REVIEW: Jazzdor Berlin 2016 - Day 2 (Joachim Kühn & Emile Parisien/ Dominique Pifarély Quartet/ Sylvain Rifflet’s Mechanics)

Joachim Kühn & Emile Parisien
Photo credit: Mathieu Schoenahl / Jazzdor

Jazzdor Berlin 2016 Day 2
(Kesselhaus, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin. June 1st 2016. Review by Alison Bentley.)

There’s so much jazz in Berlin they even produce a special Jazz map of the city. The Jazzdor Festival is in the middle of the Kulturbrauerei, a former brewery now dedicated to culture. German pianist Joachim Kühn and French soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien stirred their music into a heady brew. They've played together in other bands but never as a duo, and it was an inspired pairing.

Kühn has recorded a live album with Ornette Coleman, and Parisien is part of a trio album (‘Yes Ornette!’) so Coleman’s spirit was never far away. Kühn’s Missing a Page opened freely before switching from gentle to scurrying passages. Each of Parisien’s phrases rose to a focal point like a spoken sentence- an intense conversation with Kühn that included the audience. Coleman’s melodic Homogeneous Emotions had slower brooding cluster chords, Parisien’s vibrato as sweet as Bechet’s, yet playing harsher intervals. Kühn was almost wrestling with the piano, in a mixture of classical virtuosity and free jazz energy. He sounded like a whole quartet all by himself, as in Because of Mouloud, with its rocky left hand and strong groove. The soprano’s sliding, almost Oriental notes had a little Coltrane in them. In Préambule Parisien used harmonics to split the notes - but technique was there to help pour out whatever was in his mind.

Researching Has No Limit brought Ligeti and Ravel piano lines to Coleman quirky themes and rock feel. Parisien brought new notes to half-familiar bop shapes. In L'Arôme D'Air it wasn’t possible to tell where melody ended and improvisation began. There was a flamenco tug between chords and tune, and the passion of the Spanish saeta - you felt it was costing them something to play. Coleman’s Point Dancing sounded like a child who’d just opened a present, pulling the music out with an extraordinary responsiveness to each other's playing.

Although they’re about 40 years apart in age, the two seemed as if they’ve been playing together all their lives. They have a new CD out in September - Emile Parisien Quintet with Joachim Kühn.


Dominique Pifarély Quartet
Photo credit: Mathieu Schoenahl / Jazzdor
French violinist Dominique Pifarély’s Quartet were launching their new ECM CD Tracé Provisoire. They opened with free improvisation, violin harmonics floating on Antonin Rayon’s fluid piano, the aural spotlight moving from musician to musician. As Bruno Chevillon (bass) and François Merville (drums) brought in the asymmetrically funky groove, there was a real sense of excitement.

The pieces merged together; Chevillon played pizzicatissimo, plucking the bass with a plectrum. Occasional bursts of drum sound came from a scrubbing brush on the snare, following the sweet violin vibrato. They all froze like statues, waiting for the next groove to begin; Chevillon’s upright electric bass had trompe l’oeil shoulders, as if the rest of the instrument had disappeared. The 9/8 pulse drew together many styles: the violin alluded to folk, rock and free jazz rather than bebop, in echoes of both John McLaughlin and L. Shankar. The simple groove highlighted the piano complexities, which owed as much to Ligeti as to Monk - then a crashing groove with shades of Maiden Voyage.

The variety of moods felt as if we were listening to a much larger ensemble (Pifarély has worked with Mike Westbrook and the Vienna Art Orchestra among many more.) Afro-Latin rhythms subsided; piano notes dropped like stones into a pool, with a keening violin and toybox of drum sounds. A wild groove developed, Pifarély extending the vocabulary of improvisation- a kind of 12-tone jazz. (Set list: Le peuple effacé I; Tracé provisoire I; Le regard de Lenz; Tracé provisoire II ; Tout a déjà commence.)

Sylvain Rifflet Mechanics
Photo credit: Mathieu Schoenahl / Jazzdor
French sax-player Sylvain Rifflet’s band Mechanics was a total contrast, despite having similar roots in jazz, folk and modern classical music, though more minimalist - Philip Glass rather than Ligeti. Joce Mienniel’s flute opened, Rifflet’s tongued percussive sax and Philippe Gordiani’s electric guitar playing the bass role. Benjamin Flament’s percussion added more layers, with gamelan-like percussion and small drum kit. The guitar had an indie feel- a little Radiohead, or mesmeric Portico Quartet, but adding a tough tenor tone and Mienniel on kalimba. The 13/8 convoluted flute and sax riffs hardly left time to breathe.

The next piece had a trip hoppy backbeat, the guitar a percussion instrument, Mienniel singing into the flute to thicken the sound. Gordiani’s grungy solo touched on Hendrix and Rifflet had some Coltrane in the tone - but the strength was in the wonderfully unusual textures.

‘If you want to know the titles, just buy the album,’ Rifflet said, revealing the title of the next piece: Enough Fucking Guitar! The guitar was strummed, an undercurrent beneath the 80s feel of sax and flute - like Human League played in strange time signatures on real instruments. In another piece a low, looped guitar drone eased into a crescendo where sax and flute tossed riffs to each other. A sax and percussion duet blurred the distinction between the two instruments, with a little Joe Henderson in the sax solo - then a grungy Irish folk feel, drums like a bodhran. A striking 7/4 piece with Bach-like tumbling flute and sax lines gave way to a solo sax coda with a circus-style melody, where Rifflet played all parts at once.

This was jazz with attitude, but also subtlety, fun and most of all a compelling ensemble feel.

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