FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Day One of 2015 Inntoene (Bobby Watson, Kaja Draksler, David Helbock )

Paul Zauner, Festival Director, introdcing the Matthias Schriefl Multi Orchestra

Inntoene Jazz Festival 2015
(Diersbach, Austria. Friday 22nd May. Day One Review by Alison Bentley)

At the farm run by Festival Director Paul Zauner, the audience was gathering in the huge barn, with its cavernous wooden roof. The walls had just a little red velvet to soften the sound. The audience had to squeeze between the rows of seats and the TV crew, interviewing Matthias Schriefl about his 14-piece big band, who altogether play 80 instruments. The band opened the Festival with a blast: serious musicianship and huge fun. Schriefl admires Django Bates, and there was a Loose Tubes feel to the set, with its deadpan anarchy and mix of careful orchestration and wild improvisation. Schriefl writes and arranges everything: themes inspired by music from his home in the Bavarian Alps mixed with tangos and sambas; free jazz, and jembe-led African rhythms. The changeable weather of Schriefl’s home was reflected in the dazzling changes of mood. A snapshot: a melancholy trumpet (Schriefl) and trombone theme with chime bars and drifting guitar chords got funky, as bassist Alex Morsey picked up a rudely fruity sousaphone. Schriefl and John Bear brandished alpenhorns in eerie harmony. (Schriefl likes to imagine how the alpenhorn would’ve sounded had it been invented in Africa.)Two piccolos squealed over dancey bass sax and three kicking trombones. The music was wonderfully irreverent and intense.

Solo pianist Kaja Draksler drew the audience into her spell, blending modern Classical music (Ligeti, Messiaen) and free jazz (Cecil Taylor is a strong influence) as well as stride and bop. Particularly gorgeous were two pieces inspired by her native Slovenia: a folk song where the spiky right hand worked against the brooding left hand, and a piece inspired by church bells. She scraped the piano strings to produce darker overtones before resolving into a childlike innocence. Some improvisations on Messiaen motifs had a pure, crystalline quality. Her jazz influences seemed stronger on Delicious Irony with shades of Ellington, and her (second!) encore, a rich version of Monk’s Ask Me Now.

Along with the thick blankets and glucose tablets distributed by the organisers, the warmth of Bobby Watson’s sax swept us along. The band were just finishing their tour and ‘…usually the last of the tour is the best one!’ he enthused. He played tunes from his own history: A Wheel Within a Wheel and ETA from his work with Art Blakey in the 70s. In the former, his languid bluesiness would suddenly break out into fast chromatic notes that sent a shiver down the spine. “That bad mo’ fo’”, trumpeter Stéphane Belmondo sat in on ETA, negotiating the tight bends of the chords, like a speedy Giant Steps. Curtis Lundy’s effortlessly cool bass pulse propelled Appointment in Milano, from an 80s album by Watson. Eric Kennedy’s (aka ‘Sir Swingalot’!) dramatic drum solo absorbed audience and band alike- Watson and Lundy watched him admiringly over his shoulder. Sweet Dreams, from their new album, had a singing bass solo, and in Soul Eyes, Watson played glittering arpeggios, always keeping the shape of the melody. In Donny Hathaway’s Someday We’ll All be Free (‘we’re trying to interpret it’) you could hear the late singer’s velvet tones in the sax. Richard Johnson’s fine piano solo was gospel-edged with a hint of Jarrett.

‘It feels like a party- all our friends are here,’ said Watson, and you could tell the audience felt the same; a place to meet friends old and new.

Pianist David Helbock’s Austrian trio Random/Control played music from their new CD Think of Two, where they rethink tunes by Thelonious Monk and Hermeto Pascoal. Pascoal liked their style so much, he even wrote a piece for them. Their performance was fun and theatrical, with lots of instrument swapping (they play 30 instruments between them). At one point John Bear was alternating phrases between trumpet and tuba (held on his knee like a baby), while Andi Broger was playing two saxes at once in harmony. Bear divided his alpenhorn into two pieces, playing one half like a deep theremin and puffing the other like a didgeridoo. Helbock looked umbilically linked to a melodica whilst playing piano. In Pascoal’s Voa Ilza, Helbock seemed to attack the piano from within- bluesy, funky, Brazilian grooves punched out by Bear’s sousaphone. Round Midnight (played somewhere around that time of night) began with evocative, digitally-looped forest sounds from Helbock’s toybox of bells and whistles. The melody had striking new harmonies and a beautiful countermelody from Broger’s bass clarinet aligned with Bear’s muted trumpet. The trio’s ferocious instrumental technique provided the ‘control’ underpinning their ‘random’ playful improv.

After 30 years, Paul Zauner seems to have a sixth sense for programming music to keep his loyal audience enthralled- they come back year after year.

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