All goods things in life must finally come to the end, so is this lovely Fest. Four Days of total enjoyment drown me down and energised to survive the rush in the same time. What matters here it that again it helped me learn a lot new things about the music and about myself too. It definitelly made me happy and wanting to come back nect year again . To see the City I love. To meet the Friends who are living there. To fee The Music.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
The Morning Prayer
Wadada Leo Smith & Alexander Hawkins, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Alexander Hawkins organ
Wadada Leo Smith trumpet
Coming back to the Church gig always is a challenge. Since The Fest adopted this venue and started to commit special projects to accommodate it I am a dedicated fan. It happened twice before. This one is the third and I have seen and I reviewed them all. Here and here if you fancy to find out more.
Wadada and Alex set seemed to to be especially interesting to me. I have been following Wadada’s path for a long time. Also I got familiar with Alex’s music since I live in the UK. His projects with Louis Moholo Moholo, Evan Parker or Joe McPhee are among my favourites. I learned about him from them. I like his trio as well as his ensemble a lot.
It was revealed that Wadada visited England and spent some time in Oxford together with Alex therefore those two despite being great improvisers themselves got some extra time to know each other better. I believe that is responsible for what happened during this set.
The challenge lays in the church. It is a church like no other. With almost 70 % of the walls made of the stained glass and the organ pipes directly facing it one gets unique acoustics and the bliss of sharpness added to the reverb which have to be considered by any artist performing there. Wadada and Alex carefully checked the ground during the sound-check. They tried it all quiet and loud, they checked dynamics exactly to know the borders, so when they step on the set they have been both well prepared.
I can tell you straight on as I like to do so: This is the best set I ever head in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church so far.
The improvisation didn’t last for long, but I could only tell you that as I checked the time shortly afterwards. During the set I was completely dragged into the music and immersed in it. And the music was simply angelic, Wadada kept his trumpet in registers which never became strident or squeaky. He used the glass wall in a clever way to feedback against his short phrases and complete them. He respected the silence in the way which is his very own. There was never a tad too much sound, neither a feeling of domination. It was all perfectly balanced.
Alex played his organ with such a light touch. Again the balance was just right. Organ soared like birds flying over the church’s roof. If you had your eyes closed as I swear that you are walking through the fields of grain on a sunny day with larks, swifts and swallows tweeting over your head. With an improvisation like that is just the same like with the sound and silence, as Wadada described it. You have to appreciate the silence to understand the beauty of the sound. They respected all and respected each other equally staying together in this open conversation as long as it was needed and not even single note longer. That made it perfect and unforgettable.
Afterword: Wadada called it Blue Improvisation after words and he only got to find 3 words to fit to describe what he wanted to say. But later on during the artist speech he revealed a few more secrets about it, so jump on that one later on to find out.
Artist Talk with Eve Risser, Wadada Leo Smith and Steve Lehman
It is always interesting to hear what artists had in their minds when writing the music and confront that with your own feelings. That’s why I like attending Artist Talk sessions like this.
Those three were completely different personalities and it was certainly very interesting. When Eve reviled some secrets behind White Dessert Session in a very intimate way it helped me to catch up this music deeper during the set and I am grateful for that as it will also help with my upcoming review of this set.
Steve Lehman on the contrary was more methodical telling about the way he works with his musicians. But it became clear that he is a good listener, not just a story teller and he is aware of the potential he’s got in his band and he knows how to use it for the best.
Wadada, the oldest of them and the most spiritual too is always a joy to listen and that’s why his comments are such a words of wisdom. He said a lot important things but I want to make it short and focus on the story of the score, so called Blue Improvisation, with the bless of the light feeling the church.
“ When an Inspiration comes You have to open the door and welcome it, other way It wont stay for long. It will leave and go to someone else . That’s what It does “
That’s exactly what Wadada said when he shared with us for the very first time how the idea of how to handle today’s performance first time occurred to him. Then as he said, he wrote it down immediately. Just as you can see on the snap above. The white marks on the score is a toothpaste as this naughty inspiration came around exactly when he was brushing his teeth at the morning. It is not that bad it could be always more difficult moment, couldn’t it ?
What you see is what we heard. Three opening bars with only six notes in it! Nothing more. The rest was a pure improvisation. Those notes are like a tape leader for the piece. They brings an initial tension and the sense of the direction on which all what happened after had been developed. I was trying to reckon at that point how I remembered those first steps but I can’t. It all came so smooth and unforced that it got us all in such a natural way like a wave strokes the sand. Have you ever seen anything more natural ?
The Main Stage
the first pancake is sometimes spoiled
Julia Holter & Strings
Julia Holter keys, vocals
Devin Hoff double bass
Corey Fogel drums, vocals
Dina Maccabee viola, vocals
Danny Meyer saxophone
Ayumi Paul violin
Andreas Voss cello
That set was looking nice especially with the addition of the strings. Without that I found it a bit pop-ish to my taste, as far as I could say, as there was not that much I could hear. There are people around who can show you disrespect with only one word they said and looks like she mastered the skill. Or maybe she just got a bad day. I don’t care. On contrary there was Wadada behind the wall whose words were healing and making friends any time he opened his month. Why to bother to listen to her then ? Extra hour with friends to talk about Wadada’s set made me extremely happy. My condolences go to the strings, as they had been all nice people and excellent musicians too.
The Hurricane of EIGHT!
Steve Lehman Octet
Steve Lehman alto saxophone, composition
Jonathan Finlayson trumpet
Mark Shim tenor saxophone
Tim Albright trombone
Chris Dingman vibraphone
José Davila tuba
Drew Gress double bass
Cody Brown drums
New York born composer and saxophonist with his Octet made quite an entrance on the Berlin stage. I only know this exact recording from him which I got before I went to the Fest this year to be prepared. As he revealed during his talk I mentioned above the roots of his, so called “spectral music” came from his long studies in France. On the top of the referred Olivier Messiaen, he also pointed French Impressionists and European music in general.
One could listen to the tunes before, but nothing, really NOTHING, could make you prepared for this wall of sound and dynamics you faced when seeing it on the stage. I could hear inspiration of the Messiaen easily. I would say nothing can bring it more to your head than a sax’s thrill. It was an absolutely knock out experience and the immediate feeling of something unique happening in front of you. Precision and communication in the band were striking. God, so well aligned they are that it is hard to believe giving how young they are all there in this band. It brought the spirit back high after the opening gig disappointment.
The only veteran there on guard was Drew Gress, again one of my favourite bassist and his long woody piccicatos had been both a joy for the ears and the perfect framework for this fast set. The drummer Jalon Archie, haven’t got a lite time there at all but he was more than capable to keep that brute force on the go. He didn’t have time to look after delicate passages, this subtle job had been left in vibraphonist ‘s Chris Dingman hands. But the vanguard was in the brasses power and they could really blow the theatre out without struggle. Next to the leader, the most visible figure was tenorist Mark Shim. His lines were woven with the leader’s alto most closely. His own distinctive voice during solos was counterpointing the scores in a priceless way.
Duets of the trumpeter Jonathan Finleyson and trombonist Tim Albright completed the front line and contributed in fiery tuttis. So did Jose Davila playing Tuba. Not most visible, such is a life of the bass man, but giving the body and mass to the brass attack without which it would never be the same. I loved that, and the audience did too. No one wanted them to finish, so good it was and we raved for an encore. After that we got one, and being told to not be greedy. Good point. After that they left in Glory giving the stage back to the final act of this festival edition.
Closing with Glory !
Eve Risser’s White Desert Orchestra
Eve Risser piano
Sylvaine Hélary flutes
Antonin Tri-Hoang saxophones, bass clarinet
Benjamin Dousteyssier bass clarinet, tenor saxophone
Sara Schoenbeck bassoon
Eivind Lønning trumpet
Fidel Fourneyron trombone
Julien Desprez electric/electro-acoustic guitars
Fanny Lasfargues electro-acoustic bass
Sylvain Darrifourcq drums
A graduate of the French’s talents incubator, Orchestra National du Jazz, Eve Risser bought to the audience the most memorable and incredible closing act I ever remember from any festival, not just from Berlin. The fact that she will be heard in two weeks with the same program during the London Jazz makes me thinking how to get there back to hear it again. And you should check it out to as such an ACT hardly comes around.
The quality of that is just heart-striking, then mind-blowing too once you have a time to calm down and think about it. From what she revealed during the short interview I couldn’t agree more with the honesty of her approach. She has just thrown herself in the front of the public, bare naked, just like she said. With this eleven-piece band recruited among the friends from the Paris conservatoire she completed the line up for the project.
Some of them are known to me from the other constellations, like an excellent flute virtuoso Salvaine Helary, seen on BJF previously with Denis Colin or bass clarinettist Antonin Tri-Hoang whom I remember from his collaboration with Benoît Delbecq. Others I never heard before or I am not aware of that at least. Leader itself is only known to me from her En Corps project, which is an improvising trio set. Completely diferent thing. Let’s get to that then after this maybe long, but I believe important, preface.
What is completely striking here is a balance again. In the best meaning of the word. The balance between the silence and the noise. Yes there is a lot of the very good noise there. Very constructive noise should I say. Then the balance between the masculine and feminine energy, which comes some how from the band, but again it does as she knows her musicians and she knows how to drag it out of them and make it happen. And finally the balance between an improvised and the written music which is merged into this scores equally and used for the best whenever music demands that.
This band is simply immaculate. It is like a single organism, a Hemafrodytic one. Absolutely unusual but so right.
The concept of the music runs out from a simple description. It is a monumetal work which has moments of the orchestral hype in more appropriate hymnal meaning, beautifully executed, but it also has his minimal approach, which is constantly counterpointing it. It has a beauty of the melody and the rough power of the prepared piano. But just behind the corner it attacks you with the screaming prepared guitar, or even two played by Fanny Lasfargues and her male counterpoint Julien Desprez. What the drummer is doing deserves a separarte chapter to describe. Never before did the word framework occur to me so straight in the face as it was audible on that set.
The solos coming from brass players were all classy and perfectly shaped into the score with this exact feeling that no one could add more to it. The brass tissue weaved by the front line is constanly interacting with piano and drums sort of holy triangle, ocassionally enriched by charmonic structures coming from both guitars. Trumpeter Eivind Lonning deserves special attention for his exquisite dialogues with interluding piano chords. This moments along the scores are priceless beauties. So is Sylvaine’s voice once she joins the conversation. Her solo in one of the pieces is something else. This is one of this moments worth living for. She is the Goddess of the Flute.
I must say I have a crush on her ;-). The imagiantion she represents is hardly heard or seen among flutists I came across. I can hear in her play an incredible Jeremy Steig, who only left us earlier this year as well as well as Dolphy’s modal experiments. The way she mastered all that and re-developed with a double feminine power extending imagination even further behind makes me breathless. Eve is flutist herself too, she can hear that for sure and more. No surprice that she brought Sylvaine on the stage. One can spend whole life looking and never find any better.
I could go on and on but I leave it at that point. Feel the hunger. And I have to keep something to say when it comes to the review of this recording which I immadiately obtained and I suggest you to do the same.
To make long story short the audience loved it. She got a standing ovations which were well deserved and didn’t left record signing spot until all the disks were gone. And still she had to stay a long time after as a queue of new fans wanting to thank her for the excellent performance lasted a while.
That’s it . Until next year then