ROUND-UP REVIEW: 12Points Festival 2016 in San Sebastian

The audience in the Teatro Victoria Eugenia

12Points Festival 2016 (hosted by Heineken Jazzaldia Festival)
(Teatro Victoria Eugenia, Donostia/San Sebastian, Spain. July, 20 – 23. Review by Henning Bolte) 

The 12Points perspective

12Points Festival (website) focuses primarily on promising and emerging young musicians. and sets their music in a multicultural, geographically varying European context. Every edition presents musicians/groups from 12 different European countries that satisfy the high demands and aims of an innovative festival that has developed a very strong reputation in its first decade.

For this year’s 10th edition, in the splendid ancient style Teatro Victoria Eugenia, the festival was presented as part of the Heineken Jazzaldia in San Sebastian. As might be expected, what was on offer was a balanced choice of a multitude of high quality offspring of jazz prototypes in manifold regional colourings. The regional backgrounds with its special embossing this year were Barcelona, Lisbon, Paris, Bern, Vienna, Leipzig, Dublin, London, Aarhus, Stockholm and Oslo.

In a situation of increasing confusion and conflict about the institutions of the EU it is important to emphasize that an event like 12Points operates from the ground up. Its core is in the regional backgrounds and characteristics and the deeper cultural specificities and sensibilities, rather than from projections, constructs at the national level.

Considering the participating groups, three overlapping clusters could be discerned:

- ROCK/NEW BEATS DRIVEN: Chromb!, Strobes, Nordmann, Water Boogie System, The Embla

- PLAYFUL PARTICLES: Holsen, Sartorius, Mezquida, Insufficient Fun

- The CORE JAZZ FORMAT: Klesse, Four Seasons, Barradas Trio


Two solo performers, trumpeter and electronista Hilde Marie Holsen from Oslo, and drummer Julius Sartorius from Bern (who solely worked with mechanical acoustic instruments) delivered the most advanced, intriguing performances, in which they completely transcended the known formats of music.

Hilde Marie Holsen

Holsen is a new flowering of the Norwegian trumpet legacy. In Holsen’s vertically expanding music, created on the spot, cross-fading, gritting and spreading layers of sound, crunching sand and croaking toads, permeated dune-like silhouettes and airy swathes. Finally it ran into the sound of her solitary trumpet. The silver glow of its sound was beautiful, set against the red plush of the Victoria Eugenia theatre

I wrote about a previous concert by Holsen at last year’s Punkt Festival in Kristiansand (full 2015 review published in All About Jazz): the concert “was enthralling as well as confusing. This young woman appeared to be a performer with a natural concentration, totally dedicated to her music without any attempt to impress. Her music did not meet the ingrained expectations of linearity, but nonetheless remained extremely fascinating and full of mystery. It could cause a conflict in the listener's mind with different accesses to the shore of surrender of fascination, but that shore is more than worthwhile.”

In San Sebastian Holsen continued and improved on that line. She is a promising force and definitely a real new, strong (trumpet) voice in the electronic field.

Julius Sartorius

Julius Sartorius, also performing solo, conjured beautiful strange sounds from his drum set complemented by an assortment of mostly small percussive devices, melting it all in marvellous, stimulating, orchestrated sound.

A few months ago I wrote this about a concert of Sartorius:

“Sartorius operated off the beaten track realizing an amazingly high musical level in his a wonderful and fascinating performance. He accomplished it by consistently musicalizing everyday tools plus the skin, metal and wood of his drum set. His performance was not a drum solo in the conventional sense. Rather a dedicated and passionate musician made the drum (and a lot of assorted utensil) sing instead. Of crucial importance was his way of manipulating the material. It was easily observable, very tangible and it had its celestial traits too – even under the circum- stances of a showcase. It would still be more intensified when the audience would be seated close(r)by. In astonishing ways Sartorius developed the flow, wove textures and evoked poetical lines and rondeaus. The total performance was an exhilarating reinvention on the heel of great momentum. There was no attempt to impress but only pure dedication to make all beautiful strange sounds climb up, merge and resonate widely into place and space. The process and the sounding result, both of it enhanced each other. That is what made it utterly fascinating and satisfying to watch and to listen to it closely. With his format transcending performance Sartorius succeeded in establishing a close complicity with the audience. He created a new thing by a beguiling recombination of old as well as new means.”

(Full review published in London Jazz News)

Both performed up to the expectation in the sense that both have again advanced considerably. Hilde Marie Holsen’s music clearly places  demands  on the sections of the audience who are not familiar with new, non-linear electronic music. That said, Julius Sartorius is able to draw all kinds of audiences in to his fascinating and precision-engineered spectacle.

His performance also proved popular, receiving a spontaneous and warm response in the form of a standing ovation.

Marks and moulds

Drummer Eva Klesse and her group from Leipzig shone brightly through mysterious narratives alternating whispering airy passages with dense climaxes and suspended sudden halts. In its highly inventive playing Klesse’s group, comprising pianist Philipp Frischkorn, bassist Robert Lucaciu and saxophonist Evgeny Ring, united subtleness and compactness in a highly consistent and distinctive way.

Eva Klesse

Pianist Marco Mezquida from Barcelona playfully crossed vast musical areas in excellent execution from Colombian rondos via tintinnabuli soundings, to gospel in Ray Charles mode. Mezquida is an outstanding, creative musician, who seems to have no limits in absorbing, adapting, sequencing and playfully executing such heterogeneity. However also creative restrictions - less is more - should be focused on, to prevent the music from feeling overloaded at times.

Greek, Brazilian, Swedish and Austrian youth experiences were united and directed to one splendid sound in the music of Four Seasons from Graz. It is the clear instrumental voices of rising trumpet star Gerhard Ornig, trombonist Karel Eriksson with the impeccable rhythm side of bassist Vasilis Koutsonanos and drummer Luis Andre Carneiro de Olivera. It resulted in a brilliant up-tempo brass sound with lots of seaside and high mountainous shades of light and an attractive stage presentation. The music’s mark: fresh with a scent of West Coast nostalgia. And then there was the accordion of João Barradas, a confident young musician from Lisbon performing with his trio of bassist André Rosinha and drummer João Lopes Pereira. It was a very concentrated show, endearing but only occasionally with a visible smile in his face. I am looking forward how his apparent capacities will develop into a more outspoken voice of his own.

Drums still played an important role in this edition. There were only two appearances without drums: the performance of trumpeter Hilde Marie Holsen and the recital of pianist Marco Mezquida (who however used small percussion instruments and exploited the percussive possibilities of the piano). There was a solo performance on drums (Julius Sartorius), a drum-vocal combination (The Embla) and there was a female drummer as bandleader (Eva Klesse). There were no groups with two drummers (maybe it is something for more advanced phases) but there was this bass saxophone and drums duo of Sam Comerford and Matthew Jacobson, called Insufficient Funs from Dublin, a daring affair in a still sparsely populated area. For the bass saxophone Lyudas Mockunas and Collin Stetson come to mind as musicians who had set standards recently. Jacobson and Comerford definitely went their own way, did bas(s)ic research and figured out their passages. In their dynamical performance they did not walk on thin ice. They made convincing combinations with their instruments and modes of approaching their instrument’s role in the interplay – from second line beat things to In-The-Mood-like themes. They still have to work on sequencing and highlighting the parts of their stage performance. Visually Comerford’s posture with the instrument has it already.


CHROMB! from Paris and Strobes from London delivered captivating new beats and rock driven sounds based on contrasting sources intriguing for opposing reasons. The three musicians of Strobes, keyboarder Dan Nicholls, guistarist Matt Calvert and drummer Joshua Blackmore, play their masterful game of shifting elementary patterns into appealing on-the-edge complexities, spacing out rhythmically sophisticated and richly layered. The threesome forms a special sonic triangle mirroring, topping and pushing each other within complex electrified weavings. CHROMB! on the contrary plays its very own monomaniac, speeded up, pretty weird cartoon music with lo-fi appeal. The unit of saxophonist Antoine Mermet, keyboarder Camille Durieux, bassist Lucas Hercberg and (new) drummer Corentin Quemener played a crossbreed of Naked City, zappa-esque elements as well as Canterbury, Melt Banana and Serge Gainsbourg traits. It is its ‘found music’. As a new thing the band regularly burst out in hilarious vocals of the Flo&Eddie type delivering nicely distorted versions of old popular songs. The band has its very own incisive what-the-hack-is-this appeal. This they used in a highly consistent and entertaining way. In a way they revive something of the old Willem Breuker role in full update. It seems the group has earned high credibility in rock- as well as jazz circuits.

Nordmann formed a rock heavy minimalistic counterpoint to both CHROMB! and Strobes. As one of the great crossbreed breeds of the flourishing Belgian scene, the Nordmann musicians (bass)guitarists Edmund Lauret and Dries Geusens with saxophonist Matthias De Craene and drummer Elias Devoldere entered a repetitious blend of radically stripped, sharply electrified rock guitar riffs and tenor saxophone of epic dimension, sometimes slow and heavily dragging and then with speedy razor sharp jubilation or even lyrical. Keeping it low on the ground mostly, the band worked through its radically reduced rock mould at times reminding of Japanese band Mono. It is the blend of heavy electric guitar and woodwinds that was at the centre of its music but also a flock of bagpipes would be in place as counterpart. I am looking forward how its daring approach will be stretched and enriched.

A much lighter blend with a good amount of pop sensibility were presented by the other two Scandinavian configurations, duo The Embla from Danish Aarhus and the foursome of Water Boogie System (Karin Verbaan, Jonathan Albrektson, William Soovik, Viktor Reuter) from Stockholm. The first piece of The Embla, a radically stripped down combination of Frej Lesner on drum with the vocals of Nana (Cecilie Gaardsted) Bevling, was a strong, refreshing point of departure of the festival. The promising opener went into slightly disappointing more of the same mode in the long run. Water Boogie System was a skipping affair with a lot of funny entertaining jump cuts and nice mingling of song elements, rhythm changes and story lines.

Jazz Futures

At its tenth edition 12Points indeed presented a well-balanced choice from this three jazz variants with in each segment pairings of contrasting realiziations/mani-festations of the same breeding ground. It can serve as an orientation when checking other or own regional/local scenes, which variants are flourishing on its grounds. Is there a Holsen-, CHOMB!- or Klesse-type of constellation and in which realization/manifestation? Are there more variants on some more advanced level etc. and in which directions is it developing?

Michael League/Bill Lawrence]

Jazz Futures Talks

These are question that bring us to the Jazz Futures Talks as an integral part of the 12Points program. This year’s program started with a stirring talk with bassist Michael League and pianist Bill Laurence of ubiquitous, all-conquering Snarky Puppy configuration. There were three special chapters on each of two days.

The first day’s chapter dealt with the regional situation of the Spanish hosts (Gorka Reyno, Joaquin Chacón, Javier Campillo), with the experiential qualities of festivals (George McKay, Tony Whyton, Tony Dudley-Evans, Dave Morecroft, Bodgan Benigar) and the evolvement and blossoming of new concepts (Lauren Kinsella, Jan Bang, Dave Morecroft).

The second day dealt with appropriation and exploitation of new technologies in music making (Kenneth Killeen, Hilde Marie Holsen, Erling Aksdal, Jan Bang) and the dissemination of music in a highly digitalized context (Jose Dias, Ermano Basso, Henning Bolte, Pieter Koten). As a follow-up to the first day’s festival issue it was addressed by an in-depth retrospective, and a scientifically justified prospective on the festival phenomenon (Tony Whyton, George McKay).

These talk sessions led into stimulating exchanges, deepening and fruitful discussion. The multiplying of the different points of view was effective in illustrating the environment in which the jazz sector in Europe works,

This kind of talk perceptibly has a real place at 12Points. It is really wanted and taken up. It helped that discussions proceeded realistic, succeeded in getting clearer some of the issues addressed and creating confidence in moving the line. In first place however it is a tangible effect and manifestation of the overall strong and friendly team spirit of 12Points and its organizing crew.

12 Points has a lasting effect

Every year it is a challenge to discover and track down relevant musicians and groups and make a choice for the program. Within the last decade 12Points has certainly left strong and distinctive traces and marks in the landscape.

Frequently you can see 12Pointers perform at prominent places through Europe, which gives (me) the opportunity to write about them and follow their development like in cases as trumpeter Susana Santos Silva, the pianists Alexander Hawkins, Marcin Masiecki and Kaja Draksler, Eve Risser and Dave Morecroft, saxophonists as Elin Larsson and Emile Parisienne, bassists as Fanny Lasfargue or groups as De Beren Gieren, Pixel, Schnellertollermeier and LABtrio.

For writers 12Points is a wonderful and effective place to really get known to new young musicians/groups, to get a good grasp and understanding what they are doing and what’s their thing, what drives them. It helps to better take notice of their activities and work and makes more curious after a 12Points edition.

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