Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Feeerieen Day 2: Jef Neve Trio + swod

The week-long Feeerieen festival is taking place in the park opposite the Palais Royal. A sort of big gazebo set up in its middle serves as (a very high) stage. Park benches fan out in front of it. Blue and green spotlights lighting up the trees, gently pulsating garlands of light and dry ice machines placed not only on the stage but also in the treetops conspire to give the event the Mists of Avalon feeling the title implies.

swod is a Berlin duo made up of laptopper/electronics guy Oliver Doerell and pianist Stephan Woermann. If jazzTronika is usually an updating of funky hardbop/soul jazz, then swod is Electronic Third Stream. The beats (and sometimes non-beats, when recurring noises give only the merest hint of propulsion) and piano-playing are minimalist: soft pulses connected by threads of static, clicks and gloops form fragile webs, while Woermann drops in icy chords or repeated melody fragments in careful doses that leave plenty of breathing room. swod skillfully avoids the piano-on-top-of-beats format, as the occasional more animated passages tend to be about the piano fully taking on a rhythmic chording role in the music's centre. Afterwards, I talked briefly with the od in swod (who is much more approachable than the retiring stage demeanour and skinny black suit would suggest) and bought their CD. I figure the music is better in the studio than on stage. Even if it's not, at least in my living room I won't have people behind me loudly voicing their displeasure.

The Jef Neve Trio continues to develop strongly (search for Jef Neve in the box at the top of the page, if you've missed the previous episodes). The last time I saw them, they played a tune Jef had written that afternoon. A few months down the line, it seems that "Second Love" has grown into a fully-fledged repertoire staple. The swinging 5/4, heavily chorded opening and closing sections have a Radiohead-ish feel to them (or a pianist-playing-Radiohead feel to them), while the middle 4/4 gives Jef a chance to do what he does so well, and is one of the main reasons he is so popular. I like to call it the "blossom" mode of soloing, as opposed to the traditional forward-moving string of ideas mode. Jef builds on the sound the composition has established, keeping strong melodic, harmonic and structural links to it, but pushing outwards at the same time. The melancholy "Lament" introduced this style a couple of years ago, "Second Love" is a more forceful take on it. The set-opener "Benny the Blues Goose" and "Ballad for Plastic Surgery" merit mention, at least for their titles. An old original like the joyously triumphant "When Spring Begins" continue to be tinkered with and so remains interesting after nearly three years and many performances. Perhaps sensing the audience's mood, the trio kept it fairly big: the tepid reaction to swod had shown that a carefully chosen dissonance that creates an ambiguous and affecting soundscape wasn't going to win this crowd over.