ROUND-UP REVIEW: Second Day of Inntoene 2016 (Austria) - Al Foster Quartet, Gadi Lehavi Trio, Márcio Faraco, Ruthie Foster, Bruno Heinen and Kristian Borring etc

A complete triumph and a standing ovation forGadi Lehavi (piano - left),
Tal Maschich (centre - bass) and Shachar Elnatan (drums - right)

Sebastian writes:

First impressions count. The Inntoene Festival has just one main stage which is not cleared of the audience between the sets. That means that a substantial proportion, perhaps half of the 800-900 audience - including those who want to make absolutely sure that their precious seats don't get usurped - is present in the barn watching the sound-checks.

This implies that the very first contact, the beginnning of the process of establishing that mystical rapport between artist and audience happens to the sound of unemotive words such as "testing-one-two-one-two," or "is this the right mic?"

Some performers are totally, obviously at ease in this context. They have that sixth sense that they can start winning the audience over. It can be done with charm and friendliness, or with the display of musicality of their every utterance, or with the respect they show for the needs of the stage-hands and the sound crew and Austrian Radio going about their jobs. Less canny performers, though, fail to suss it, go into some kind of 'if-I can't-see-you-you-can't-see-me' mode, and behave as if they and the technicians have just walked into a room devoid of people. Their performances run the risk of starting with an attention deficit.

The complete charm and grace of Brazilian singer Márcio Faraco, for example, had already won over a sizeable contingent of new fans in the audience in the afternoon, with just his smile and the first tender and gentle strums of his guitar. Much later, Ruthie Foster gave the audience something to whoop and cheer at, before the set had even begun, belting out melisma on "Lemme have it - One two three." By contrast the Austrian team performing a project in memory of Harry Pepl were constrained by their more complicated set-up involving accompanying tapes, and they didn't help their cause by coming across as slightly anxious, and even a bit tetchy. Al Foster's quartet as they emerged to sound-check showed their priorities and hierarchy: what was evident was the care they all take that their legend of a bandleader should be happy and fulfilled. He tends to be, he was, and it was definitely all right in the end.

I regrettably missed that early part of the process for what seemed the most succcessful and memorable performance of the day, because I arrived during the set, by which time the audience had already clearly made up its mind to like the band. In programming terms, the Gadi Lehavi Trio was a complete leap in the dark by Paul Zauner, because the group didn't actually exist when he booked it. It was also a complete triumph. These are three good friends, originally from Israel, who are currently based in New York. Zauner had become aware of Lehavi through his work with saxophonist Eli Degibri, and explored the possibility of a group with him as leader. Lehavi enlisted the support of like-minded friends, and the result is the lightest-touch piano trio one can imagine, definitely a case of the caress rather than the assault. Their performance of Paul Simon's Still Crazy After all these Years summed up completely the gentleness of their aesthetic, the calm places these three good friends want to go together. Perhaps it all stems from having a drummer, Shachar Elnatan, who isn't like other drummers, because he is in fact, he told me, a guitarist, with an album due out in the autumn. He and Tal Maschich are fine, self-aware, less-is-more musicians. This trio is definitely going places.

Bruno Heinen and Kristian Borring

Completely different rules pertain over on the small subsidiary St Pig's pub stage, where Bruno Heinen and Kristian Borring were playing their Bill Evans / Jim Hall project, but fighting a losing battle, with their quiet beauty pitted against a room full of animated conversations.

Márcio Faraco a singer guitarist from Alegrete, one of the southernmost towns in Brazil is a delight. He made his home for two decades in Paris and now shuttles between Paris and Rio. He sang captivating songs of his own, plus a few departures. Faraco - as mentioned above - has a platform manner so infectiously friendly, warm and welcoming it made the huge barn seen like a very small club. A delightful feature was the Piaf song À quoi ça sert l'amour re-interpreted as a bossa nova and having gained the permission of the composer Michel Emer's estate, a whistling chorus too. Fun.

He had a lovely turn of phrase when he described the challenge he had faced when he had tried to write songs in a language which is not his native tongue, French: "it is difficult because you don't know the weight of the words." That drew attention back to quite how natural and how precisely weighted his delivery is in his native Portuguese. A festival hit and a definite recommendation.

Dayna Stephens, Doug Weiss and the radiant smile of Al Foster.
(Absent from shot: pianist Adam Birnbaum) 

Festivals bring nice surprises. In this case, for me, it was to hear the wonderful, authoritative, focused, Stan Getz-ian sound of tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens in Con Alma at the opening of the Al Foster Quartet's set. What a joy to hear such a fine player in the flesh for the first time, to clock the playing of a man whose main notoriety in the past few years has been the stories (such as this one) of his urgent need for a kidney transplant. Another pleasure was to witness the palpable joy, the undimmed sense of engagement and the creative precision of the 73 year-old Miles veteran Al Foster, responding to the encouragement and the support of the top-flight New York band surrounding him.

The last set of the day was from Texan singer-songwriter Ruthie Foster (no relation to the drummer) and her trio. I heard the beginning of a blues-tinged, gospel-based, powerful, happy, life-affirming set. Foster has the right ingredients for good music and a good time: a strong soulful voice, and a drummer and a bassist who both double - and also dovetail and deliver - as excellent backing singers.

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