New Switzerland: Julie Campiche + Ikarus + Trio Heinz Herbert (EFG London Jazz Festival. 14 November 2020. Review by Alison Bentley)
Jazz musicians are always adaptable – we may not have been able to see these young bands in person, but they brought us their music in three beautifully-produced short films, which were a pleasure to watch.
Seize the day and seize the hour, said Geneva-based harpist/composer Julie Campiche, responding to all the necessary changes of plan while she was preparing her set. Umwelt (“Environment”) opened with distant electronica as Campiche’s silhouette drew louring rhythmic sounds from a magical box against a thundery red light. She moved to her harp, creating bass lines as her hands and face appeared. A looped voice told us, “…we need humanity…we think too much and feel too little.” The harp responded beautifully, bending notes electronically like a Chinese erhu. Clemens Kuratle’s intricate drum solo began H-cab, as Manu Hagmann’s double bass joined the harp’s arpeggios. Arco bass drew the low notes together, the circling mood recalling Dave Holland with Kevin Eubanks. Harp notes dropped on to the groove, then were bent electronically like rain running down the window. She responded in flurries of notes to the strong rhythms. Mirjam Hässig joined them for Sick Rose. Her pure voice brought innocence to Campiche’s setting of William Blake’s ‘Song of Experience’. There was lots of space between the simple minor chords for the folk-like melody to develop. Campiche was solo again for Improvisation, an elegant piece drawing on folk and impressionistic classical music. It was filmed almost from the harp’s point of view, as we watched her reaching deep into the strings.
Quintet Ikarus had a black and white aesthetic but music with many colours, composed by drummer Ramón Oliveras. The voices of Anna Hirsch and Andreas Lareida were well-matched in timbre. Their rhythmic wordless phrases were picked up by Oliveras’ delicate drums and Lucca Fries’ piano, using repetition the way GoGo Penguin might. Mo Meyer’s double bass pinned the complicated groove decisively on to certain notes. The voices became percussion instruments, integrated in the way Steve Reich scores for voices in some of his minimalist ensemble pieces. The groove softened and focused on their vocal tones, part of uplifting patterns as intricate as African drumming. Pieces merged into each other in different moods. The drums started another section in a funky groove; Fries’ piano reflected the complexity of the drums; the voices created Bach-like overlapping phrases, then all fell into a big dancey, driving groove. A repeated, deadened piano note led us into a brighter mood, voices improvising percussion sounds, Bobby McFerrin style, always part of the mesmerising layers. Ikarus flew close to the sun but never missed a beat.
The mysteriously-named Trio Heinz Herbert (Dominic Landolt on e-guitar and effects; Ramon Landolt on synth, piano and live-sampling, and Mario Hänni on drums and effects) also laid blankets of sound. They were filmed in a large industrial space, and the room began to take on the character of the fourth member of the band. We travelled through fuzzy corridors as Terry Riley-ish synth patterns developed. The trio played percussion with a mix of musical excellence and surreal humour; fluorescent tubes flickered and familiar items began to seem strange. Dominic Landolt’s panoply of pedals and Ramon Landolt’s synth produced huge rushes of tension and clanging sound. Tiny details became very significant; I thought of sci-fi films, like Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’. The band clapped rhythms, a megaphone appeared and the camera span round. A drum skin rolled round the room as gorgeous tremolo guitar wavered over an Afro-Latin marimba groove with rich drum textures. A sequence of short “improvs” followed, involving a trolley, a lizard, tabla sounds and prehistoric creaks, splurging into coloured pixels. An arcane time signature blended rock and EDM with sweet synth washes. As the band packed and left, the building seemed to be creating its own sounds. (Special mention for Samuel Weniger who made the film.)
It was good to feel that music was bringing us together with all these superb, imaginative artists.