Bad Bonn @ Rough Trade East

Bad BonnBBSB_Cover_final_23-2-16_simuliert venue in Düdingen celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with – amongst other things – the publication of a unique book: over the past few years, bands appearing at this idyllic location in the rolling green hills near Fribourg have been asked to donate one song each for the project. Some sent sheet music, others sent drawings, poems, chord sequences and collages. “The Bad Bonn Song Book” collects 140 of these in a splendidly glittery coffee table book published by Edition Patrick Frey in Zurich.

A unique collective work

IMG_3966The impressive and diverse list of participants ranges from Flaming Lips and Bonnie “Prince” Billy to Goat, Jandek, Sebadoh, Sleaford Mods and Suzanne Vega. To launch the book, Bad Bonn came to the legendary Rough Trade East shop off London’s Brick Lane. The choice of venue made sense: Most of the lyrics in the book are in English, many of the artists involved are from the UK, and the shop carries one of the most comprehensive selections of music-related books anywhere. The two-pronged event attracted an excellent crowd of around 150 people.

A panel and a solo concert

Hanspeter Kuenzler, Tom Relleen, Luke Turner,Christophe Schenk, Daniel Fontana

The first part consisted of a panel discussion, “Can a Live Music Venue Change a Small Town?” with the participants, Tom Relleen (musician with Tomago and The Oscillation, concert agent with the Julie Tippex Agency), Luke Turner (writer, founder of the Queitus web-zine), Christophe Schenk (Swiss television), and Düx aka Daniel Fontana (founder, Bad Bonn). A lively exchange was peppered with excellent anecdotes, including Relleen´s story that many a band he had booked for the venue called him up in desperation, fearing the GPS had misdirected them when they found themselves driving past freshly tilled fields and manure

IMG_3856silos instead. Following the discussion – the conclusion: of course it would! -, Richard Dawson, a highly original singer/songwriter from Newcastle and a happy regular at Bad Bonn, gave a breathtaking solo performance, sometimes with his battered guitar, sometimes acapella.



The Bad Bonn Song Book, Edition Patrick Frey.

Swiss artists @EFG London Jazz Festival 2015

EFG_London Jazz logoThe EFG London Jazz Festival is a big annual affair running for ten days in the middle of November. This year Swiss and Swiss-based artists, represented by Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin and Mobile, Elina Duni, Samuel Blaser, Basel Rajoub, Marc Perrenoud, Christophe Fellay and the Russian/Swiss collaboration, Jazzator, had well-attended gigs (two were sold out). Phew. Clashing with big-name artists, and the overwhelming number of events can be an issue at such festivals.
The UK can be a tough and weird market

Consider this list of musicians – you couldn’t get a more diverse bunch. There isn’t a Swiss sound like there was a Norwegian one, but the artists are building individual reputations via their quality. The UK can be a tough and weird market, but when people hear something they like they will always give a warm and enthusiastic response.

Nik Bärtsch has a definite fanbase and had a two-day residency at King’s Place as part of the Minimalism Unwrapped season with Mobile Extended and Ronin Rhythm Clan. I saw the latter on the opening night of the festival with an added 3-part brass section and guitarist Manuel Troller, whose sensitive but spirited playing made him a natural part of the clan. I first heard Ronin two years ago in the same hall. I was entranced by their intense yet grooving sound and still am.

You live for such moments with Ronin

nik_baertschs_feat_roninThere were the sparkles of Nik’s compelling piano work and superior conversations between the Ronin members whilst other phases had the extended band heading into an alt-funk fest with James Brown’s spirit shimmying around the room (well, almost). But ‘Modul 32’ was the highlight for me: Kaspar Rast played a small shaker – no fuss, just simple but killer in its repetition, and clever in the textural canvas it gave saxophonist, Sha, and Manuel on which to paint subtle but deeply personal musical thoughts. You live for such moments with Ronin.

He can evoke memories of J. J. Johnson

©Alex TroeschThe small, shabby Club Inégales is in the bowels of an office building but was set aglow by the quality of the musicians in Samuel Blaser‘s quartet. I’ve already waxed lyrical about the wisdom of pianist Russ Lossing’s playing on Spring Rain, Blaser’s tribute to Jimmy Guiffre. He approaches music as an horizon, it’s not about him, but the entire landscape. I love his touch. Equally fine are bassist Masatoshi Kamaguchi and legendary Gerry Hemingway. A key drummer on the avant garde circuit he caresses and cajoles rhythm out of his kit, able to be economical yet inventive. I particularly like Blaser when he drawls his sound as if part of a deep South funeral march, his soulfulness peeping through. He can evoke memories of J. J. Johnson then veer off elsewhere. It was a promising show cut short by the venue’s format of a final set improvising with the house band.



Luckily I’d got to hear the crisp interplay between this quartet at Adventures in Sound, a feast of music recorded for BBC Radio’s Jazz on 3 programme earlier that day. Each of them also improvised with renowned UK artists such as John Edwards (bass) and rising keyboardist, Elliott Galvin (in photo). Unfortunately it meant I missed Marc Perrenoud‘s set as part of ‘Seriously Talented’ – an afternoon of musicians that had been on Serious’ Take Five course. The Clore Ballroom of the Royal Festival Hall was packed and I heard that Marc’s joyful and bonded trio were an uplifting addition to the line up.

Elina’s expression taps into our universal goosebumps

Elina Duni Quartet Elina Duni Quartet are equally notable and their Dallëndyshe album had good reviews, one in The Guardian. Live, Norbert Pfammatter stands out as a sublime drummer. His pulse-like work encourages a sensual interplay between vocals and rhythm. There is an almost mantra-like progression as Elina leads us through the emotive themes of Albanian folk songs. Lyrics such as, “My dear boy in front of the flag oh, my heart’s engulfed in worrisome flames,” (from ‘Me on a Hill, You on a Hill’) feel horribly relevant and even if they weren’t Elina’s expression taps into our universal goosebumps. At first her tone seems warm and smooth, but then a quiver or cry renders me helplessly emotional.

Colin Vallon is simply captivating, and fierce too, making his mark. Along with new, fearless bassist, Lukas Traxel, they stand their ground at the side of Elina’s power. I like the brave move the quartet made of paying great respect to the Albanian folk tradition whilst interlacing it with a form of ethereal jazz. It left the audience spellbound.

richmixbaselrajoubnov15_26It was a similar story for another Swiss émigré. The concert of Basel Rajoub‘s Soriana (‘Our Syria’) was the evening after the Paris attacks and as the review Classical Source expressed, it could not have made for a more eloquent night of music. Made so by the skill and personality of Basel in a magical alchemy with the type of welcoming audiences that can be found in London.


 A unique view of free music

Jazzator2_M&FNov2015Finally, Jazzator are a Russian/Swiss quartet with quirky intentions conveyed with talent. I particularly liked saxophonist Oleg Mariakhin who delicately integrated himself with the vivid vocals of Marina Sobyanina. I sensed underlying eastern folk traditions that had been pulled apart leaving ragged edges and broken threads. Drummer Sergey Balashov on drums and bass player Maximilian Grossenbacher provided an ear-pricking rhythm section, and together Jazzator offered a unique view of free music. One UK reviewer declared them a highlight of the festival.


Match&Fuse, London 2015

Climbing the Eiger’s Mordwand is tough, but if you are a band trying to get a gig in the UK, then you really face a challenge. And it’s not much better anywhere else.
Presenting the most engaging artists from Europe’s progressive scenes

The musician Dave Morecroft started Match&Fuse (M&F) in 2011 to attack this problem – with energy. He wanted his band (World Service Project) to tour abroad, so in 2011 he found a Norwegian act to ‘match’ his and asked them to find three gigs in Norway for this double bill, whilst he used his UK contacts to book gigs at home. It worked, and the following year Match&Fuse launched its first festival with the aim of presenting the most engaging artists from Europe’s progressive scenes – giving audiences a taster of music from inside and outside their own borders and, more crucially, enabling musicians to extend their contacts abroad.


Great Harry Hillman Photos: Steven Cropper

Since then Match&Fuse (M&F) has developed co-producers with festivals in Toulouse, Warsaw, Rome and Oslo. Their annual event in the buzzing Dalston area of London uses venues such as Cafe Oto, Vortex and Servant Jazz Quarters and this year, Swiss bands, the Great Harry Hillman (GHH) and duo, 2henning were invited to play. I spoke to them about their experience.


‘We could see our music has many different sides’

‘The gig was big fun,’ said Nils Fischer of the GHH, ‘with a conscientious audience. We would have loved to play more than 35 minutes, but the time was sufficient to present our music and get involved in some interesting talk – feedback and discussions, after.’ Valeria Zangger of 2henning also appreciated getting feedback, adding, ‘It showed us some very important stuff that we still have to do, but we could see our music has many different sides and can fit in with a real variety of music programming which is good.’


2henning (Steven Cropper)

‘Getting all this inspiration in a few days, was invaluable’

They were scheduled alongside other emerging European artists such as Strobes, Laura Moody, J=J, Kaja Draksler and Alarmist as well as unique collaborations such as Isabel Sörling with Leafcutter John (of Polar Bear). 2Henning felt that, ‘There was room for free improvisation as well as for more pop/rock oriented music…Playing in that context with a lot of different bands and styles – and getting all this inspiration in a few days, was invaluable.’

‘The idea to unite the bands in a soundpainting orchestra is great’

The ‘fuse’ of the festival brings the bands together in an improvisation in each venue before they proceed to a square outside where they play together in an ‘orchestra’. Using the soundpainting technique with a conductor and hand signals, it can be powerful, fun and completely chaotic. ‘The idea to unite the bands in a soundpainting orchestra is great. We had a very energetic session inside [at the Vortex],’ said Nils. ‘Maybe we stretched the session too long and missed the right point to stop, but it was big fun to meet everybody in the square.’ 2henning agreed, ‘When we began it wasn’t really defined, but then, as we walked to the square in front of the Vortex and met with the other musicians, it was great…people were listening and we played some cool ideas.’


Match&Fuse Orchestra (Steven Cropper)

‘Everybody was giving their best’

The GHH hope to continue being part of the M&F family, taking part in exchange tours, meeting other bands and contacts, ‘Back at home we discussed the option to do another UK trip during our next tour,’ they told me. 2Henning who also played a Sofa Sound night (gigs in people’s living rooms), did a school workshop and appeared on London Live TV as part of their M&F festival experience said, ‘It is helpful to use the name Match&Fuse, but also to have London as a reference,’ before adding, ‘Everybody was giving their best and I think people could feel that…I really had the feeling we belonged to the Match&Fuse family.’

It is a slow and long process with no guarantees

It’s not just about getting gigs and tours abroad – quality of experience matters and concrete benefits. Despite vital support from embassies and cultural organisations, there is not much financial renumeration so M&F need to build media relations in order that musicians get useful reviews. What they do well is encourage exposure of specialist musics, connect musicians and help them develop fanbases across Europe. It is a slow and long process with no guarantees but what was clear from Match&Fuse London 2015 was not only the breadth of talent but the good feeling, positivity and confidence that came out of it for both M&F and the artists.

M&F also had three events during the EFG London Jazz Festival with the Swiss/Russian band Jazzator. It will develop more ‘threads’ through other festivals both in the UK and abroad. M&F festivals are confirmed for Toulouse and London in 2016 as well as tours in Sweden, Poland and Ireland.
Soundcloud: Match&Fuse, London 2015 Mix
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