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

 

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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.

 

marc_perrenoud_feat_marc_perrenoud_trio

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.

 

Elina Duni: Songs of Love and Exile

© Nicolas Masson

Elina Duni Quartet © Nicolas Masson

Elina Duni moved to Switzerland when she was ten, five years after she’d first stepped on a stage to sing in her homeland, Albania. Later, studying music in Bern led to a crucial meeting – with pianist and composer, Colin Vallon. It’s Vallon, along with drummer Norbert Pfammatter and now Patrice Moret on bass, who held a mirror up to Elina so she could see who she is and be free to draw on the rich cultural soil of the Balkans.

Elina’s second album for the major label ECM is Dallëndyshe (The Swallow) and listening to it immersed me in a bubble of ancient and distant lives where women call their loves ‘Ylber’ (rainbow) as they watch them leave green hills for work or, war. With titles such as ‘Nënë moj’ (O, Mother) and ‘Kur të pashë’ (When I Saw You), Elina describes them as ‘songs of love and exile’ but somehow the purity of the melodies and simplicity of delivery make them timeless.

What were you driven to express and explore in this album?

Elina Duni I think the word ‘timeless’ is very important in this case…You can feel the songs’ strength because they’ve crossed centuries and the melodies are archaic and deep. It’s this mixture of the contemporary perception each one of us has being a musician living in today’s world and the fact [the songs] are related to something that concerns all of us – we are all migrants, it’s the fate of all human beings: leaving behind something you love, going abroad, going from countryside to city, themes that are universal.

Where and how are did you find these traditional songs?

Elina Duni You may be surprised or maybe not, I found them on YouTube! Albanian friends are always suggesting songs and a friend of mine living in Greece put ‘Fëllënza’ on my wall on Facebook.

‘Fëllënza’ has a melody that has my dopamine triggers firing like Dirty Harry and Elina’s voice is so intimate you feel she’s singing with her head next to yours on a single pillow. Colin Vallon’s tangential arrangement steers it clear of saccharine-slush whilst on ‘Unë në kodër, ti në kodër’ (Me on a Hill, You on a Hill) he hypnotises, plucking piano strings like a cimbalom.

Elina Duni This is one of the songs where Colin wrote the arrangement with the bassline and the ‘mantra’, I had the melody and rhythm but he takes the song to another level…The three of them are wonderful musicians, they never play ‘1st degree music’. For me, art is the distance we take from things, it’s playing or looking at them in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree…Balkan music can be so pathetic [evoking pity] and it’s really a trap, somehow this distance from the pathos is the art.

When I started singing these songs Colin told me to imagine how Miles Davis would sing these themes – as simple as possible. When I do an ornament then it’s really thought out, I try not to do too much so when I do something it stands out. It’s the manner for the whole quartet.

You said that we live in a time where there is a need for poetry, say more about this.

Elina Duni Poetry has its own music, you can listen to a poem that you don’t understand and still cry with it… [the language] Albanian has something very interesting, it has a lot of sounds in it and it is a very, very old European language. It has Latin and Turkish words and, they say, also from the Celts, and it has something very deep and at the same time, strange.

Tell me about your childhood in Albania and how you feel about your homeland now.

Elina Duni There is a phrase, ‘there are two tragedies in life: to have a wonderful childhood and to have an awful childhood’. So, I had a wonderful childhood. In Albania it was another time that doesn’t exist anymore, there were no cars, no consumerism, no Coca Cola, no aluminium…we used to be happy when we could eat a chewing gum because it was very rare, or chocolate. We were raised in the neighbourhoods, everybody was going to everybody’s houses…and we were free. We grew up jumping, climbing the trees and running and fighting and being outside all the time…the imagination played a very important role. Everyone was writing poetry and reading…I think this was a golden time.

© Blerta Kambo

© Blerta Kambo

For me Albania is always inspiring, I go very often, it’s like all the countries that are transforming themselves, they have something alive there. Unfortunately Albanian society is still macho and patriarchal, it’s changing slowly, but there is a lack of models for women…The best thing is to educate women…and to show that being free is not being a sexual object which is hard because the media promotes this – and the singers too. There are so many in Albania, every good-looking girl puts on a mini skirt, makes a video clip and she’s a ‘singer’. I try to do my best to promote another model of woman.

What other projects are you doing?

Elina Duni I’ve been doing a solo project where I sing Albanian songs with guitar but I also did an album a year ago as a singer/songwriter where I wrote songs in Albanian so I’m going on writing, in French and English too…I love the quartet but I am trying to diversify so I’m writing as much as possible to find my way into music – which is not as simple when so many things have been done and you want to find your own original way at looking at things.

I still don’t know where all this is going to lead, the thing is I love acoustic music so maybe this can be a duo with voice and piano, it depends on who your partners are on the adventure, who you find. I would like to go more electric because it is a sound that really attracts me. These days there are no boundaries and you can explore without losing your identity. I love to sing my songs, that’s my biggest dream.

Elina Duni website

Elina Duni Solo
12.04.15 Cully Jazz Festival – Cully, CH
Elina Duni Quartet 
21.04.2015
 Jazzkaar Festival – Tallinn, Estonia
22.04.2015 
Viljandi Folk Music Center, Estonia
24.04.2015 
Salle des Fêtes de Carouge – Genève, CH
26.04.2015 
Dampfschiff – Brugg CH
29.04.2015
 Centralstation – Darmstadt, Germany
09.05.2015 
Treibhaus – Innsbruck, Austria
10.05.2015
 Bee-Flat im Progr – Bern, CH
27.05.2015
 Moods – Zürich, CH
29.05.2015 
Paradox – Tilburg, Netherlands
31.05.2015
 Rote Salon – Berlin, Germany
13.06.2015 
Schloss – Thun, CH
21.06.2015 
Bibliothéque Universitaire et cantonale – Lausanne, CH

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