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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Take Four Musicians (part 2)

Yael Miller “It was very difficult at the beginning, very upsetting”
As Orioxy’s key composer and vocalist, Yael says, “We did amazing things, were in amazing places and had crazy experiences – it is why it’s good that it finished now before it became bitter…” Like bandmate Julie Campiche, Yael was re-assured about the decision to split up, at Take Five Switzerland & South Africa, even though it affected others, “It was very difficult at the beginning, very upsetting.”

Screenshot 2016-04-04 19.30.15

Photo Gerald Langer

Yael has faced tough challenges before. From Tel Aviv, she spoke of a childhood almost lost to shouldering heavy responsibilities. So it’s unsurprising when she says it was a feeling of duty to compose for a whole band that caused her writing block. Her desire was to go more deeply into personal expression, like a singer-songwriter, where lyrics lead. “This is not so acceptable in the mainstream jazz world, so I’m shifting it a bit…not feeling obliged to fit in.” It’s as if Yael is finding the freedom that was compromised as a child.

Orioxy’s drummer, Roland Merlinc will be part of her new trio, “We want the same things,” she explains, and Baptiste Germser, a bassist and French horn player who has a Paris studio. “We close ourselves away for three or four days and just rehearse and record from morning to evening, then we go and drink beers, and then continue.” It’s time for Orioxy to explore who they are now and I’m excited to hear their individual projects.

Mandla Mlengeni: “I was a troubled child and I was always in trouble”
Screenshot 2016-04-04 19.40.09Someone else shaped by a dramatic early life is trumpeter Mandla. Brought up in a turbulent Soweto by a young, single mother after his lawyer father was murdered, he admits, “I had to find coping mechanisms. I went to see psychologists, but I didn’t know how to deal with it, I was a troubled child and I was always in trouble.” His childhood is hazy but he remembers sitting on his dad’s shoulders, hearing music at political rallies, and a small, blue piano he brought Mandla from London when working on a case concerning South Africa’s ‘hit squads’.

Listening to Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men on the radio, he says, “I thought composing was a sacred gift and being a musician was something bestowed upon you, like being a ‘sangoma’, it was a calling.” An exchange to Norway introduced him to composing in a simple way, but he left the first piece he wrote for a couple of years, then, “One drunken night, I was with a friend and we were jamming and I started playing this song and he asked, ‘Hey man, whose song is that?’” This encouragement eventually led to his 2015 debut, Bhekisizwe.

It was a long process but the recording fell fatefully into place: finding a studio and having saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings (UK) and Ganesh Geymeier (CH) in town to guest. And now, Mandla says, “I’ve sold all the albums so I have to re-print and strategise as to how to get into markets other than South Africa.” With a tenacity that secured him gigs even before the album’s release, he’s one to watch for.

Joel Graf: “We have to find new strategies”
PommelHORSE’s sax player is also thinking about a game plan. This quintet met studying in Bern and are good buddies but says Joel, “We have to find new strategies, new ways and that includes a new label…and better ways to market the band.” I can’t help chuckling when Joel explains they took an actual pommel horse on their early tours. “When we first played shows, audiences in Germany thought we were a music and gymnastics show…they were kind of disappointed.”

Screenshot 2016-04-04 19.47.54

Photo Peter Tümmers

My favourite track on their last album was Joel’s ‘Drunk on Christmas Eve’, and I’m intrigued to see them play live at jazzahead! this month. “There’s always big competition,” he says of this music fair, “…selling yourself and your music, it’s hard work.” He talks of feeling overwhelmed by everything a band should be doing and how you can lose sight of why you ever went into music.
Joel actually studied IT first despite coming from a sort of ‘Partridge Family‘ with the six musical siblings all playing instruments. In a way pommelHORSE are his new musical family and although each of them play various styles e.g. classical and heavy rock, they gel together. “I love our combination of music, but really we have to move on, make our music better and move forward.”

Yilian Cañizares “You know what you want, but you don’t know how to get it”

Screenshot 2016-04-04 20.00.51

With Ibrahim Maalouf                                    Photo Marc Bertolazzi

Yilian is looking at how to progress too. “When you are trying to build something, sometimes you can feel,” she searches for the right word, “…lost, because you know what you want, but you don’t know how to get it.” She is often invited to play with others after they see her perform, such as Richard Bona, Ibrahim Maalouf and Omar Sosa (with whom she’s just recorded an album) but she wants more exposure.

In fact Yilian sums up a major issue in Europe, “Right now it’s quite difficult because culture [representation] in all media is getting smaller and smaller and sometimes they just speak about pop music or celebrities. It’s quite frustrating.” That’s an understatement – don’t get me started on UK press coverage of this music, but Yilian knows there’s more she can do, “I believe it’s very important to always be in the creative process, I like to see it as an everyday process…maybe we are sure about that as musicians, but we don’t apply the same concept to other areas of our career.”

I suggest that she must get homesick and Yilian graciously replies that she’s blessed to be able to pursue music at this level, but does want to see her Cuban family more often, “I am split into two feelings…and I try to transform this into my music and creativity, that’s how I manage it.”

Take Four Musicians (part 1)

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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