JazzFest Berlin(Haus der Berliner Festspiele 2019. Round-Up by Alison Bentley)hr-Bigband feat. Joachim Kühn & Michel Portal/Ambrose Akinmusire/Brian Marsella/Eve Risser/Late Night Lab 1This is the third and final part of Alison Bentley’s three-part report from JazzFest Berlin 2019.
How to balance composition and improvisation in jazz? Pianist Joachim Kühn worked in a duo with Ornette Coleman for five years in the ’90s and this gig was to play Kühn’s arrangements (helped by conductor Jim McNeely) of tunes Coleman had written for the duo. A quartet led by Kühn featured Michel Portal on clarinets, François Moutin on bass, and Joey Baron on drums – the improvising core, alongside the excellent hr-Bigband.
It’s “important to have an empty head” when improvising, Kühn said in a talk earlier. “When you have to think about improvising, it’s too late.” But a great deal of thought had gone into to the stupendous arrangements of these remarkable tunes. In Point of Dancing and Homogenous Emotion, with dense clusters of horn harmonies, Kühn burrowed into the notes – exploring, committing to every note. Physical Chemistry and Researching Has No Limits began with overlapping spiky Monkish horn phrases in glorious dissonance. Portal’s bass clarinet solo was full of liquid energy, while Baron’s drum solo was full of melodies. Songworld wrapped mutes and flutes round Moutin’s impassioned bass solo. The freedom and fun of Ornette’s music was all there.
US trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire performed his Origami Harvest project. His writing for strings (Mivos String Quartet) was as intricate and focused as origami, drawing out lush chords, linking forceful funky sections in a new Third Stream development. Koyaki rapped and sang soulfully; Akinmusire responded to the urgency with free rhythmic phrases in his distinctive tone. The powerful trumpet recalled Miles Davis’ uncompromising playing in the latter’s You’re Under Arrest. The tiny cymbals adorning Justin Brown’s hi-hat added extra textures to his already rich playing, while Sam Harris doubled on synth bass and lyrical piano. When the strings were integrated into the whole, there was a thrilling frenzy of complex rhythms. Akinmusire grinned with pleasure.
Two highly original contrasting solo pianists mixed composition and improv – it didn’t seem to matter which was which. US pianist Brian Marsella kept the audience enthralled with an ever-changing palette. There was free jazz, and the kind of playful complexity that Craig Taborn does. His hands moved as if he was trying to catch something on the keyboard. Melodic Jarrett-like phrases turned into something Ligeti-like. Sometimes the two hands talked closely to each other; sometimes they pulled wider and wider apart but the thread between them never snapped. The ghosts of Satie and Monk were there: Gnossiennes-like delicacy was livened with spiky stride.
French pianist Eve Risser played like a percussionist, using hands and feet – the Marilyn Mazur of the upright piano. The front panels had been removed, some strings prepared to create different sounds. Sweet chords recurred throughout the piece, (Après un rêve) like a dream motif, anchoring us in the sometimes eerie sound world. She used a bass drum pedal to hit the piano’s sides, creating grooves associated with electronic dance music – but with ethereal, Ravel-like piano ripples.
Late Night Lab 1 mixed three trios (Kaos Puls, Moskus Trio, Mopcut) in an explosive experiment: two bassists, two drummers, sax, synth, guitar and vocals improvising in various permutations. Drummer Lukas König had promised “noise-groove-sound in broadband” and all musicians jumped in, making a grand statement at the start. More nuances emerged: swooshing percussion and strummed piano (Anja Lauvdal.) Otis Sandsjö’s sax created white noise with Audrey Chen’s primal screams. König’s drumming combined huge grooves with feathery details. Individual instruments didn’t seem to matter- just fine musicians exploring sound.
The Festival’s Artistic Director Nadin Deventer had spoken of wanting to “make creative space for artists to facilitate their dreams”- and she had done just that.