Who Trio @Festival Jazz Onze+

Who Trio_HemingwayWhen I hear a band like Who Trio, I feel I need to get out from under my rock and listen to a lot more Swiss-based music. Playing together since 1995, they thrilled Lausanne’s Jazz Onze+ Festival last week with highlights such as drummer Gerry Hemingway losing himself in a cave of pounding beats that never hit us like falling rocks but swung with such power and groove we could hardly stay in our seats. But I’m getting ahead of myself – a key to imagining their performance is to know how they looked.

Three toddlers, who are black belts in music improvisation

Who Trio_WintschPut simply, three toddlers. Who are black belts in music improvisation. The way they played, stroked, tweaked, plucked and beat the living daylights out of their instruments, was as creatively done as it could be. Michel Wintsch was often hunched over the piano like Schroeder from Charlie Brown as if to control his delicate touch, or plucking strings under the hood of the piano like a car mechanic. Gerry also used physicality to direct energy into his drum kit, emphasizing beats be they furious or almost inaudible. He’d throw his head back and release vocally, serving us with scraps of a monologue; mutterings of the crazy guy who loiters on a street corner. Inventive sounds and ideas were continually mushrooming from this trio.

animalistic whines, walking bass, scratches…

Who Trio_Oester

Whatever Baenz Oester created with his double bass there was clarity and conviction: animalistic whines, walking bass, scratches, deep twangs and a series of Bach-like notes that I found particularly moving. It was the trio’s emotion and revealing of vulnerability that stood their performance apart and gave it resonance. Michel’s work as a film and theatre composer showed itself in glimmers of exquisite melodies and perfectly imagined chords that were authoritative yet melancholic.

It is a feat to improvise a full set without pausing but I wanted breaks in the music so we, the audience, could express and release our responses and also so the trio had a chance to start a piece, afresh. There was a tendency to build the tension, bring it down, then re-build the sound and this became a little predictable as a landscape. However, the music never was and the view was continually riveting. I can’t wait to hear more.


Grand Pianoramax @Festival Jazz Onze+ (Lausanne)

Grand Pianoramax_300dpiDescribed in terms such as “power trio”, “supergroup” and “heavyweight”, Grand Pianoramax easily testify to being greater than the sum of their parts. The deceptively skimpy lineup of keyboards, drums and rapper belies the aural magic monster that lurks beneath the surface.  Elegant piano/rhodes, razor sharp drums and urban-edged rap/poetry jostle and come together to create a fiery fullness of sound that has become their distinctive trademark since the band’s inception in 2008.

A rich, emotive soundtrack that already hints at the light and shade which is to follow

Tonight, the Jazz Onze+ crowd are warm and receptive towards their errant Swiss son, keyboard maestro and band leader Leo Tardin, who has over the years immersed himself in foreign locations such as New York and Berlin to develop his sound until recently relocating back to his native Geneva. Much of tonight’s tracklist comes from the latest Grand Pianoramax LP, “Till There’s Nothing Left”, released on ObliqSound last spring and is met with appreciative familiarity indicative of an audience who’s been paying attention.

The skimpy elements are eased in gradually. Leo seduces us gracefully with “Firefly”, a captivating and melodic solo start on the piano, creating a rich, emotive soundtrack that already hints at the light and shade which is to follow.
Joined on stage by drummer, Dom Burkhalter – a modernist fist in an iron glove –  the friendly duel quickly evolves between the two main musical elements, at times rolling around happily side by side, other times in stark stylistic contrast to one another as though wanting to stretch the listener’s awareness to its fullest capacity.

Two herculean pillars laying down a spectacular multi-textured foundation…

The play-fighting relationship between keyboards and drums is what underpins the essence of Grand Pianoramax, two herculean pillars laying down a spectacular multi-textured foundation on which the third element, Black Cracker, can nimbly unleash his craft of language and movement. This Alabama wordsmith and charismatic agent provocateur forges an agile bridge between the audience and the stage, bringing things down from a powerful sonic ride to a more urban, earthly, NYC dimension using rap, poetry or song.

In common with each track is a strategic sense of rise and fall, density and space. It’s an occasionally challenging but always engaging journey. The rhythmic patterns and shapes vary from mercurially dark (“Cry Alone”, “Runaway”, “Have You ever Seen”) to quirkily funky, bouncing along like De la Soul meets Michel Legrand (“Nights Turn To Days”), and hard-edged urgency complete with strobe lights (“Call it Like You See It” and “Roulette”).

In the case of Grand Pianoramax, less is definitely more

An effortless cohesion of threads coming together is felt during ‘Till There’s Nothing Left’, their most radio-friendly hit, a subtle suggestion that crossover to commercial polish is possible if so desired. ‘The Hook’ provides the encore, a track remixed by DJ Spinna and put out on vinyl a few years back, an example of what can work well in a club setting as through the headphones of the rap enthusiast or jazz muso.

It’s a consummate work performed by heavyweights in their field. Honed down talent and acumen has produced an act that can adeptly bend styles and cook up a rhythmic frenzy on only three burners. In the case of Grand Pianoramax, less is definitely more.

Grand Pianoramax played @ Festival Jazz Onze+ in Lausanne on the 31th of October

Grand Pianoramax, Till There Is Nothing Left, (Obliq Sound)

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