Nils Wogram meets Bojan Z, Monniot/ Chvillon/ Vaillant, Hasse Poulson's We are all Americans
(Third night of Jazzdor Berlin. Kesselhaus, Prenzlauer Berg. 6th June 2012. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
What's "new"? There can surely be no word which shows its age faster. Here in Berlin, a city constantly changing, not just reflecting but also making history, it's sometimes ironic what still gets to be called new. The neoclassical Neue Wache building (1816) is now far more venerable than every single other building in the area around it. The Neues Museum (1840s -50s) is pretty ancient too, and was only called by that name for a brief while when it needed to distinguish itself from a very slightly older neighbour.
So what's new in music? As we passed the half-way point of Jazzdor Berlin tonight, every band on the bill had either "PREMIERE" or "DEUTSCHLANDPREMIERE" proudly emblazoned across it. Can so much newness cause a reaction, even make one reach out for the reassurance of the familiar?
The first duo was a completely new pairing instigated by festival director Philippe Ochem: the Braunschweig born trombonist Nils Wogram was paired with the Belgrade-born pianist Bojan Z ( Бојан Зулфикарпашић if you care about these things). Bojan seemed genuinely pleased to have been granted the pleasure of, as he described it, "discovering a great musician in front of an audience".
The Bojan Z/ Wogram collaboration mostly eschewed the "new" - ie electronics and extended instrumental effects (are they that new? How long has this in fact been going on?) for the old sport of playing over the harmonic changes of tunes. Ironic then that their tune entitled T.N.T. or "The New Tune" should be perhaps the most conventional treatment of jazz composition yet heard at this festival. It was lively and had energy, it bounced, and it even...swung.
Bojan Z is one of those pianists. (Geoffrey Keezer is another) for whom removing the bassist becomes a liberating act. He relished the space, the permission to go and dig deep into the piano keys with the full weight of his left arm, to let those lower sonorities resonate, gloriously. He doesn't go out to impress with new tricks, Bojan's energy and musicianship are completely renewing and certainly held the attention of this listener.
By contrast, the second band tonight, the trio of Christophe Monniot - saxophones, Bruno Chevillon - double bass, and Franck Vaillant - drums, appearing for the first time in Germany, were seeking out the alternative sounds and extended technique almost constantly. Chevillon started the evening playing the bass with part of a percussionist's tool-kit, and Vaillant was constantly searching for alternative timbres from the drums and the cymbals. The band had a very warm reception indeed. It took me a while to get used to th idea that the humour in Monniot's performance was almost entirely wordless. He didn't win an audience over the direct way - by talking to them . He preferred to situate himself in the strong, deep French tradition of bringing laughter without necessarily communcating with words. From Marcel Marceau to M. Hulot, (and probably ever since the Commedia dell'arte) the French have responded to non-verbal laughter triggers. Monniot's way is to get out of balance, to raise a leg, to hover around the stage. He deconstructs jazz tunes like Summertime and Kurt Weill's Speak Low. Monniot has a very powerful sound, but I found myself being drawn in more to the playing of the (slightly underbalanced) highly impressive bassist Chevillon, who seemed very much in control.
The final group is bound to get around Europe quite a bit. The band is called "We Are All Americans", after a quote from Theodore Roosevelt. The Danish guitarist, an adoptive Frenchman, Hasse Poulsen (also part of the band Das Kapital) refused to acknowledge leadership of the band which he described as a highly collaborative group in whaich all members wriite and contrivbute to the development of repertoire. Guitarist Adrien Dennefeld is getting known to UK audiences through his work (also on 'cello) with groups involving Kit Downes, and is a fine composer, an outstanding soloist, and a very subtle contributor to any band's texture.
The other members Benjamin Flament, vibraphonist and current member of the Take Five Europe mentoring initiative and Julien Chamla - drums , were all highly impressive. But it's also about the tunes, and this band seems a cauldron of compositional talent. The band vibe goes from tricky jazz unison lines, all impeccably dispatched, to Frisellish energetic alt. country, but it is all lively, and creates an interesting range of possibilities. An album will be worth looking forward to. They were working tonight with photographic and video projection of Denis Rouvre, whose images were particularly effective over Dennefeld's Quatre Chemins, a piece in which a passacaglia like harmonic repeat figure was being used to accompany still photos of low-life USA, the images changing every fourth beat.
This is a band worth watching out for. Tomorrow it's the final night, with festival poster boy Daniel Humair (above).