the Berlin Pan label.

Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Basically Goat is a percussion group also making use of (muted) electric bass guitar and muted and electronically processed saxophone sounds. For the percussion they only use bongos, bass drum, hi-hat and a bit snare drum. It delivers a very strong elementary sound. The four musicians played a carefully structured and choreographed programme of an almost ritualistic character leading to a great concluding climax. It started with all of them on bongo playing repetitive, overlapping and finally magnifying sequences. It had a deeply concentrating and liberating effect. After a while the group opened, split up and formed a configuration of two drum-sets, electric bass guitar and (electronic) saxophone. The volume increased progressively expanding the sound to a cathartic finale. Avoiding the ennui of a lot of new minimalism, the brutal loudness made sense and really led into something.

To conclude the night I went to the Atlas venue (10 minutes’ walk) to see Resonance, a new opus of Danish pianist Jakob Anderskov performed by his String, Percussion + Piano Ensemble, comprising drummer Peter Bruun, the strings of Karen Johanne Padersen (violin), Mette Brandt (viola) and Ida Nørholm (cello) with Anderskov himself on piano.

The ensemble acted in a loose but deeply connected way as a fully integrated unit in an open sonic field. The nimble strings could sound shadowy as in Fish Spotting, the piece I liked most. Anderskov’s muted piano strings induced otherworldly sound qualities. They could have wonderful vocal qualities and lift the music up in a horn-like way. Peter Bruun interlaced the open space in a quite textural way. Despite the advanced techniques it sounded very atmospheric and cinematic. 8th Avenue Tranquility is a good example of it. Together with the ensemble, Anderskov created a real new thing by interweaving heterogeneous sound worlds and let these grow into a real new kind of sound. The ensemble sent its audience home with a blues-inflected piece under the night sky.

Categories: miscellaneous

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