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 1)

This is the first of two articles; sketches of musicians that took part in Take Five Switzerland & South Africa.

Manuel Troller
“How do we make a classic guitar-bass-drum trio sound like something else?”

I’m re-naming Schnellertollermeier as Nitric Acid (hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen). They are not a trio, but a chemical reaction. Seeing them perform at a Lume event in London I felt the room may combust into flames during the title track of their album, X. The sustained tension of Manuel Troller’s Telecaster plucks, Meier’s afro-beat-punk drums and Schnellmann’s distorted, demanding bass, pin you into a tight corner, forever, it seems. A sudden breakdown into nothingness releases the hold before industrial drones and a poetic, distant guitar change the mood. It’s psychotic and clever – throwing Mr Hyde at you first and, much later, the sane Dr Jeckyll.

Schnellertollermeier_Lume

Schnellertollermeier play London’s Lume night

Guitarist Troller admitted, “That was a huge job. How do we make a classic guitar-bass-drum trio sound like something else? Like one compact organism; with different elements, different functions, but all going for the same thing.” When it comes together, the sound is seismic; the gig was a whirl of grunge, classical, jazz, blues, rap and rave. Troller is cat-like, darting around the ‘dry and heavy’ bass, at other times he is obsessive, a strumming nutter. I’m as thrilled as they are that X was in the Wall Street Journal’s best music of 2015 (alongside artists like Björk). It’s rare to have such an album picked up by the mainstream.

“I’m really happy at the moment,” says Troller who has good things ahead. He’s an associated artist at Lucerne’s Südpol with the trio playing unfinished music to audiences to give insight into the composing process, then he’ll be in Chicago for an autumn residency and US tour. He’s developing solo material and performing with author Michael Fehr. I first saw him play with Nik Bärtsch’s Rhythm Clan at the EFG London Jazz Festival and solos from him and Sha were highlights.

“I’m more interested in people like Marc Ribot”

“Some of the elder generation in Switzerland used to tell me, ‘Man you have to decide what you really want to do.’ For me it’s not the right way. I’m more interested in people like Marc Ribot who are working in different fields but have their own language, their own personality that they bring to all sorts of music.” Manuel has also played with Sophie Hunger and senses such artists are helping to sketch a profile of Swiss musicians for countries like the UK. “I also feel there is a self-confidence growing which is necessary.”

Julie Campiche
“There is something in me that needs to learn to accept the compliment”
JulieCampiche_LaurentML

Photo: Laurent ML

Confidence was a theme in my conversation with Julie Campiche. “I’m happy and confident,” she tells me, “and I wasn’t like that two months ago, I was much more afraid.” Julie is part of the quartet, Orioxy, who are dis-banding and she describes the build-up to this split as ‘a crisis’. It’s clearly a difficult time for any band and although she began a trio project she felt too unsettled to make it work. The Take Five programme – and interactions with other professionals helped, but Julie realised she faced a common Swiss issue – being comfortable with her worth.

After gigs she often had people praise her playing, but made excuses – they don’t know the harp, they were just impressed by the instrument, not my playing. “There is something in me that needs to learn to accept the compliment…I have built some tricks to seem like I’m accepting it, but with all the crisis stuff, I was confronted by that…I laughed at myself because I realised I had escaped as long as I could and now I had to face it. Good luck Julie!” She feels the revered Malcolm Braff whom she plays with in Jibcae has found a good balance, “…knowing you’re good, accepting it, being comfortable with that and knowing it’s not about you, it’s what you are able to do, what you enjoy doing…the priority is so clear with him – it’s music.”

“I love to go into the world of the music atmosphere for someone else”

Julie isn’t scared of the business side of music and is organised, but wants to stay active whilst stepping away from planning too much, just, “play with people, find the people to work with on my project,” and explore being a side woman. “I love to go into the world of the music atmosphere for someone else. What can I bring into that? What can I serve in his or her music?” It’s an exciting time being in a place of ‘not-knowing’, having space to truly explore and Julie deserves to relax and enjoy the freedom that can bring.

Christoph Irniger
“My way of thinking about jazz is based in the American way”

I find saxophonist Christoph Irniger a little impenetrable, guarded, but he comes alive when working through an explanation of his music. He excitedly refers to Theolonius Monk: “When he’s soloing you always hear the song – and that’s what I’m for, that’s my approach to music, in that kind of tradition.” That’s clear when you listen to recordings of his projects: his trio, the quintet Pilgrim, quartet Counterpoint or the more electronic project, Cowboys From Hell, there is a sense of respect and nostalgia for be-bop. “My way of thinking about jazz is based in the American way and it’s connected with melody. I always try to play melody even if I’m playing avant-garde music.”

Over the years, Christoph has forged a relationship with New York (his ‘musical home’ alongside Zurich) and cherishes the chance to be part of the scene there where the propulsion to simply ‘play’ supersedes thinking or planning. Bonds with the New York based drummers, Ziv Ravitz and Nasheet Waits mean a lot to him and his stays ‘over the pond’ give an alternative lifestyle and viewpoint for composing.

“… the way to work on music is to play gigs”
Pilgrim_Erwin Van Rillaer

Pilgrim photo: Erwin Van Rillaer

Pilgrim’s new album, Big Wheel [Live] is out in the autumn (Christoph’s third release on Intakt Records) and they’ve been picked to showcase at jazzahead! the renowned trade fair in Bremen. But he’d like more gigs and larger venues. “The main thing is to play music…to go further, to search for new ways…it’s like a scientist, and the way to work on music is to play gigs, the live situation.” And the bigger the audience the more you get reflected back, “It’s like a mirror, it’s the best way to develop your music.” I’m sure more gigs will follow but as Christoph knows, “There are no shortcuts.”

Nils Fischer
“I also like playing different styles, it gives me a lot of energy”

Although Wayne Shorter is still the most important influence for saxophonist Nils Fischer, he is coming at music from a spectrum of points. “I often have periods where I listen to one or two albums all the time, it’s not something I do consciously but I love it. I’m listening to Warpaint, an incredibly good female band from the States. I love the album of Kendrick Lamar. I like listening to different things and I also like playing different styles, it gives me a lot of energy.” His main project, quartet The Great Harry Hillman, describe their music as ‘jazz of today’ and I find it spacious and engaging. Last year they won the ZKB jazz prize at Moods in Zurich and played at London’s Match&Fuse festival.

NilsFischer

Nils Fischer

Starting drums at six Nils moved to sax aged eight, after seeing one in the gospel choir his mother sings with. His dad is an organist and his sister is going into musical theatre, but he questioned playing professionally. “It was a hard decision…it came naturally, I wasn’t forced to do it, but when I decided to do it, I really said yes to it.” A chance encounter at a workshop led him to leave his native Germany to study in Lucerne where he met his band. “It’s almost too romantic to say it, but we really had our first lesson together and from then on that was it.” When GHH played London their musical chemistry and friendship was clear, “We have a lot of fun always when we are together,” and I witnessed that…

“Our sound is pretty detailed”

The other side of Nils is he is pro-active and organised, dealing with the bands’ bookings. “I like talking to people, making relations, that’s fun,” he says. That’s the sort of band member you want to hold on to. He is planning GHH’s tour with the Austrian trio, Edi Nulz and something new in November – a heavily produced EP with layers of tracks. “Our sound is pretty detailed…it’s a step further to really make it structured on the record so it’s different from the live thing…we will clearly separate it – give something different on the EP from the live feel of an album.” I’m very keen to hear what they come up with.

Take Five Switzerland: Edition II

TakeFive_EditionII

With musicians Yilian Cañizares, Christoph Irniger, Yael Miller, Mandla Mlengeni, Manuel Troller, Julie Campiche, Nils Fischer and Joel Graf.

I’ve just visited the second edition of Take Five Switzerland, an invite-only, professional development course for musicians. There are sessions on everything from legal affairs to communication skills, and time to network with a selection of European promotors and experts. Run by Serious, the UK’s most standout organisation in jazz, it’s an intense week, softened by the setting of a beautiful, organic farm in the ‘garden of England’ (Kent).

Christoph_Irniger

Christoph Irniger

“… great to meet someone from every aspect to build a career” Yilian Cañizares
Edition 1 of Take Five Switzerland in 2013 was my personal introduction to the creative intelligence and ambition of Swiss artists and honestly, my love of music was re-invigorated by them. Their feedback maybe shaped Edition II and the latest group were unanimous in their appreciation of the week. “There is a lot of information that I need to digest,” said Yilian Cañizares, “but it’s been really great to meet someone from every aspect to build a career and in my case that’s what I’m looking for: how to meet the right people to push me, help me with skills to get to the next step.” The experienced Christoph Irniger agreed, “Nothing is really new but when you hear it enough, it becomes clear: there are no shortcuts, you have to be really patient and it’s all about personal connections.”

The ‘personal touch’ was a key theme. It can be used to build a fan base and to address promotors when looking for gigs. The saxophonists, Nils Fischer of the Great Harry Hillman, Joel Graf of pommelHORSE and Christoph, were all keen to think more deeply about what venues might like their sound and target them as part of developing a strategy. Christoph said he would, “Check out who might programme my music and go for that…The spam is what makes the business so hard.”

“…choose clubs that fit our music” Nils Fischer
Jan Ole Otnaes of Nasjonal Jazzscene confirmed this and advised putting thought into targeting venues and writing personal emails to promotors. This came out in useful Q&A sessions that were in relaxed settings (literally around the fireplace) encouraging open dialogue. Nils heard the message clearly, “Now we know to focus on specific countries with the booking, really using personal contact, and choose clubs that fit our music.”

ManuelTroller

Manuel Troller

“You sharpen your consciousness about things” Manuel Troller
The Sony consultant Wulf Muller was another expert happy to hang out with the musicians and harpist Julie Campiche recognised it was a privilege to have quality time with such experience, especially at a time of uncertainty. “You know, as an artist you feel something – I want to go in a direction, but am I right or am I wrong? Is it my fear speaking or is this good intuition?” Her conversations at Take Five were, “a confirmation that I’m on the right path.” Manuel Troller, a guitarist to watch out for, intelligently observed, “You sharpen your consciousness about things – if someone speaks about something that you completely disagree with then you feel even more strongly about it, or if you agree, it helps you develop new ideas.”

“To have…something that helps you artistically and personally was great” Joel Graf
Yael Miller noticed that one expert said Facebook ‘likes’ were vital, whilst another promotor ignores them. Yilian felt the best advice was to forget Facebook ‘goals’ and, “Look at your audience as ‘friends’, you are building friendships – people you communicate with through music that have common values and ways of seeing life.” In order to do this artists need to learn how to speak openly. “The work with Mary McCusker [a communication coach] was fantastic,” said Joel Graf, “…to have all this information on the course, but also something that helps you artistically and personally was great.” They made short videos simply talking about their music and although Joel wasn’t sure of their usefulness, having to think of concise phrases to describe themselves and their creative work was helpful.

“It made me define what I want to do next, better” Yael Miller
When I arrived at Take Five I discovered that the band Orioxy were splitting up to allow Yael Miller and Julie Campiche to follow new creative ideas. Both were unsure whether to attend the course because everything was changing for them. However the promotors said they loved discovering artists who were transforming and it forced both of them to verbalise their ideas. Yael said, “So then I started talking about it and being open about it. It made me define what I want to do next, better.” Yael added of Take Five, “It was the thing I needed at this time because I’m in a transition period.”

There are some lessons that can’t be learned in Take Five. How do you face moving on from a band and deal with the consequences? These are situations that can be mis-handled but what spoke volumes to me was that Julie and Yael both turned up on the course. It takes balls to deal with changes and to face something like Take Five in a state of uncertainty. Yael’s concerns about taking a new direction were calmed, “One of them told me, ‘This is artist development.’ And it’s true, you have to take time to think about what you want, to be true to yourself…it was really reassuring.”

 

BorePlace_gardenFeb16

Charming gardens of Bore Place

“For me, healing myself…was through making music” Mandla Mlangeni
The last word goes to Mandla Mlangeni, a trumpeter from Soweto invited onto Take Five. When he was just four years old his activist father was murdered by a bomb sent to his home. Mandla explained, “For me, healing myself and all the pain that lingered in me, was through making music.” Ultimately all these musicians at one point or another felt this power of music and the professional side of things is there to support that. Mandla added, “Take Five has opened my eyes to a whole new world of opportunity and made me think about my career in ways I never have before particularly when it comes to making contacts.” So, if it helps such people, the future generations of this music, get their work out there, then it’s doing its job.

Take Five

 

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