Jazzdor Strasbourg- Berlin-Dresden
(Kulturbrauerei in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin. 7 June 2023. Second night. Report by Sebastian Scotney)
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As reviewers we should obviously be tryinh to reach clear conclusions. Sometimes, when hearing something for the first time, it’s not obvious… there is uncertainty… a temptation to hedge bets, be circumspect. Not last night: my conclusion from the second night of Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin-Dresden is as clear as day: if festivals want to bring works of genuine heft, ambition and quality, working on several levels, then offering the invitation to Sylvain Rifflet and Jon Irabagon is going to work. Forget the vanity/ roulette game of needing world premieres, this pair of fine saxophonists work together superbly to produce ambitious works that have been tried and tested.
I remember that it worked for Fritz Schmücke in 2019, when he brought them them to Münster with “Perpetual Motion” (2014) to, to celebrate that improbable, surreal, trivia-quiz-worthy fact that Moondog had died in the city exactly two decades previously (REVIEWED). He knew that he had struck gold.
And so did Philippe Ochem last night. “Rebellion(s)” first saw the light of day in Quimper in Brittany in 2020, with Banlieues Bleues in the suburb of also involved (Where was the actual premiere? Does it matter?) It is a powerful work, developed from speeches from different eras which present acts of resistance and rebellion, using the speech rhythms and implied melodies in speeches a their point of departure to bring urgency and communicative effectiveness to the messages in the speeches. The speeches determine the shape, the tone, the mood of what follows.
There are other examples of similar things being done with the musicality of speech rhythms: Steve Reich’s “The Cave” (1990-93) or Jason Moran’s album “The Bandwagon” (2002), but “Rebellion (s)” is not timid at all. Rifflet and Irabagon taken the idea a long way further into invesigating how the anger and passion of the original words can be given more effective expression, and also to work not just with fearless and ferocious virtuosic improvisation but also with the simplicity of two instrumental voices in gentle, thoughtful harmony in a speech by Olympe de Gouges, who was guillotined in 1791, read by Jeanne Added.
This is a fascinating work. Sébastien Boisseau (double bass) and Christophe Lavergne (drums) – other performances have had Jim Black) were exemplary in their way of understanding, reinforcing or creating a myriad of different moods.
I was told that Rifflet and Irabagon first met 25 years ago in student times, as costumed colleagues in a Disneyland marching band, and since have become close friends. Their trust and mutual respect comes across very clearly.
The first of the evening’s three sets was the clarinet/ bass clarinet and accordion duo of Elodie Pasquier and Didier Ithursarry. Both players were quietly investigating links with music from different eras. They have explored the renaissance, and Ithursarry is particularly adept at finding church organ sounds, and Pasquier’s beatifully rounded focused tone was exploring, for example, the angularity of ragtime-era Stravinsky and that particular Gallic lightness which is typical of Jean Francaix.
The Trio Ostrakinda led by bassist Olivier Lété showed a different, much more cool, reflective and atmospheric, cool/Chet side of Aymeric Avice’s trumpet playing than he had shown in Christophe Monniot’s group the previous night. Ostrakinda play with the symbolism of different materials and shapes in an art school-ish way, as they hover langorously in minor keys. Fans of The Necks will love this band.