Guelph Jazz Festival: Guelph, Canada, September 7-11, 2011
Gothic, stormy crescendos distinguished other moments of the trio's free improvisation, but the mastery of such passages, crafted with a spiritual sensitivity, was the real pearl of this mind-blowing set.
Marianne Trudel Septet
Pianist Marianne Trudel showed a flair for sophisticated essentialism combined with elegant rhythm changes, as in "Espoir et autres pouvoirs," where Anne Shaefer's mellow vocals became one with Trudel's main melodic line.
It was evident that, while exploring the compositional potentialities of a septet of musicians who are also close friendsfeaturing, alonmg with Shaefer, trumpeter Lina Alemanno, French hornist Jocelyn Beilleux, trombonist Jean-Olivier Bginm double-bassist Morgan Moore, drummer Robbie KusterTrudel's thoughts gravitated between the phrasings of the early Pat Metheny Group and the orchestral, symphonic breath of Philip Glass, particularly during the intro to "Souffle."
Every note was in its right place: The vocals of "Et la terre tourne" grew, hand-in-hand, with the subtle sense of dynamics of the brass section, making us grasp, if just for a second, the gigantic shape of our planet, slowly circling around its axis.
Trygve Seim and Andreas Utnem
St. George's Anglican Church, with its wide volutes, welcomed the religious sonorities of this Norwegian duo, whose ECM project, Purcor: Songs for Saxophone and Piano (2010), unveiled its peculiar ability to intertwine jazz and elegy in a unicum of controlled, poetic languor.
A willing reference to Jan Garbarek's tradition of rarefied atmospheres could be heard in Trygve Seim's long-held notes, the saxophonist unafraid of sudden explosions, his signature relying on gradually growing, warm tonalities which showed how an impeccable control of the instrument could be disclosed through a single chord, without any need of baroque excess.
His soft breath, entering the mouth piece, echoed through the church, while Andreas Utnem left his piano to embrace the harmonium, waving an ethereal, minimalist background for Seim's solo in "Responsorium."
The ballad-like quality of the last pieceand in particular its slow piano introcarried references to Keith Jarrett's "My Song," intertwined with halos of psalmic silences and crystallized Northern landscapes.
Christine Duncan and the Element Choir Project with William Parker
Can the Carmina Burana marry avant-garde jazz experimentation? Christine Duncan's Element Choir made it clear that this is not only a possibility, but a truly original accomplishment. In a set with bassist William Parker, drummer Jean Martin, violinist Jesse Zubot, trumpeter Jim Lewis, and pipe organist Eric Robertson the choir filled the audience with awe, and revitalized the cinematographic memory (both visual and sonically) of the astronauts in Stanley Kubrick's 1967 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, facing the black monolith on the surface of the Moon.
The improvisational texture of this 70-voice choir rested on extremely basic conducting gestures, leaving the singers free to embody the Earthly elements through dissonant whispers, sudden shouts and excruciating laments. During the most dramatic sections of the performance, these vocals almost seemed to embody the cries of some damned souls in Dante's Divine Comedy.
If the choir had a powerful, haunting presence with its growing sighs, then Parker's bass interventions, developing around an obsessive, high-pitched crescendo, increased the overall atmosphere of inescapable doom. In the final section of the set, the Lewis' trumpet almost seemed to announce an apocalyptic moment, stressed by Robertson's ghostly organ chords and Martin's fortissimo percussive moment. It was a fully cathartic moment, a postmodern jazz version of some immortal Greek tragedy.
Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston
Growing together as masters of the British free jazz scene in the '70s, this duo disclosed the perfect emotional and performance synchronization of two masters who do not even need the hint of a glimpse to know where they are headed.
Veryan Weston's flair for tip-tapping, hectic rhythmsfocused on the highest keys of his pianofound its twin in Trevor Watts' quick and crafty sharp notes, the alto saxophonist using his instrument's keys as if they were micro-drums; exploiting their percussive clicks as an additional enhancement of a series of sudden, squeaky riffs.
From left: Veryan Weston, Trevor Watts
Weston alternated contrapuntal phrasings, following the sax in a mad dance, with a hint of slightly slower variations showing how a sediment of Stravinskian influences has become one with the freest vocabulary of his own trademark.