REVIEW: Hear Here! at Cafe Oto

Hear Here! Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Hear Here!
(Cafe Oto, 8 March 2015; day 2 of 2-day residency; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Receiving its world première at Cafe Oto, Hear Here!, is an ambitious project, nurtured by Stockholm-based pianist Lisa Ullén, which brings together a group of five leading Swedish improvising musicians, "in a continuous changing set up" where "each concert will be [a] totally improvised experience", for performances in which they also collaborate with invited local musicians at each of their worldwide destinations. Tokyo is penned in for the autumn and New York in 2016.

Serendipitously, on the night of International Women's Day, five of the seven performers were women. Accompanying Ullén were Sofia Jernberg (vocals), Nina de Heney (bass), Ida Lundén (electronics and objects) and David Stackenäs (guitar). Each of these musicians has substantial credentials, crossing the lines between contemporary, improv and jazz and they have worked variously with dance, theatre, film and the fine arts, winning awards and Swedish national support funding along the way.

In the second set, they were joined by London-based dedicated improvisers, Ute Kanngiesser (cello) and Seymour Wright (alto sax).

Both sets were spun through with magical tensions, developing conversations in an internal language of understatement that balanced on a knife-edge.

Jernberg made an rivetting impression in the autumn as a vocalist with Fire! Orchestra. In Cafe Oto's intimate setting she again made an exceptional vocal contribution, with a brilliance and subtlety so melded with the enveloping sounds that full attention was demanded to appreciate its sheer invention and dexterity.

De Heney's lithe bass passages, where body and instrument became one, Jernberg's bird-like utterances recalling Messiaen's fascination with bird calls, and Lundén's fuzzy electronics complemented Stackenäs's sharp, abstract guitar work and Ullén's energetic precision.

De Heney wove busy, under-the-radar bass lines, and went percussive with light bow and hand taps. Lundén fed ultra-discreet sampling into the mix, and with Jernberg's barely perceptible whistlings and vocal harmonics created a mood of quiet otherworldliness.

Wright's soaring foghorn sax shattered the delicate drive initiated by Kanngiesser's careful single note strategy which opened the second set. Jernberg rose to the challenge with searing vocals, that cut through at every level. A swift dissolution into spidery, tinkling touches on strings and keyboard were a cue for an absorbing solo from de Heney. Pumped sax punches suddenly heightened the tension, only partially dispelled when cello and bass took joint rhythmic responsibility in a final section quivering with mildly distressed unease.

This premiere of Hear Here! was captured with a recording by Sigge Kranz and on Super 8 film by Mårten Nilsson, whose whirring camera added incidental sound as he moved around the room - the audience were warned in advance!

This concert was generously supported by the Swedish Embassy and Musikcentrum Ost.

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