Monday, July 09, 2007

Klinkende Munt Day 4 - 07/07/07@Beursschouwburg, Brussels

Ah, dear old Klinkende Munt (reports from previous editions), where a saxophonist's wails compete with the cries of children running around, where bass solos coexist with the chatter of grandmothers eating shish kebabs and where a bandleader's announcements compete with the general indifference of the free festival crowd. While a less numerologically significant event than The Boredoms' 77BoaDrum, at least we were lucky enough not to have any of the usual weirdo drunkards drop by.

Atomic (website)
Fredrik Ljungkvist - ts, cl
Magnus Broo - tp
Havard Wiik - p
Ingebrigt Haker Flaten - b
Paal Nilssen-Love - d

I've been listening to the Norwegian-Swedish Atomic for a few years, since their first two albums Feet Music and Boom Boom. Several of its members, Paal Nilssen-Love and Ingebrit Haker-Flaten (the first time Frederik Ljungevist pronounced the bassist's name, he made it sound like an adventure) in particular, are among Ken Vandermark's many regular collaborators.

Like a few other Scandanavian bands such as Exploding Customer (myspace), Firehouse or Jonas Kullhammar's (myspace) Nacka Forum (myspace), Atomic is very much attached to the idea of being recognisable as a jazz quintet, but injects into that format lots of post-free jazz American avant-garde language that prevent things from simply chugging along. I just got The Thing's (Nilssen-Love, Haker Flaten and Mats Gustafsson) Action Jazz, which, though more given to open blowing, could fit in with the others. In Atomic's case, even when they get boisterous, the free playing is always embedded in an overarching structure, made visible when the band shifts gears in tight formation (is that a mixed metaphor?). Interestingly, they all sound fairly American to me, in any case far removed from any "sound of the fjords" clichés and other elements that I tend to associate with European jazz/improv (to be really simplistic about it, maybe it's just that they all swing, in some way or other). They are what I like to call "hot jazz for a new millenium," but most of the time I have enough sense to keep that appellation to myself.

On the set's first piece, solos were sandwiched by heads, but each one received a radically different treatment: rumbling mid-tempo swing for an explosive Fredrik Ljungkvist, a quasi-dirge for a thoughtful Magnus Broo and a langourous ballad feel for Havard Wiik to subtly disrupt with dissonance. Themes were stated in conventional front-line unisons, but Wiik almost never comped or played lines in a regular manner. Instead, he covered vast expanses and created dense, rippling textures. On the set-closing ballad "Kerosene," he split the difference by first doling out chords under the saxophonist's tender, soft-focus solo, and then engaging Nilssen-Love in a duet that gathered dark clouds before growing into an all-encompassing storm.

As the concert progressed, the repertoire increasingly broke away from traditional forms in favour of more involved, ad hoc ones. Paal Nilssen-Love toned down his usual busy, powerful playing for a quiet feature that had clarinet and trumpet tones floating underneath and between his desolate cymbal screeches and distant mallet hits. Later, Ljungkvist got into a Jimmy Giuffre-ish mood, issuing terse fragments that got loud in very short spurts.

On "Two Boxes Left," a deranged, absurdist fanfare theme gave way to a twittering front-line dialogue that stopped to allow Haker Flaten to shred his bow his a furious, high-register arco solo accompanied by comically short, Ljungkvist-conducted punctuations from the rest of the band. It was like a sudden injection of Dutch comedy - a Southern glance in an otherwise Westwards-looking set.

Byron Wallen (myspace)
Byron Wallen - tp, conch, fl
Julian Siegal - ts, bcl
Larry Bartley - b
Tom Skinner - d
Boujemaa Boubul - voc, guembri, perc,

Byron Wallen is a fluent British trumpeter, clearly steeped in the hot-blooded hard bop of Freddie Hubbard and others, but also willing to explore sounds both harsher and more exotic. His front-line partner Julian Siegal preferred to keep a more even-keeled tone as he spun harmonically involved lines. On "Merry-Go-Round," the two intertwined melodically over a sunny beat like a Gerry Mulligan Quartet gone Carribbean.

For part of the set, they invited Boujemaa Boubul, a Gnawa musician, to join them on guembri, qraqeb and occasional singing. His characteristic dancing, polyrhythmic 6/8 grooves created a new baseline for the group, but also a new challenge. Wallen slipped naturally into this new context: he emerged from the groove and used it as a reference even when he freed himself from it, and added flute and conch shell to the more prayerful moments. Wallen's current album, Meeting Ground, is apparently about jazz-Gnawa fusion and his playing truly made the meeting happen. Siegal, however, stuck to his harmony-oriented playing and ended up sounding pasted on to the music, rather than a part of it. His more textural bass clarinet fit in better, though.

Jeremy Warmsley (myspace)

Jeremy Warmsley's dramatic pop put elaborate construction, literary lyrics and lots of falsetto leaps in the place of catchy hooks and a memorable voice. Songs had titles such as "The Young Man Sees the City as a Chessboard" and content such as accidentally watching pornography (he said pornography, not porn - the distinction seemed important) on French TV ("Which is easy to do," Warmsley stated in his defense), played in a four-handed piano arrangement, which must be a rarity in the world of indie-rock. Words created uncertainty by their content as well as their quantity, as in "I Keep the City Burning for You," where he sang:

I keep the city burning for you
Beacon to guide you home
Furnace to keep you warm
Smoke to poison your lungs
All the ingredients of a great relationship, then.

They did ecstatically rock out on one tune. The strange thing about it is that I developed an unusual physical reaction: I sneezed throughout the song, then stopped as soon as it did. Perhaps it was a sudden, temporary (I hope) allergy to ecstatically rocking out?

While I've never been a fan of oversize hip hop clothing, neither can I understand the show-your-socks-small jeans indie guys like Warmsely wear. His bassist, who I'd issue a blipster warning on if I worked for the NY Times, was supremely cool, though.

Gary Lucas was scheduled to perform with a DJ at 12:15 AM, but in a sign of encroaching age, I didn't feel like waiting.