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.

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Match&Fuse, London 2015

Climbing the Eiger’s Mordwand is tough, but if you are a band trying to get a gig in the UK, then you really face a challenge. And it’s not much better anywhere else.
Presenting the most engaging artists from Europe’s progressive scenes

The musician Dave Morecroft started Match&Fuse (M&F) in 2011 to attack this problem – with energy. He wanted his band (World Service Project) to tour abroad, so in 2011 he found a Norwegian act to ‘match’ his and asked them to find three gigs in Norway for this double bill, whilst he used his UK contacts to book gigs at home. It worked, and the following year Match&Fuse launched its first festival with the aim of presenting the most engaging artists from Europe’s progressive scenes – giving audiences a taster of music from inside and outside their own borders and, more crucially, enabling musicians to extend their contacts abroad.

GHH

Great Harry Hillman Photos: Steven Cropper

Since then Match&Fuse (M&F) has developed co-producers with festivals in Toulouse, Warsaw, Rome and Oslo. Their annual event in the buzzing Dalston area of London uses venues such as Cafe Oto, Vortex and Servant Jazz Quarters and this year, Swiss bands, the Great Harry Hillman (GHH) and duo, 2henning were invited to play. I spoke to them about their experience.

 

‘We could see our music has many different sides’

‘The gig was big fun,’ said Nils Fischer of the GHH, ‘with a conscientious audience. We would have loved to play more than 35 minutes, but the time was sufficient to present our music and get involved in some interesting talk – feedback and discussions, after.’ Valeria Zangger of 2henning also appreciated getting feedback, adding, ‘It showed us some very important stuff that we still have to do, but we could see our music has many different sides and can fit in with a real variety of music programming which is good.’

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2henning (Steven Cropper)

‘Getting all this inspiration in a few days, was invaluable’

They were scheduled alongside other emerging European artists such as Strobes, Laura Moody, J=J, Kaja Draksler and Alarmist as well as unique collaborations such as Isabel Sörling with Leafcutter John (of Polar Bear). 2Henning felt that, ‘There was room for free improvisation as well as for more pop/rock oriented music…Playing in that context with a lot of different bands and styles – and getting all this inspiration in a few days, was invaluable.’

‘The idea to unite the bands in a soundpainting orchestra is great’

The ‘fuse’ of the festival brings the bands together in an improvisation in each venue before they proceed to a square outside where they play together in an ‘orchestra’. Using the soundpainting technique with a conductor and hand signals, it can be powerful, fun and completely chaotic. ‘The idea to unite the bands in a soundpainting orchestra is great. We had a very energetic session inside [at the Vortex],’ said Nils. ‘Maybe we stretched the session too long and missed the right point to stop, but it was big fun to meet everybody in the square.’ 2henning agreed, ‘When we began it wasn’t really defined, but then, as we walked to the square in front of the Vortex and met with the other musicians, it was great…people were listening and we played some cool ideas.’

Orchestra

Match&Fuse Orchestra (Steven Cropper)

‘Everybody was giving their best’

The GHH hope to continue being part of the M&F family, taking part in exchange tours, meeting other bands and contacts, ‘Back at home we discussed the option to do another UK trip during our next tour,’ they told me. 2Henning who also played a Sofa Sound night (gigs in people’s living rooms), did a school workshop and appeared on London Live TV as part of their M&F festival experience said, ‘It is helpful to use the name Match&Fuse, but also to have London as a reference,’ before adding, ‘Everybody was giving their best and I think people could feel that…I really had the feeling we belonged to the Match&Fuse family.’

It is a slow and long process with no guarantees

It’s not just about getting gigs and tours abroad – quality of experience matters and concrete benefits. Despite vital support from embassies and cultural organisations, there is not much financial renumeration so M&F need to build media relations in order that musicians get useful reviews. What they do well is encourage exposure of specialist musics, connect musicians and help them develop fanbases across Europe. It is a slow and long process with no guarantees but what was clear from Match&Fuse London 2015 was not only the breadth of talent but the good feeling, positivity and confidence that came out of it for both M&F and the artists.

M&F also had three events during the EFG London Jazz Festival with the Swiss/Russian band Jazzator. It will develop more ‘threads’ through other festivals both in the UK and abroad. M&F festivals are confirmed for Toulouse and London in 2016 as well as tours in Sweden, Poland and Ireland.
Soundcloud: Match&Fuse, London 2015 Mix
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