Review: Antoine Berjeaut’s Wasteland feat. Mike Ladd; Courtois/ Léandre; J.A.S.S - Final Night of Jazzdor Strasbourg -Berlin

Antoine Berjeaut, Mike Ladd. Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin 2013.
Photo Credit: Mathieu Schoenahl

Antoine Berjeaut’s Wasteland feat. Mike Ladd; Courtois/ Léandre; J.A.S.S
(Jazzdor Strasbourg –Berlin. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

For its fourth and final night , the festival team at Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin conjured up another programme of highly contrasted acts.

This is being written less than an hour after the final applause died down, but the band likely to have gained the most from their exposure at this festival is Antoine Berjeaut’s Wasteland, a group of top young French players, performing with the American poet/ rapper Mike Ladd. The poetry/ hiphop element is likely to appeal to people who miss Gil Scott-Heron. The band has a distinct Miles / Silent Way edge to it, but also goes its own way. They all have a good grip of electronics: Antoine Berjeaut, the bandleader has a strong presence on trumpet, flügelhorn and live electronics. Jozef Dumoulin on Fender Rhodes is a classy player: he produced a synthed guitar solo of which Allan Holdsworth would have been proud ; bassist Stéphane Kerecki is just a very good, utterly musical bass player, and has got even better, and drummer Fabrice Moreau is creative, forceful, empathetic, who needs more?

Mike Ladd is not unknown: he has made a well-received album with Vijay Iyer. He also came to the Vortex in April 2011 supporting an album from a Berlin band, called Smooth Danger. The narrative he was gong through tonight, rooted in 1920’s history, racial politics in the US, with parallels being made with the Soviet Union went over my head, but I probably needed to concentrate more. The back projected low-fi films were effective and atmospheric.  But above all Ladd has a compelling presence on stage. His voice is capable of displaying vulnerability and menace, both with an unerring sense of musical and linguistic timing. It’s about time he came back to the UK. This show is strong and would work well in the Jazz Café or Village Underground, if a promoter out there is feeling courageous. I looked in vain for a recording at the end of the show, but I shall keep looking, because I'd like to hear more, and I don't think I was alone in thinking that.

Vincent Courtois, Joelle Léandre. Jazzdor Strasbourg - Berlin
Photo Credit: Mathieu Schoenahl
Earlier in the evening, the duo of Vincent Courtois ('cello) and Joelle Léandre (bass/ vocals) had given its first performance in this format in Germany. They make a contrasted pairing. It is probably too contrived a play on words, but their roles in this civilized, varied conversation could perhaps be described as allusive - for Courtois- and elusive - for Léandre. They both use a full armoury of extended string instrument effects : playing on the strings below the bridge, bowing on the 'cello spike, but the vocabulary that Courtois brought to the conversation was more recognizable in its alluding to classical music tropes, there was often a deliberate assertion of the cadence, the listener knew precisely where and when the tonic would sound. Léandre, on the other hand has probably always been a free spirit. There was one vocal episode from her which did sound as if it might be a hinting at the Canteloube Chansons d'Auvergne, but it was the briefest of moments, as if heard on the wing by Luciano Berio, and it is Léandre’s quicksilver ability to transform, to evolve which stays in the mind.

I have dewelt on the contrasts, but the appeal of this performance was also in the two performers’ ability to respond telepathically to every flicker of mood,and to move forwards. There was perfect unity in the gradations of their decrescendos, bringing the music to the borders of silence, through which they held the attention of the wiling, listening Berlin audience.

o - o - o -o

After the duo, it got more complicated in the second set, starting with the name of the band, J.A.S.S. It is made up from the initial letters of its four members: the drummer (J)ohn Hollenbeck, the saxophonist and Yolk Label proprietor (A)lban Darche, the trombonist (S)amuel Blaser and the bassist (S)ébastien Boisseau. The band was at its strongest, I found, when things got simpler, when the first-rate Hollenbeck/ Boisseau rhythm engine was properly unleashed and allowed to cruise at full power. For me there was real pleasure when these two classy players – not forgetting Blaser also, who is a strongly rhythmic player too - got themselves dug in to a tune such as Arche’s opener Driving Licence. They were at their most persuasive in the kind of groove you feel deep down, like Hollenbeck’s Jazz Envy where a delicate low melody was necessarily, inevitably, irresistibly overpowered. I felt the set needed more moments like that, with a little more oomph and little less art, but I’m sure not everyone would agree. The audience were definitely responding to the volume build and to the triumphant ending of Hollenbeck’s closer No ‘D’, in which the band showed how a groove can build heft and strength. They liked that, and gave it long, loud applause, seeking (in vain, as it turned out) for more - and similar.

Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin 2013.
Photo Credit: Mathieu Schoenahl
Four days, twelve concerts, Berlin in the sunshine. Merci Jazzdor, Auf Wiedersehen Berlin!

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