Live review

Südtirol Jazzfestival, 2019 – Part 1

Südtirol Jazzfestival – Part 1
(Alto Adige, 28 June-7 July 2019. Round-up by Alison Bentley)

The art of the duo: how do a mere two musicians vary their set to keep the audience’s attention? In a rooftop garden, Catalonian Magalí Sare sang with Mallorcan-born guitarist Sebastià Gris: the Festival’s 2019 theme was “exploring Iberia”.

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Magalí Sare & Sebastià Gris (Photo: Alison Bentley)

Sare’s voice had a classical power in the Brazilian song Carinhoso, sung in Portuguese. She waved her hand expressively like a flamenco dancer, while Gris’ chord-melody archtop guitar work and vocal harmony added energy. Sare acted the roles of mother and child in Dat Dere with wit, and a nod to Rickie Lee Jones over Gris’ walking bass lines. Sare brought out the humour in Lush Life. No world-weary resignation for her – she even mimed strangling Gris (“romance is mush”) as he played exquisite colla voce runs and tough chords. In the wry humour of Nobody, Sare showed some of Cécile McLorin Salvant’s playfulness.

In total contrast, Richard Strauss’ Morgen! was sung with breathy delicacy; Sale’s guitar had an almost orchestral complexity. A Mallorcan lullaby, learned from Gris’ ancestors, was played and sung with a folky naturalness and Iberian passion.

Their own songs combined folk and jazz. Insomnia had “analogue effects” on guitar: a tiny piece of paper wedged under the strings to muffle them. Coming into This World had intriguing vocal and guitar lines countering each other. An Argentinian song was as speedy and convoluted as an Hermeto Pascoal piece. You barely noticed their excellent technique, but looked through it to the music’s emotion.

Claire Parsons & Eran Har Even (Photo: Alison Bentley)

At a mountain refuge and restaurant at 2046m, mountain bikers, children and assorted jazz fans had gathered in the sun on the grass to hear Luxembourg-born singer/keyboardist Claire Parsons, and Netherlands-based guitarist Eran Har Even. “I feel like I’m in heaven but also in a living room,” said Parsons, and despite the dramatic landscape, the mood was intimate. Parson’s voice was warm and relaxed; the guitar’s folk-inflected arpeggios were given subtle electronic treatment. The mood of Henya and The Promised Land had the yearning feeling of some of Avishai Cohen’s songs; the vocal and guitar improv mixed jazz and oriental inflections. Storm clouds flitted across the sky like the songs’ moods. “When you smile the sun does come out.” Even’s bass octave pedal added extra depth to the dynamics, in their shiny new chords to Norwegian Wood.

Electronic effects built the set up subtly. Another piece in 10/8 had different sections: spacey sounds echoing round the mountains; strummed chords; taut rhymes; a rock-edged guitar solo, and Joni-esque vocals. In another, looped echoey vocal lines folded beautifully into each other like their own choir. You and the Night and the Music swung gently, like Bjork singing Ella, with a Frisell-ian guitar solo. A Brazillian-styled piece had a beguiling lightness of touch and urgent pizzicato guitar, sometimes automatically harmonised, while Nightfall evoked Lionel Loueke, the guitar playing all parts at once.

Watchdog (Photo: Alison Bentley)

The atmospheric basement of an old brewery was a completely contrasting venue. French duo Watchdog opened with keyboardist Anne Quillier’s Minimoog swoops, as Pierre Horckmans’ clarinet notes slid alongside in Ashes; the combination of natural instrument timbres with electronic Fender Rhodes sounds was intriguing. Quillier played grand piano with one hand and the Rhodes with the other, layering repeated rhythmic patterns, like some of Michael Wollny’s work with Tamar Halperin – but with only one Anne Quillier. Horchmans opened Blind Drunk with percussively tongued bass clarinet, and the primal, deep bubbling notes echoed the Fender Rhodes bass beats. A little overblowing brought a rock intensity to his bluesy solo, while Quillier’s gentle vocal lines added another texture. The clarinet drawled bluesily over two chords in 5/8 with impish energy, while Quillier’s jazz solo on grand piano twined intricately with the Fender Rhodes chords and simple clarinet lines. Another piece had a folkish melody, skipping across the beat with a little klezmer. Waves pulsed darkly, and clarinet harmonised electronically with itself, the whole rocking to a conclusion. Another used musical box tones and fluttering arpeggios; the next veered between classical and rock vibes, while the bass clarinet solo was full of dark fire. Pile of Scrap’s prog jazz feel growled with clarinet overtones. The varied timbres, patterns and solos combined to draw you in and keep you mesmerised.

Hank Roberts (Photo: Alison Bentley)

The art of the solo is even more demanding. US cellist/singer Hank Roberts, who’s worked with Bill Frisell and Tim Berne in his long career, played a set of jazz, folk and improvised music for the audience crowded into the Natural History Museum. Pieces of the mountains had already made their way down to us; Roberts played unamplified between huge rock samples which acted as a sound chamber. Free scrabbly sounds became double stopping: one note droned while another trilled in the Balkan folk manner. A sweet country theme was redolent of Copeland’s Appalachian Spring; pizzicato chords like a guitar accompanied his high fragile voice; strings bent like Hendrix playing the koto.

“Rocks are like the bones that hold us together – I raised a cloud of rock dust,” he said, as free squeals and deep creaks sounded like tectonics plates moving together.

He scratched loose stones with his feet, like brushes on snare, and bounced the bow on the strings. He bowed Donna Lee then sang the song it was based on, Indiana, with a bass walk. He found such extraordinary sounds in the instrument itself, creating a world of his own, and enthralling the audience.

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