How Did They Do? Jazzahead! report

jazzahead_SwissStand

Photo: Michael Hornung

It’s a strange beast: the jazz trade fair. There’s networking, business talks and sets of exactly 30 minutes, with audiences legging it from one hall to another to catch as much music as they want. It’s pretty intense. Wisely, Erika Stucky, with Marc Unternährer and Lucas Niggli, had been invited to open Jazzahead – not only is she an anarchic ‘force of nature’ but she embodies a side of the Swiss spirit I like: bohemian, gifted and pushing music as far as they can (see video of her in the men’s toilets at Jazzahead below).

Erika Stucky with Lucas Niggli and Marc Unternährer, filmed by Chris Philips of Jazz FM.

“I see what you mean about the drummer.”
Generally, the Swiss night was one of super-quality, despite most bands starting nervously. The better musicians were able to get drawn into their own sound and so, lead the audience into places where magic can happen. I wrote of Elina Duni‘s voice before and it rang clear and true in this gig with her quartet – I wasn’t the only one whose neck hairs were electrified when she sang ‘Fëllënza’. I’d pointed out to a UK promoter how wonderful Norbert Pfammatter is in the band, his playing is so sensitive it’s as if there is no drummer but a sweeping landscape in which Elina stands. During the gig this promoter leant over and said, “I see what you mean about the drummer.” From the audience’s response to Elina they were equally captivated. In the future, whatever context she performs in, I want to see her going places.

Maybe the most obviously successful act was Julian Sartorius’ drum solo
Someone else who made their mark was Christoph Irniger, warming into Pilgrim‘s set and launching a cracking sax solo that blew the cobwebs away. His time in New York came

Jazzahead!

Plaistow. Photo: Ingo Wagner

through in the attack he gave it. I was holding my breath at the start of Plaistow‘s gig because like so many bands they are an experience that needs time and a concentrated atmosphere – not what you get in a showcase. However, their narcotic concept with it’s fascinating rhythms had a booker for a big London club tell me they were the most engaging band of the night. Another, and maybe the most obviously successful act was Julian Sartorius‘ drum solo. It was a big ‘wow’ and my mate, Jez Nelson, a key jazz radio presenter said, “It’s hard to do something like that, but he was genuinely inventive.” Elisabeth Stoudman gives a wonderful in-depth review below.

Next year I expect to see more Swiss women onstage
Julian is also part of the Colin Vallon Trio – another artist I expect much of. His set was not only elegant but so assured; it showed the quality of Swiss musicianship. Luca Sisera’s Roofer played a more traditional style well, whilst pommelHORSE had more character but were also left wanting. To be fair they’d been delivered a bit of a blow when key member, Lukas Roos, left the band two weeks before this gig. I see a nugget of some possibility, especially with Olivier Zurkirchen on keys and one UK programmer said the band brought a narrative to their music he liked. Weird Beard looked more comfortable on stage than they did last year and delivered their ideas clearly with Martina Berther on bass. Next year I expect to see more Swiss women onstage – and that’s an order…

Thomy Jordi nearly blew my hair off
It was a pleasure to attend the Gala Concert at Die Glöcke with Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin and Hildegard Lernt Fliegen because this is where some of the showcase bands could be heading: a high level of recognition with audiences delighting in their music. Both received genuine standing ovations. Ronin’s music and lighting design isn’t messing. It delivers punch after punch, even when Sha is at his most sublimely subtle with his saxophone becoming a hoarse and whispering human voice, or when Nik delivers a melody so painfully sweet that it’s a beautiful surprise. Kaspar Rast is equally imaginative on drums and Thomy Jordi nearly blew my hair off with some electric bass notes worthy of Goldie’s Metalheadz label.

Jazzahead!

Hildegard Lernt Fliegen. Photo: Ingo Wagner

Such a touching ending
Hildegard’s show was a superbly staged bonanza of ingenious ideas with Andreas Schaerer even conducting the band in an improv – pretty risky in such a context. You may think a vocalist sounding a muted horn or beatboxing whilst singing isn’t your thing, but I would challenge anyone not to fall under his spell. The highlight was how the band brought it right down to such a touching ending. In the encore they sat with their legs dangling off the front of the stage, looking like a bunch of kids playing a charming round on blockflutes. It was a rip-roaring success. Schaerer has driven himself hard since I first saw Hildegard play in 2012 and he’s showing how Swiss music can make a big impact on the world out there. Boom!

Julian Sartorius @ jazzahead! 2016 by Elisabeth Stoudmann

Jazzahead_JulianSartorius

Julian Sartorius

Unlike Colin Vallon or Elina Duni who are already well known on the European jazz scene, Julian Sartorius is the new boy at Jazzahead! Although his solo project is not constrained by any genre barrier, he’s been considered before, part of alternative rock circuit. Backstage, Julian is tense: he’s coming down with the flu and fears this will hinder him. The Bernese drummer comes on stage, as always, aloof and a little shy. Had he not been announced, one could almost have mistaken him for the technician come to do one last check before the set. He sits down and turns instantly into a one-man band.

The audience holds its breath…
Sartorius puts on an impressive show. As expected, there are rhythms that interlock with each other like pearls in a necklace. Some sequences are set up in advance, others are totally improvised. His pockets brimming with drumsticks, Julian Sartorius stays unperturbed throughout. He can drop the sticks at any second to suddenly strike a percussion with his hand or place a felt mat on a cymbal. He then puts odd objects on his snare drum: percussive bits and pieces that he strokes, rubs and strikes with amazing feeling. Tension mounts in a jubilant crescendo. The audience holds its breath, captivated, when without warning, Julian Sartorius stops everything. Time’s up. The thirty minute showcase – that only felt like five – has passed. The audience is galvanized, excited, happy. We can only hope that Julian Sartorius has the flu before every gig. It seemed to serve him well!

Videos of bands at jazzahead!

Arte TV
Elina Duni Quartet

Luca Sisera’s Roofer

Plaistow

Weird Beard

 

 

Swiss bands at jazzahead 2016!

One night: eight showcase-acts: the Swiss Night on April 21 will be a highlight of this year’s live program at Jazzahead!  Find out more about the eight Swiss bands below. You can also listen to a track of each band selected at jazzahead! here. If you are not attending jazzahead! this year, Arte Concert is streaming the concerts played at Kulturzentrum Schlachthof live there. Alternatively you can also watch all videos of the showcases the next day on www.jazzahead.de In other words, you have no excuse not to follow those guys  live or on Internet!
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Plaistow

Plaistow_pic_LDLast week the editor of a UK jazz magazine said how much the office had got into Plaistow’s album Titan. I think they are something special. Plaistow is an acoustic piano trio driven by experimental dance musics, ancient drones and a desire to distill their sound to its most ‘alcoholic’, most potent. Plaistow make for a thrilling listen. At first I wasn’t sure of Geneva-based Cyril Bondi’s drumming style, it seemed to lack swing, bashing the air out of a beat, but at a sweaty, rammed Berlin Jazz Festival club last November, he was brilliant. Unique and aggressive with an engaging, rhythmic sensibility – perfectly coupled with the imaginings of pianist Johann Bourquenez. Irritating, repetitive notes hypnotise under his touch and at other times he sweeps you off your feet with a sweet melody as in ‘Enceladus’ – it has me in a whirl. Johann’s music is so fresh. Growing in confidence is Vincent Ruiz on bass. His sensitivity connects and subtly reflects the band’s ambitions.
To learn more about Plaistow, read our selection of articles on Swiss Vibes!

 

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Colin Vallon

@Mehdi Benkler

@Mehdi Benkler

I’ve never seen Colin‘s own trio and am curious, especially as I felt his last ECM album, Le Vent (2014) fell into the ‘contemplative hole’ that undoes many an artist exploring prepared or experimental piano. I suspect Colin is currently going through a time of musical reflection about his direction. His trio is a pretty high-powered crew with drummer Julian Sartorius (who impressed London’s Cafe Oto in March) and Patrice Moret on bass and his appearance at jazzahead! will be a chance to discover where he is now – and what he wants to say.
To learn more about Colin Vallon, read our selection of articles on Swiss Vibes!

 

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Elina Duni

© Blerta Kambo

© Blerta Kambo

Seeing Elina playing solo at Cully Jazz last year elevated her even more in my estimation. That woman can sing! She’s been performing since she was five years of age in her native Albania and although she moved to Switzerland when she was ten, you can almost taste her culture and country when she sings. Her experience comes through too – she moves an audience, but is never cloyingly sentimental. I think the drummer Norbert Pfammatter is key to the band, almost the yin to her yang (yes, that way round), responsive to her and tuned in, whilst Colin Vallon leads the music into imaginative landscapes, provoking her to stretch her ideas. The recent addition of Lukas Traxel on bass adds a sparkling energy as I saw when they played the EFG London Jazz Festival last year. I’ve spoken before about Elina evoking universal goosebumps with her emotive expression and that sold-out gig was no exception.

To learn more about Elina Duni, read our selection of articles on Swiss Vibes!

 

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Christoph Irniger Pilgrim

ChristophIrnigerPilgrim includes Stefan Aeby on keyboards and Michi Stulz on drums – I know their work as part of Tobias Preisig’s quartet and both were crucial to the innovation of Preisig’s album, Drifting. In Pilgrim, Aeby draws on his ability to play an evocative jazz, informed by artists such as Bill Evans in order to echo Irniger‘s direction. Stulz walks an intelligent line between the past and the now and his interplay with Irniger, Aeby and bassist Raffaele Bossard, makes the band something special.

I like Irniger’s choice of electric guitar and Dave Gisler is a highlight of the track ‘Italian Circus Story’ from the album of the same name. Here, Christoph almost whispers in evocative drawls on the saxophone; he tells his tales in a spacious and thoughtful style. Along with the Christoph Irniger Trio and other projects with New York-based artists, he uses trips to the US to immerse himself in the heritage of jazz whilst carefully searching for his own expression.

To learn more about Christoph Irniger read our selection of articles on Swiss Vibes!

 

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PommelHORSE

PommelHORSE ©Simon Letellier

PommelHORSE ©Simon Letellier

This confident and original Bernese quintet are a refreshing flight of fancy on the Swiss jazz scene. They inhabit a surreal terrain somewhere between mutant jazz, prog rock and synthy ambiant rhythms. Cleverly creating a story and atmosphere in each track, they juggle an abundance of patterns and ideas always leaving room for improvisation, tempo changes and general dashing about. With tracks entitled ‘Drunk on Christmas eve’ and ‘The circus is closed and all the animals have gone wild’, it’s impossible to resist their playful attitude and experimental forms, both dark and light. Very popular on the live circuit, PommelHORSE are currently working on their third LP.

To learn more about PommelHORSE read our selection of articles on Swiss Vibes!

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Weird Beard

Weird_Beard_2_A5_RGB_PHOTO_RALPH_KUEHNERepresenting the exciting non-conformity of the contemporary Swiss jazz scene, Weird Beard is a quartet led by saxophonist Florian Egli, featuring guitar, electric bass and drums. The weirdness of their beards is less a facial hair reference, more a hallmark of their musical individuality. A band rooted in the jazz tradition in terms of improvisation and composition, but sonically pulled towards trashy metal, punk riffs and quirky noise. Both lyrical and totally unpredictable, their elegant, laconic sound designs can go off in all directions. ‘Everything Moves’ is their second LP just out on Intakt Records and comes warmly championed by Bugge Wesseltoft who describes the group as having ”musical ideas and inspirations merged into a very fresh and new sound.”

Weird Beard, Everything Moves, Intakt Records

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Julian Sartorius

@Reto Camenisch

@Reto Camenisch

The Swiss musical ecosystem is a richer place because of drummer Julian Sartorius. What David Attenborough is to nature wildlife documentaries, Sartorius is to the world of sound: a beat explorer, a sound forager, a sonic researcher. His gigs are a masterclass in bashing, crashing and smashing – not just the ordinary drum skin or commonplace cowbell, but squeaky toys, handcrafted gongs, hairdryers, electric toothbrushes. Can he hit it? Yes he can.

Agile in pushing boundaries of the percussive sound from hip-hop to abstract electronica, Sartorius opens up endless possibilities and range. His latest video features cymbals rolling along a studio space, poetically crashing about at will. Previous works include a 12 LP box set called ‘Beat Diary’ composed of 365 analogue beats, each one painstakenly researched and accompanied by its own visual. A true artist in every sense of the word, a national treasure.

To learn more about Julian Sartorius read  our selection of articles on Swiss Vibes!

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Luca Sisera ROOFER

roofer_01Luca Sisera is a well­ seasoned Swiss double bass player whose ROOFER quintet describe their sound as “contemporary, liberated jazz music”. Negotiating the fine line between improvisation and composition, the five elements come apart and then reunite in equal measures. There’s a theatrical edge to their music thanks to the horn section adding a lovely big band swing to the complex equation. One minute groovy, sexy, full of bump and grind ­the next angular, frenetic, swarming around one another like agile birds. The interplay between the musicians is extremely confident and general mood leans towards the playful. An exciting band to watch live because of their warm, busy and inventive approach.

Text by Debra Richards and Beatrice Venturini

 

Take Four Musicians (part 2)

Yael Miller “It was very difficult at the beginning, very upsetting”
As Orioxy’s key composer and vocalist, Yael says, “We did amazing things, were in amazing places and had crazy experiences – it is why it’s good that it finished now before it became bitter…” Like bandmate Julie Campiche, Yael was re-assured about the decision to split up, at Take Five Switzerland & South Africa, even though it affected others, “It was very difficult at the beginning, very upsetting.”

Screenshot 2016-04-04 19.30.15

Photo Gerald Langer

Yael has faced tough challenges before. From Tel Aviv, she spoke of a childhood almost lost to shouldering heavy responsibilities. So it’s unsurprising when she says it was a feeling of duty to compose for a whole band that caused her writing block. Her desire was to go more deeply into personal expression, like a singer-songwriter, where lyrics lead. “This is not so acceptable in the mainstream jazz world, so I’m shifting it a bit…not feeling obliged to fit in.” It’s as if Yael is finding the freedom that was compromised as a child.

Orioxy’s drummer, Roland Merlinc will be part of her new trio, “We want the same things,” she explains, and Baptiste Germser, a bassist and French horn player who has a Paris studio. “We close ourselves away for three or four days and just rehearse and record from morning to evening, then we go and drink beers, and then continue.” It’s time for Orioxy to explore who they are now and I’m excited to hear their individual projects.

Mandla Mlengeni: “I was a troubled child and I was always in trouble”
Screenshot 2016-04-04 19.40.09Someone else shaped by a dramatic early life is trumpeter Mandla. Brought up in a turbulent Soweto by a young, single mother after his lawyer father was murdered, he admits, “I had to find coping mechanisms. I went to see psychologists, but I didn’t know how to deal with it, I was a troubled child and I was always in trouble.” His childhood is hazy but he remembers sitting on his dad’s shoulders, hearing music at political rallies, and a small, blue piano he brought Mandla from London when working on a case concerning South Africa’s ‘hit squads’.

Listening to Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men on the radio, he says, “I thought composing was a sacred gift and being a musician was something bestowed upon you, like being a ‘sangoma’, it was a calling.” An exchange to Norway introduced him to composing in a simple way, but he left the first piece he wrote for a couple of years, then, “One drunken night, I was with a friend and we were jamming and I started playing this song and he asked, ‘Hey man, whose song is that?’” This encouragement eventually led to his 2015 debut, Bhekisizwe.

It was a long process but the recording fell fatefully into place: finding a studio and having saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings (UK) and Ganesh Geymeier (CH) in town to guest. And now, Mandla says, “I’ve sold all the albums so I have to re-print and strategise as to how to get into markets other than South Africa.” With a tenacity that secured him gigs even before the album’s release, he’s one to watch for.

Joel Graf: “We have to find new strategies”
PommelHORSE’s sax player is also thinking about a game plan. This quintet met studying in Bern and are good buddies but says Joel, “We have to find new strategies, new ways and that includes a new label…and better ways to market the band.” I can’t help chuckling when Joel explains they took an actual pommel horse on their early tours. “When we first played shows, audiences in Germany thought we were a music and gymnastics show…they were kind of disappointed.”

Screenshot 2016-04-04 19.47.54

Photo Peter Tümmers

My favourite track on their last album was Joel’s ‘Drunk on Christmas Eve’, and I’m intrigued to see them play live at jazzahead! this month. “There’s always big competition,” he says of this music fair, “…selling yourself and your music, it’s hard work.” He talks of feeling overwhelmed by everything a band should be doing and how you can lose sight of why you ever went into music.
Joel actually studied IT first despite coming from a sort of ‘Partridge Family‘ with the six musical siblings all playing instruments. In a way pommelHORSE are his new musical family and although each of them play various styles e.g. classical and heavy rock, they gel together. “I love our combination of music, but really we have to move on, make our music better and move forward.”

Yilian Cañizares “You know what you want, but you don’t know how to get it”

Screenshot 2016-04-04 20.00.51

With Ibrahim Maalouf                                    Photo Marc Bertolazzi

Yilian is looking at how to progress too. “When you are trying to build something, sometimes you can feel,” she searches for the right word, “…lost, because you know what you want, but you don’t know how to get it.” She is often invited to play with others after they see her perform, such as Richard Bona, Ibrahim Maalouf and Omar Sosa (with whom she’s just recorded an album) but she wants more exposure.

In fact Yilian sums up a major issue in Europe, “Right now it’s quite difficult because culture [representation] in all media is getting smaller and smaller and sometimes they just speak about pop music or celebrities. It’s quite frustrating.” That’s an understatement – don’t get me started on UK press coverage of this music, but Yilian knows there’s more she can do, “I believe it’s very important to always be in the creative process, I like to see it as an everyday process…maybe we are sure about that as musicians, but we don’t apply the same concept to other areas of our career.”

I suggest that she must get homesick and Yilian graciously replies that she’s blessed to be able to pursue music at this level, but does want to see her Cuban family more often, “I am split into two feelings…and I try to transform this into my music and creativity, that’s how I manage it.”

Take Four Musicians (part 1)

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