FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015 - 29th June

Laura Jurd's Human Spirit at Schloss Fahlburg
Suedtirol Jazz Festival
(Various Locations in Alto Adige, Northern Italy. 29th June 2015. Report by Alison Bentley)

This is the first of Alison's reports.

The town of Bolzano (Bozen) was full of British musicians walking round with a slightly glazed look, staring at the mountains and muttering words like, ‘beautiful’ and ‘stupendous’. Bolzano and neighbouring towns, nestling in the mountains of South Tyrol, were hosting ‘UK Sounds’ this year in a variety of extraordinary venues.

In the garden of the Parkhotel Laurin, amongst the palms and tall pines, Alice Zawadzki’s voice drifted serenely like the breeze over Moss Freed’s gentle guitar- jazzy, husky. Her pizzicato violin blended with the sounds of the fountain as the violin and guitar harmonised lines in Freed’s Lose Ourselves. Cut Me Down was about a Scottish tree threatened with felling. Zawadski sang with great passion: sometimes with a rich Joan Baez vibrato against the distortion of Freed’s rock-edged guitar and looped chords; sometimes with Bjork-like wails. In her song about separated lovers, her voice and violin slid expressively together.

A Sephardic wedding song brought out more Eastern timbres in her voice, blending classical tones with early music and folk, the way British singer Belinda Sykes can. Bolzano’s bells rang out serendipitously, in the same key, as if joining in the song’s wedding celebrations- a very special moment. A Polish song once sung by a great aunt (an opera singer in Poland) followed, with a gypsy feel, and a fine solo from Freed over pizzicato violin. A Ligeti song played without words had wonderfully atonal harmony. Alice’s own song Ring of Fire had the rootsiest, bluesiest feel, before a moving version of Sandy Denny’s Quiet Joys of Brotherhood Freed’s beautifully wavering notes recalled Bill Frisell, and he even sang the original’s complex close harmony. The duo created so many thoughtful textures, but above all a special intensity.

Imagine a fairy tale castle at the top of a winding mountain road, far above the town: here in front of Fahlburg Castle, trumpeter Laura Jurd performed music she’d written for her band Human Spirit as a commission for the 2012 London Jazz Festival. The sheltered garden sloped down towards the castle, creating a natural amphitheatre and perfect sound, as the moon rose above the distant crags.

The pieces had sentences sung or intoned by Lauren Kinsella with a pure folk-tinged sound- just enough to provoke the imagination, as if telling the beginning of a story, or as if lines from a play had been set to music. She Knew Him (“She knew him till his dying day”) began like a hymn before Mick Foster’s squawky bass sax broke into funky slap-tonguing and walrus grunts. In Brighter Days sweet harmonies became funky overlapping riffs and a beautifully melodic trombone solo from Colm O’Hara. Kinsella’s wild laughter created a frisson as the sun set. Some heavy distortion from Alex Roth’s guitar fell against the light trumpet and vocal lines, like comic characters tumbling over each other. Chris Batchelor’s trumpet solo shivered over the grungy sounds.

Pirates had a sense of searching for adventure: childlike wonder and innocence with a hint of theatrical menace and anarchy. There were African influences and big breezy phrases; sections that grew out of each other and repeated. Blinded ("In the desert was a man blinded by the dazzling sunlight”) seemed to have the playful spirit of Ornette Coleman; a folk feel with some Desert Blues. O’Hara’s trombone howled at the rising moon over Roth’s scratchy guitar. Human Spirit had brass band elements with monstrous rocky eruptions from Corrie Dick’s excellent drums under the delicate vocal lines: Kinsella has developed an improvising language of her own that could have come from Middle Earth. More Than Just a Fairy Tale (“Only you can set him free”) opened with Jurd and Batchelor harmonising and echoing each other’s phrases eerily before everyone joined in a wild section like a circus dance. In Closing Sequence the slow melody emerged from the driving drones of guitar, the chords changing under one note. Jurd’s solo had Miles and Hubbard influences but a clarity of thought and directness all her own.

This was music of wonderful contrasts from Laura Jurd’s musical imagination: carefully-written but free and wild; grungy yet innocent; uncompromising but always approachable.

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