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.


Le projet Soriana s’helvétise…

“C’est comme lorsque l’on s’exprime dans une langue, il faut maîtriser l’accent. Je connais les mots et la grammaire, mais je ne sais pas comment les prononcer…”

(Nicolas Masson, à propos de son travail avec Basel Rajoub à mi-chemin entre musiques orientales et du jazz)

Nicolas Masson et Basel Rajoub
Nicolas Masson et Basel Rajoub

Depuis quelques mois le saxophoniste genevois, Nicolas Masson, s’immerge dans le monde des musiques orientales en compagnie de son nouvel ami Basel Rajoub.

Ce saxophoniste syrien, établi en Suisse est à la tête d’un trio de musique contemporaine orientale. Entre improvisation et composition, ce projet est un sublime mélange de spontanéité et de contrôle. Depuis peu, Basel Rajoub l’a baptisé Soriana (« notre Syrie »).

Au contact de la Suisse, en discutant avec Nicolas Masson au Sud des Alpes où tous deux répètent, l’idée a germé de revisiter les thèmes de ce Soriana avec des musiciens de la place et des instruments modernes. Pour ce faire Basel a passé quelques nuits à préparer des partitions à partir d’une musique qui s’ancre dans une tradition d’improvisation millénaire.

Première à Jazz Contreband

Basel RajoubLe 4 octobre 2014, le travail des saxophonistes soprano et ténor est enfin écoutable et visible  “pour de vrai” au Sud des Alpes dans le cadre de la 18è édition du Festival Jazz Contreband, cette manifestation qui rassemble 50 concerts en 20 lieux pendant 24 jours, en France voisine et en Suisse romande.

A leur côté une rythmique de choc constituée de Vincent Ruiz (Plaistow) à la contrebasse et Maxence Sibille à la batterie, tous deux anciens élèves de Nicolas Masson. Timide de prime abord, le quartet prend vite son essor.


A peine a-t-on le temps de reconnaître les thèmes de « Asia », le dernier opus de Basel Rajoub, que ceux-ci s’émancipent porté par un vent de liberté nouveau. « Cet ensemble me donne plus d’espace et de place. La musique se transforme. Elle est plus puissante, centrée sur l’énergie » explique Basel Rajoub quelques jours plus tard. « Quand je joue avec les instruments traditionnels orientaux (le qanun et le tambourin) l’accent est donné au son et à l’instrument. Ce sont deux choses complètement différentes. »

Travaillant à partir du répertoire de Basel Rajoub, ce « Swiss Soriana » s’émancipe déjà des originaux qu’il est censé revisiter. Un morceau de Nicolas Masson « So long » est inclus dans le répertoire et un nouveau titre de Basel Rajoub, le bien nommé « Helvetica » témoignent de l’émergence d’un véritable nouveau projet dans lequel Basel Rajoub ne tient pas être l’unique compositeur.

Connu pour son travail sur les micro-intervalles qu’il arrive à reproduire en soufflant dans son sax sans l’aide d’aucun artifice, Basel Rajoub se réjouit d’enseigner ses techniques à Nicolas Masson qui ne rêve que de ça… Quant à nous, on attend la suite impatiemment !

Le site Internet de Basel Rajoub et Le site Internet de Nicolas Masson

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