Saturday, May 21, 2005

Alexi Tuomarila Trio - 16/05/2005

Alexi Tuomarila - p
Brice Soiano - b
Lionel Beuvens - d

It's been such a long time that I haven't been going to concerts regularly, that until last monday I'd forgotten about one of its principal dangers. Indeed, Antwerpen is a city in mutation, and a single false move - in my case realising too late that I was in a right-turn only lane - resulted in a half-hour spent wondering where I was as I weaved between roadworks and cement blocks carelessly and dangerously strewn in the street. As a result, I only caught the tail end of the first set.

I hadn't seen Alexi for a very long time either. He's made two good CDs with a quartet, but is currently playing quite different music with a completely different trio. While the Finnish folk music influence was present when he dug into his back catalogue, there was something different about Alexi's playing: slightly funkier, but at the same time sounding deeper and graver than before. This dual evolution was made plain on the last song of the set, during which a funky bass vamp underpinned abstract piano lines that reguarly hinted at the dance forms underneath.

Soiano and Beuvens kept up loose rhythms that transitioned easily from fast swing to open 60s post-bop to 70s funk and touches of Afro-Cuban rhythms and free. Their greatest challenge, though was probably overcoming the monday night Hopper crowd: past the first couple of tables, you would have been hard-pressed to realise music was being made over in the far corner.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Jorane / Saule et les Pleures - 15/05/2005, Brussels

Jazz is life... well, almost. It's nice to see a non-jazz concert that isn't The Roots!

Saule and the Pleures ("Willow and the Weepers") realised an excellent and all too rare mix of intelligent and clever lyrics, a good voice and equally good, surprising and original, even, music (or, more specifically, arrangements). In chanson française à texte, you tend to have limited (to be kind, *cough* Vincent Delerm *cough*) singers and above average lyrics. The music can vary from Brassens's extremely stripped-down rigour to more Gainsbourgian mash-ups. Saule sang about toilet ladies, a painful night at the opera (but in a way that was funny because you felt that he actually liked opera) and other everyday topics; the music was close to the chanson template (drums, double bass, acoustic guitar/singer, electric guitar, keyboard/percussion), but at times rock or hip-hop intruded (and mock-opera on the above-mentioned song), hinting at open minds. Their first CD is coming out later this year and if there's any justice it will do well, as in their short set I heard at least two potential hits.

Jorane: a girl, her voice and her cello (and a guitarist). I first saw her on Ray Cokes's show on Arte and thought my girlfriend's family would be interested in seeing her (her littlest sister plays cello).

More mystical/hippie than the opening act, she opened with transporting grainy cello notes and wordless Celtic/New Age-y vocalising and later tried out some slow, langourous, Orientalising melisma. At one point I feared that that was all there was (which would have been okay had I been lying down, or at least sitting), but they regularly veered into dynamic rock (the guitarist made good use of his pedals when on acoustic guitar and threw in some steel guitar for variety), notably after Jorane recounted the tale of an interviewer claiming to detect Led Zep influences in her music and inevitably launched into an LZ-inspired rollick. She also played electric and acoustic guitars, which set the scene for more folk- or blues-rock oriented songs.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Junk food

Elodie Lauten:

Does improvisation have a bad name? I had a discussion about improvisation with a friend who had graduated from Juilliard. He sat at the piano and placed his hands on the keys randomly and laughed... and said improvisation was junk. After years of training and dedication to play anything written for an instrument, doing something spontaneous is a sin, a criminal act, or at least a ridiculous behavior.

It's strange, to me, that after a century of jazz and decades of easy access to improvised musics from around the world and the knowledge of the place of improvisation in classical music, such opinions can be so glibly tossed around. Lauten herself recognises some of the value of improvisation (Improvisation is not junk, it is hard work) but also fails to take it (within the context of a medium-sized blog post) as a practice in itself that needs no other justification (creation of a work, under-rehearsal, cost-cutting).

I wonder if musical training that put improvisation and personal creativity on the same level as it does reproduction would not ultimately be better. Perhaps when Mozart could write "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" as a child because he felt free to improvise and create?

Een avondtje uit

Antwerpen is a great city, much better than Brussels. Crossing the city on foot, you start by the river (Antwerpen is among Europe's biggest ports) and on your way to a small bar you pass:

- a surprising multitude of sex shops, from the trendy feminine/woman-friendly brightly-lit and colourful variety, to the ominous "Toys 4 Boys" and its display of leather masks;
- innumerable little shops sporting the latest in interior design (the city has been an emerging European fashion centre since the early '90s and the people here tend to be a step ahead, IMO);
- old brick houses, one displaying a "Anno 1515" plaque;
- an open space surround by brick walls that have been taken over by the brightly-coloured fantasies and harrowing psycho-dramas of graffiti artists;
- churches;
- the statue of Brabo throwing the evil giant's hand (hence the city's name: hand-throwing);
- weird little odds and ends.

And the whole time, there is no loss of continuity in the mix of residential, cultural, sexual, social and religious spaces. Try doing that in the nation's capital.

To cap it all off, I discovered a delicious brown beer (Gildenbier) and listened to a sax trio playing standards passably ("Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," "Satin Doll," "All Blues," "Stolen Moments") and then some blues in the company of a Chinese-born Antwerpenaar who is my girlfriend's grand-mother's partner and sings and plays guitar like a Mississippi backwoodsman.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Henry Grimes Trio - 04/05/2005, Brussels

Henry Grimes - b
Marilyn Crispell - p
Andrew Cyrille - d

First of all, long live whoever was responsible for last night's concert being non-smoking. Being able to breathe freely and not coming home smelling of smoke is such an enjoyable experience that I'm surprised that anybody could still plead for the "atmosphere" of smoke-filled environments. I was a bit less taken with whoever was responsible for the concert starting an hour late (the musicians walked into the bar 45 minutes after the official starting time). Behind the beat, I guess.

I know fairly little of the three musicians. Grimes mainly from Don Cherry's "Complete Communion" (he was wearing a pink plastic medallion around his neck containing a picture of Cherry and him taken at that recording session) and the story of his re-appearance after several decades; Andrew Cyrille from a Trio 3 album and Marilyn Crispell pretty much not at all. A pretty good learning opportunity for 5 euros.

Grimes kicked off the concert with a long solo consisting of noise interspersed with rough-hewn versions of familiar intervals and progressions. When he picked up his bow and Crispell joined in, the amplified bass and the crappy piano joined forces, creating a poorly-audible result. Interestingly, during the 15-20 minutes that all this went on, Cyrille inaudibly rustled his brushes on a tom. When the drummer finally cut loose, the trio broke into very dense free improvisation, the kind that lacks dynamics, harmony or rhythm: like a cliff's sheer facade of natural granite, its pleasure resides precisely in this relative featurelessness, combing with imposing presence and visceral power.

Cyrille demarcated thematic sections (I feel like calling them chunks) of this 50-minute piece with a sudden, single, loud cymbal and drum crash. Crispell started to mull over a series of Spanish-tinged, percussive motifs to a quieter accompaniment, so that when the energy level returned to earlier levels, the music was clearer and less forbiddingly austere. The piano found itself heading in an atmospheric direction filled at first with swirling, dissonant arpeggios and later with "pretty" and even syrupy playing, while the other two provided a consistently (relatively) quiet-but-turbulent background.

The second piece was quite different in feel: Grimes was walking, the piano played in a more linear fashion, Cyrille was set on a sort of loose-limbed loop, so that there was a sense of tempo, of swing even. A loud cymbal-washing/daybreak/Coltranian intro section gave way to a concluding arco bass drone and simple and hopeful folk dance-like modal playing from Crispell. Just before that, Cyrille had produced a crowd-pleasing solo of various straight-up dance rhythms.

I thought that, at 11:15, the concert was over (and I wasn't alone in thinking that), but at midnight the musicians took to the stage (well, to the floor at the back of the bar) once more. I'll admit to not having been very focused (hey, I woke up at 6 that morning), but I did enjoy some unexpected quasi-Abdullah Ibrahim joyous hymn playing from Crispell.