Bänz Oester and The Rainmakers @Chorus Club

Bass maestro, Bänz Oester and his friends The Rainmakers are a joyful union of Swiss and South African musicians who grouped together after a chance encounter at the Grahamstown National Arts festival in 2011. Rainmakers_photo 1Spontaneous cameraderie and a deeply felt musical intention are what unite this group and deliver an immediate, powerful jazz punch. Tonight at Lausanne’s Chorus Club they perform the final date of their 2 week tour, show-casing their first LP, Bänz Oester and The Rainmakers ‘Playing at the Bird’s Eye’ – an album that took just four days to put down and that captures an intimate sense of wonderment, spirituality and emotion.

Only two days of rehearsals

Live, their style and content vary from the languid jazz standard, African polyrhythms, seductive funky blues, obscure Swiss and Bulgarian folklore to blinding improvisation. Whether introspective or gregarious, all styles are drenched in emotional depth and meaningful purpose. This is a band who describe themselves as playing “the music of intention” after only two days of rehearsals.

Spectacularly lithe piano playing

Afrika Mkhize’s spectacularly lithe piano playing is a constant joy, over-brimming with the gospel, blues and afro-jazz colours you’d expect after 10 years on the road as Myriam Makeba’s musical director. His instrument is cropped-DSC01181jumping as he scats, sings and cajoles it into action, rolling out the pretty melodies and interplaying beautifully with the often darker hues of the sax. Shame there’s no microphone, I’m curious to hear more of his singing voice but am later informed that his vocalese is not an imitation of Keith Jarrett, just a special way of entering into communication with a foreign piano that is ever-changing whilst on tour.

It’s a miracle we don’t all start stripping

The track “The Rainmakers” is a wonderfully sunshiny example of lilting African rhythms, dynamic and strong, rising and falling with a jovial ambiance that has the band and entire audience smiling from ear to ear. Similarly heart-warming is “Land’s End”, a silky smooth and teasingly bluesy number, full of such playful sexy pacing it’s a miracle we don’t all start stripping. Between the achingly seductive beats, drummer Ayanda Siukande amuses us with his larking about while pianist continues to speak Ray Charles-inspired volumes. There is joy on stage and in the room!

A weight of emotion

From the Swiss camp is Ganesh Geymeier on the saxophone with a style uncontainable as it is delicate, full of DSC6546-189x126emotional fire as well as delicate spaciouness. Whether building up a frantic storm as in “The Elevator” à la 60s Blue Note soundtrack or hinting at the sinister grey fog in the traditional Swiss-German folksong ‘Wie di graue Näbel schlyche”, his sound carries a weight of emotion and accompanies the listener into a spiritual musical dimension.

Bänz, looking splendid in his African shirt and red pixie shoes, is by no means the understated member of the band. His presence is, as usual, smilingly masterful and his exhuberant musical creativity proving  once again that he’s not considered “one of Europe’s leading jazz-bassists” for nothing.

Bänz Oester & The Rainmakers, « Playing at The Bird’s Eye » (Unit Records)

Nik Baertsch’s Ronin @ The London Jazz Festival

©Martin Moell

©Martin Moell

This is Ronin’s first London gig since their latest recorded-in-concert ECM release simply entitled “LIVE”. New to this Swiss quartet, I had heard them described in terms such as ‘zen, meditative, minimalist and hypnotic’, and am hence expecting to quietly relax in my seat and possibly drift off into some pleasant la-la-land reverie. Fat chance.

Then comes the master’s cry

The opening number, a piece commissioned by the London Jazz Festival to celebrate their 21st edition, admittedly sets out the minimalist framework from which many of Nik Baertsch’s compositions emerge: a small sequence of notes played out repeatedly until an almost humming, vibrational plateau is reached. Then comes the shout – akin to a quantum leap – the master’s cry which signals the change in direction, and it’s never the direction you’re expecting. Enter the spikey-edged groove that creates an exciting synergie among the four musicians as the humming vibration is maintained but layered and combined with idiosyncratic funk-jazz rhythms. At once I understand the beguiling statement featured on the band’s press page: “creating the maximum effect by minimal means”. This is music that makes space within a limited space, yet manages to sound intense and massive. “From self-imposed restriction stems freedom” explains Nik on his website.

In between anything can happen
©Martin Moell

©Martin Moell

The twists and turns inside the strict aesthetic infrastructure are varied, unexpected and occasionally brutal. Tracks merge in and out of one another with liquid low-key starts and scary built-up endings; in between anything can happen. Just as you begin to think you’ve seized the pattern – bang! – here comes a sharp corner ushering in a brisk tempo change, a pregnant pause, an unexpected motive, an anti-pattern or perhaps just a slight percusiive tap on the inside of the piano. The yin and yang of tension and release are constant key elements, (brilliantly exemplified by a loud, almost orgasmic, gasp from an audience member during an unusually abrupt stop mid-flow in track 5). To quote a You Tube comment “It goes right in the body. Ronin can sometimes feel like a drug”, no snoozing on this risky rollercoaster, Nik himself describes his musical thinking as “ecstasy through asceticism”.

What’s clear though is that Nik is having fun…

A big engaging smile encourages the interlocking rhythms between him and his band members. There’s a lot of playfulness going on in the groove habitat despite the apparent strict code of conduct. Sha on the bass clarinet shuffles and whispers like a discreet background vocalist, yet is in fact unifying the electrical force field. Kaspar Rast on drums is raw and explosive when pushing outwards from the framework . Thomy Jordi on bass is the funk master from whom the mesmerising groove stems. This is a band that meets every Monday at 2pm in Zurich to play in a workshop environment open to all members of the public, so to assume that Ronin is a musical concept best appreciated by the brainy and pretentious is a total fallacy. Tonight’s audience is made up of novices as well as diehard fans, and both types leap to a rapturous standing ovation once released from the deliciously dramatic tension.

Nik Baertsch: piano, Fender Rhodes

Sha: bass clarinet, alto saxophone

Thomy Jordi: bass

Kaspar Rast: drums

Nik Baertsch’s Ronin played @ The London Jazz Festival (Kings Place), 23rd November 2013.

Elina Duni Quartet @ the London Jazz Festival

BaO_DuniYou physically feel the power of Elina’s cry

Elina Duni is a storyteller and from the moment her first ever London concert began she unapologetically took us, barefoot, from the Queen Elizabeth Hall into the forests and mountains of Eastern Europe. And into a culture of stirring tales of family bonds, passionate love, loss and longing. You physically feel the power of Elina’s cry, the emotional quivering of the Balkan vibrato and resonance of the words (even though most of us didn’t know the language) and along with her quartet she held the audience rapt

“The magical part is what’s happening between us, our interplay”

Elina’s lifeblood is both the folk music of her birthplace, Albania, and improvised music. “The magical part is what’s happening between us, our interplay,” she explained to me and over the nine years they’ve played together they’ve evolved ways to hold Elina’s stories (two were traditional songs passed to her by grandparents) without crushing them under the weight of jazz improv or, more to the point, not being eclipsed by them and Elina’s charisma. In The Girl of the Waves Elina’s ethereal vocal sounded as if it was floating on the wind, being carried to the bird that the girl is questioning about her missing lover. Colin Vallon’s piano felt like the bird’s reply, sweet yet with edgy minor keys to hint at tragedy.

“The earth beneath us”

Elina Duni_PF2I have to admit I was entranced by Colin’s imagination; he is a potent voice and I want to check his own trio now. At times he played with such melancholy it broke my heart, then in a moment, flashed his anger or became cold, like ice cubes dropping into Elina’s blood-red cocktail, cracking and clinking, changing the temperature. He used various techniques to physically alter the piano, deadening the resonance or twisting the keys into cimbalom-like notes, revealing a Balkan soul whilst never breaking the spiritual thread of jazz.

The drumming of Norbert Pfammatter was sensitive and swinging. He made every beat count and at a pace that clearly said, ‘I’m taking my time, got a problem with that?’ He used bundles of thin sticks to create an effect between brushing and drumming and exuded a yin quality: soft but dark, tapping out a funereal rhythm or taking us into a tribal trance. The double bass of Patrice Moret stayed warm and solid, ‘The earth beneath us,’ as Elina described it.

Albanian blues

A rendition of Nënë Moj, a son sorrowfully telling his mother he must leave to his homeland to work, was a highlight. Elina described it as Albanian blues and it’s the flavour of the quartet’s next album. If it’s half as thrilling as their performance it will blow your socks off. I did want to hear a wider range of sounds and ideas but admittedly it was a short set. I think it will be vital for the quartet to establish the breadth of their creativity in the future. After the gig finished, I heard a woman behind me say, “You can feel the root, the tradition and that’s what she is.” I would add that Elina is genuine, humble and only at the start of exploring her full compelling potential.


Elina Duni played @The London Jazz Festival (Southbank), 19 November, 2013.

Next concerts:

23.11. 2013, München (DE), Unterfarht
06.12. 2013 Fribourg, La Spirale (Elina Duni & Bessa Myftiu, lecture-chant)
25.12. 2013 Bern (CH), Bee-Flat, Elina Duni & Colin Vallon
05.01.2014 Toulouse (FR), salle Nougaro
16.01.2014 Paris-Pantin (FR), Festival Banlieues Bleues, la Dynamo
17.01.2014 Auray (FR), Centre Culturel Athena

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