FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2015 - July 1st (Part 3 of 3)

Ruth Goller and Kit Downes

Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2015
Various Locations in Alto Adige, 1st July 2015.Report by Alison Bentley)

This is the third and last of Alison's reports from Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2015

‘I had no idea that there was such a thing as British jazz,’ said an American tourist on the vertiginous cable car ride up into the mountains. At the top was Ritten (Renon) station where 9-piece UK street band Perhaps Contraption were poised ready to play; the sun blazed on their red and yellow clothes (even a yellow trombone). Formed by Christo Squier (flute, piccolo, guitar), the band has a strict musical discipline and untrammelled punky energy, somewhere between the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and British ska band Madness. They boarded the mountain train with us, moving from carriage to carriage like buskers on the London Underground. They all sang (megaphones bright yellow, of course), ‘We must be free!’ French horn and sax played klezmer-like riffs while the percussionist clambered on seat backs and racks with glee.

Perhaps Contraption. Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

Back in Bolzano’s Jazz Station, pianist Kit Downes and bassist Ruth Goller were leading a workshop. ‘Each peak needs a trough,’ said Downes- he could have been referring to the mountains, but was talking about tension and release in harmony. The duo demonstrated these ideas, and it was a pleasure to listen to them play together- partly because we were able to listen out for what they were doing. They played Oscar Peterson’s Night Train (the first jazz piece Downes ever heard); There Will Never Be Another You; All the Things You Are; Clifford Brown’s Sandu, and a funky Scofield tune. They talked about the kinds of chord sequences that occur in jazz tunes, and ways of improvising to create ‘a lot of tension and a big resolution’. ‘These things happen by chance,’ said Goller.‘You chase, follow each other.’ Rather than simply learning musical phrases to copy into his own solos, Downes likes to take the shape and ‘harmonic information’ of a given phrase. Goller plays rock and pop too, where she has to play things ‘as they are written’. They demonstrated being ‘in the pocket’- where they both ‘fit nicely into the tempo’- and how they might move away from that. It was important for Downes to trust her to keep the groove steady, while he played in front of or behind the beat. ‘Squash it, squeeze it, stretch it,’ he said. ‘You have to trust your own inner time,’ commented Goller. She described the tension between listening to what the other musicians are doing while at the same time ignoring it.

Matthew Bourne Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

In the austere white Museion Art Gallery, solo pianist Matthew Bourne continued the piano series curated by Downes. Bourne was disarmingly playful and deeply serious. He padded barefoot to the grand piano and slapped it inside and out with his sandals, plucking the stings like an oudh, exploring all the sounds the piano could make. The noises buzzed round the room, with its bright acoustic and mountain views. ‘They’re new, these shoes,’ he said, as he pulled them out of the piano. ‘Quite clean.’ His compositions (several from his 2011 album Montauk Variations) ranged from the minimalist to the maverick and volcanic. The pieces had a powerful emotional pull: stillness, but with some spiny harmonies. One was a like a spare version of Bill Evans’ Peace Piece, achingly beautiful, simple as a musical box. Chapin’s Smile (‘the only standard I know’) was slow and yearning. The encore was like a storm suddenly descending on the mountains, the notes finding their way like water down the rocks. I wanted to hear the whole concert all over again.

In Bolzano’s main square, the day’s heat hung on as the sun set on the distant crags. German band Frigloob played an extraordinary range of styles with aplomb. They moved from grungy rock (guitar from Johannes Emminger); funk (led by bassist Maximilian Hirning and drummer Sebastian Wolfgruber); Lee Konitz-like swing (clarinettist Jakob Lakner) and Eastern European folk (Lakner is a klezmer specialist).

UK trio Three Trapped Tigers ended the evening with a gig worthy of stadium rock. Full-on from the first tune, Matt Calvert’s distorted guitar sound, Tom Rogerson’s keyboards and Adam Betts’ inventive drumming grabbed the audience by the throat and wouldn’t let us go. Each piece had strong melodies, and often simple chords. It was difficult to hear which instrument produced which sound, especially as Calvert also played synth, but it didn’t seem to matter- they were about creating textures, rather than demonstrating individual virtuosity. There was sometimes an 80s sound, redolent of Kraftwerk, but stirred up with heavy metal guitar- the kind of metal you might hear from Incubus. Sometimes they invoked the 70s, with Soft Machine-style swirling synths. Other tunes sounded a little like Brad Meldhau’s work with Mark Guiliana- those bubbling keys with drum ‘n’ bass grooves from Betts.

It would be easy for bands to be upstaged by the mountains themselves- but the Trapped Tigers had definitely escaped. Having prowled the elegant squares of Bolzano, they were probably off to cause an avalanche. The crowd roared their approval.

 LINKS: Festival Round Up 1 
 Festival Round-Up 2

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