REVIEW: 12 Points Festival in Aarhus, Denmark



12 Points Festival in Aarhus, Denmark
(Atlas and other venues, Aarhus, 12 to 15th July Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

This year’s 12 Points Festival, the festival that brings together 12 young bands, all under the age of 30/35 from 12 European countries, took place in the very attractive city of Aarhus, this year’s European Capital of Culture in conjunction with the Aarhus Jazz Festival.

Each of the bands, selected after an application process, plays a 50-minute set. The 12 bands play over a three-day period with four bands playing each day. This year’s standard was extremely high, and, although it’s a cliché to say so, I left Aarhus feeling immensely encouraged by the directions that jazz in Europe is taking, but also I have to confess to feeling more than a little anxious about the prospects for these bands being able to set up viable touring circuits.

As well as the showcase sessions, there were a number of presentations and panel sessions: Matt Fripp gave a very authoritative presentation of how musicians should approach promoters, manage social media and other related matters; Ros Rigby chaired an excellent panel of how we can improve jazz touring from an environmental point of view; and I chaired a panel on the sustainability of the jazz industry, and how it can be made more fit for purpose in the future. On the latter panel I was struck by a statement by Cormac Larkin from Ireland that we need to argue for jazz as the "art music of the future".

Lis Raabjerg of Lars Fiil Frit Fald
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

This point was amply exemplified by many of the performances. There were two excellent piano trios, one from Italy, the Francesco Orio Trio, and from Switzerland the Marie Kruttli Trio. Then there were various groups that drew on aspects of classical music as well as jazz, the Estonian Kirke Karja Quartet showing an influence from Stockhausen and other composers without losing their essential jazz feel, and the Danish group Lars Fiil Frit Fald playing introspective but also emotional music - a kind of jazz chamber group.

All of these bands have a seriousness and originality such that they could comfortably fit into a double bill with a classical ensemble in the right context, bringing a unique creativity to such an event.

There were, however, many other approaches on display. Two bands, Sheep Got Waxed from Lithuania and Taupe from UK, played sets of high energy and full-on improvisation with something of a punk attitude – it could be argued that much of this high energy jazz today is the ‘punk’ of tomorrow. Less punk, more high energy electronic was Big Spoon from Ireland with Chris Engel on alto sax and electronics.

Benjamin Dousteyssier of Post K
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Other groups took aspects of the history of  jazz and gave it a more contemporary feel. Significant Time from Norway combined elements of swing jazz with Norwegian folk music creating music that struck me as original and very different from the majority of Norwegian jazz groups; Post K  from France with an excellent front line of the Dousteyssier brothers, Jean on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Benjamin on saxophones, took the music further back playing tunes such as Tiger Rag fairly straight, but then launching into free improvisation for the solos.

Several groups made effective use of humour in their presentation. The already mentioned Sheep Got Waxed use a lot of zany humour, both in the playing and in their announcements. A very slick and entertaining set from the Dutch group Tommy Moustache combined humour around the mythical figure of Tommy Moustache with some great playing, but I did wonder whether the seemingly very characteristically Dutch humour would work in a UK context. The Belgian group SHNTZL, a duo with Hendrik Lasure on piano and keys and Casper Van De Velde on drums, didn’t specifically use humour, but their rapidly changing interaction was very entertaining and in a subtle way quite witty.

Judith Schwarz of chuffDRONE
Photo credit: Henning Bolte

Finally there was chuffDRONE from Austria, a group that does not fit any classification, but was one of the groups I enjoyed most. It’s a quintet with four women and one man with a strong front line of Lisa Hofmaninger on soprano saxophone and clarinet and Astrid Wiesinger on alto and soprano saxophones. There was a variety in their material that I found engaging.

It was wonderful to hear 12 great groups playing music of the highest order and with a huge amount of variety.  concern I referred to in the opening paragraph is the difficulty for these young musicians in getting established in other European countries, let alone their own country, and finding opportunities in the many burgeoning festivals in the continent. 12 Points does a great job in bringing these young groups to our attention; it is now up to festival and club promoters to do their bit.

The 12 Points festival is curated by the Improvised Music Company from Dublin

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