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.

 

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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.

 

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Bonne nouvelle : les bons pianistes romands se mutiplient!

Malcolm Braff et ses microrythmes, Michel Wintsch et son piano global, habité de sons annexes, Colin Vallon en trio ou en collaboration avec Nicolas Masson (Parallels) et Elina Duni, Marc Perrenoud et son power trio en perpétuelle ébullition, Leo Tardin maître des cérémonies de son grand Pianoramax, Johann Bourquenez, tête pensante de Plaistow (sans oublier le Fribourgeois Florian Favre et d’autres plus jeunes) : le pianistes romands sont légion. D’eux d’entre eux se disputaient les faveurs du public samedi soir au Festival Jazz Onze +.

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Gauthier Toux n’est pas Suisse, mais presque! Français, il a fait ses classes à la HEMU de Lausanne. En combo avec le batteur un brin énervé, Maxence Sibille (un autre Français de Lausanne) et le contrebassiste danois Kenneth Dahl Knudsen, Gauthier Toux jongle entre Fender Rhodes et piano. Il faut dire que le pianiste a beaucoup de choses à dire, beaucoup de territoires musicaux à défricher. Gautier Toux a ici le doigté classique, là un penchant pour l’improvisation jazz, Son trio est traversé par le feu du funk, par l’énergie du hip hop. Il surprend aussi en flirtant avec des rythmiques empruntées aux musiques de danse ou au rock. Avouant avoir été être influencé par Jason Moran ou Eric Legnini, le Gautier Toux trio séduit par son énergie jubilatoire et communicative et sa palette de sons variées. Il faut pourtant s’échapper après 40 minutes de concert : direction la salle Paderewski où Gabriel Zufferey s’illustre lui en solo. Et un concert solo ça se déguste de bout en bout!

“La musique donne une âme à nos cœurs et des ailes à la pensée

Gabriel Zufferey n’hésite pas à citer Platon sur son site Internet pour proclamer haut et fort son credo: une vision transcendante de la musique et un esprit vif toujours sur le qui-vive.  Samedi soir, le pianiste romand a choisi de placer sa performance sous le haut patronage de Bill Evans auquel il consacre son morceau d’ouverture et de clôture. Depuis qu’il a quinze ans, Gabriel Zufferey est considéré comme le petit génie du piano de ce côté-ci du la Léman. Désormais trentenaire, Zufferey n’est plus seulement un phénomène: il allie aujourd’hui à son intuition, une maturité et une dextérité toujours aiguisée. Couché sur son piano, on ne sait pas vraiment qui de ses doigts, de sa tête ou de son cœur contrôle la performance. Gabriel Zufferey peut caler sa main droite sur boucle rythmique de trois notes jusqu’à friser la saturation pendant que sa main gauche tourne autour de ce trinôme, semble parfois vouloir s’échapper pour de bon, mais n’y parvient jamais. Avec un petit air de professeur Tournesol, Gabriel Zufferey est un personnage et un artiste à la fois. Parfois drôle, parfois lunaire, il est capable d’évoquer  Satie, l’anniversaire de son amie et de jouer avec l’alphabet pour dire que le plus important est que sa musique vient du cœur. Gabriel Zufferey officie aussi dans un trio, Paralog, non moins libertaire, dont le nom  vient du grec paralogos qui signifie absurde…

 

Marc Perrenoud Talks on the Eve of his US Tour

2014 has been a good year for Marc Perrenoud and his trio of Cyril Regamey on drums and Marco Müller on double bass. They’ve toured China, Taiwan, Europe and are off to the US this month to play five cities and cover about 20,000 kilometres of American soil.

The gigs have followed their well-received third album, Vestry Lamento (released October 2013-April ’14). Frank Alkyer of Downbeat magazine crucially wrote, ‘Would someone please book this band for a tour of the States? We want to see them live!’

 

MarcPerrenoudUSAI spoke to Marc Perrenoud about his feelings on the eve of the trio’s US tour.

Marc Perrenoud I’m very excited. US people are very open, I’m not nervous, I just feel pleasure to go there…Playing in New York is always a big thing, but I am very excited to discover New Orleans, it must be an incredible place…and it’s the birthplace of jazz. There’s so much music there and I’m really looking forward to that, to ‘feeling’ Louisiana.

Sometimes it can be hard to be from a little country but sometimes it makes you more curious…you have to be because we have to leave Switzerland and that’s very stimulating. I am very honoured that these guys invited me, a Swiss guy, to play jazz there – it’s crazy. It’s so cool.

Do you think Vestry Lamento was particularly suitable for US audiences?

Marc Perrenoud There is a very big difference between Two Churches [his previous album] and this one. I was a little bit, not bored, but tired of the top, classical jazz, European style…so I tried to think about what I love about this music – and that is American jazz from the ’60s and even earlier. I tried to put some musical ideas like the energy and the swing style into this CD but with my European culture too, to make a mix of these two cultures.

In this album I was more confident in my partners. I was a control freak before, so I had an idea and would be like – you have to play that and that. Now the ideas are more precise and I can give more liberty to the musicians…It gave more pleasure and more energy to the drummer and bass-player and they had more fun playing because their ideas are in there too. It really grew together.

When will you work on a new album and what direction will it take?

Marc Perrenoud When we finish the US tour we are working for the month of December on the new repertoire and the new trio CD for 2015. I think recording will take place in February or March. After the US we’ll be full of ideas, I think it will be a good moment to write new things. We had a very exciting year, but it will be good to calm down and write.

The direction: you can never say exactly what it is, but I am sure about the manner with which to work and write together with the trio – it will be the same way and same kind of energy as with Vestry Lamento.

With the new album I will try to have a longer release time to focus on a new country every month with good PR. It’s good to have big festivals [to play] but it’s always important to meet people in smaller clubs. At Ronnie Scott’s we jammed til 3.30am…it was nice to meet the London jazz scene and have a real bebop jam session. Then I went straight to the Gatwick Express at 5am [to get to the airport – proper jazz stylee].

What have you found inspiring recently?

Marc Perrenoud I try to often go to concerts but also to theatre – I saw a very good theatre piece of Dostoyevsky, I go to opera, rock, jazz concerts. It’s very important to me to go to live music and performance. I’ve seen Roy Hargrove, a cool concert of Brad Mehldau solo and Joe Lovano.

I have a project next year with actors, poetry and music – trying to make something new. I think jazz is made from these things, we need improvisation in jazz and to do that we need to look everywhere. It’s why it’s unstable and moving because we have to continually find ideas and, sure, other arts are very inspiring.

18/11 Somethin Jazz Club, New York
20/11 Snug Harbor, New Orleans, Louisiana
21/11 The Jazz Station, Eugene, Oregon
23/11 Upstairs at Vitello’s, Los Angeles, California
24/11 Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara, California

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