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REVIEW: Konfrontationen, Day 3 - 35th Festival for Free & Improvised Music @ Nickelsdorf, Austria - Andrew Choate {EXCLUSIVE}

By Andrew Choate on Sep 12, 2014 04:51 PM EDT

DAY 3: Saturday, July 19, 2014 

Saturday's concerts at the Kleylehof took place in the dark but cool hall across from the stone coliseum. I spent a long time in the attached gallery featuring the work of Franz Gyolcs, and was especially moved by the charcoal drawing of the body above.

It captures exactly that sense of abstraction and oh-so-physical reality that makes self-consciousness--of ourselves, in a body--both so tormenting, and, sometimes, dreamily transcendent. The fact that we can be tormented by ourselves and yet transcendent to someone else--and vice versa--is some kind of miracle that the concept of love only hints at. It's an emulsion that you have the opportunity to live.

Burkhard Stangl's solo guitar set was bathed in orange light. I chose to close my eyes for most of this set, absorbing the cold from the floor and feeling the taps of sparse harmonics like accidental rainforest chandelier splashes. Maybe I just hallucinated it, but amidst Stangl's austere explorations of gravity as if it were a romantic concept, I thought I heard some small kids playing mildly, and cooing to each other, and I thought: they really get it. Because even though Stangl's style has an air of austerity, or even a kind of melodramatic and ironic anxiety as it orbits beauty, the redemptivity of playfulness is foregrounded even more.

Towards the end of the set he struck two sudden hard chords like a challenge--to the guitar, to the audience, to himself, to the beach, to the windmills, to the highway, to the glaciers, to everything. Then he turned it over and hit the guitar. Not skillfully, but like an upset child on the verge of a tantrum, tired but fighting before bedtime, swinging with uncoordinated but divinely justified anguish.

Then he calmly flipped it over, hit a giant power chord, and stopped.

He is a musician, thankfully, capable of marveling at his own disillusion; he is the author of "Hommage à Moi," after all.

Two of the amazing Kleylehof crew: brothers Flo and Bastl!

Nine apple dreams later, Osman Arabi followed with another solo guitar set. I always hear music in different parts of my body, and this was all knees and shoulders. I could feel his metal boogie in the coalescing drops of sweat on my cheeks. His background in metal was more apparent in his attitude toward his instrument than in the music itself: everything was functional. I could hear and follow the progression of his thinking and playing more directly than in most improv, as he played a sequence of distorted, reverbed boogaloo, then adjusted, followed the adjustment to retune the feedback grammar, and continued with the renewed momentum.

I was reminded of the sound of Tetuzi Akiyama's long-form riffing on simple chords, but Arabi was more expansive and more willing to use adept rhythmic exploration to change course. There's also something creepy about his sound, as if he only plays when ants are crawling on his legs and curdling like neon milk. I thought about the fact that animals don't have heart attacks, and how it might be possible to tell the entire story of Eros based on a droplet of water coming loose from a lover's wet hair.

Luc Houtkamp (tenor and alto saxophone), Simon Nabatov (piano) and Martin Blume (drums) led off the first daylight set at the Jazzgalerie with intricately probing and constantly undulating waves of free jazz surface tension. Most of the interactions were so hyperdense with possibility and ideational energy, I had a dream of sending a sailboat into space on a rocket, just to create better space junk, a surprising bonus for an astronaut or otherworldly creature to see. I heard a colony of underwater bees, hive rollicking in the ocean, surviving on the choicest plankton and eventually emerging hybridized with the smartest dolphins--swimming, flying, playing this music.

I chalked up sporadic moments of superficial mimicry between the players as ways of checking in as you navigate up and down the abyss, just making sure your partner is OK in the vortex. Houtkamp and Blume had a particularly frenzied exchange with Houtkamp on a beautiful white clarinet and Blume kickstarting every extraneous piece of wood he could find on his set; it reminded me of an Henri Michaux india ink battle.

Their first piece ended with the accompaniment of a "hoo owl" joining in Houtkamp's tenor sax solo, then a pause for breath and some birds joined in, then more solo, another pause for birds and owl to duet, then a trio of the animals with the saxophone. These guys were quite in tune with the surroundings, because the second piece also ended auspiciously, with Blume striking a small gong-like cymbal and everyone pausing right before the churchbell from next door rang, telling us "it's time."

Three of the sweetest faces you'll ever see: the HintereBAR's Miriam, Anja & Manuel! Wurmbar!

The Founder Effect (Alan Wilkinson, reeds; John Coxon, guitar and electronics; Pat Thomas, piano and electronics; Steve Noble, drums) sounded like a bunch of friends who really enjoy, to use the English phrase, taking the piss out of each other. Their whole vibe invoked an atmosphere of jokes among siblings when the parents aren't around. They sustained a pretty high pitch of relentless smashing throughout this set with Wilkinson's piercing saxophone and an absolute wall of drums courtesy of Noble. Thomas slapped mad, jagged, cheesy cheap-keyboard deluges into the mix whenever anything was feeling too solemn, and Coxon alternated between ripping through the barrage with torrents of guitar screech and pretending to play plodding backup before exhuming another frostbitten blast. The whole set was surprisingly jocular given it's relatively narrow range of investigation between intense and MORE INTENSE!! I thought about the butterfly effect as it relates to self-portraits of Sasquatch.

Longtime musical partners Larry Ochs (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Donald Robinson (drums) have only within recent years started playing as a duo, and the first thing I wrote in my notebook about their music is that Robinson "plays the mallets like a backless dress upon the eyes." I've been asked how much writing I actually do while the music is playing at a festival like this, and the truth is: not much, just little notes like that. That's all I need to flood my memory, if it's not at high tide already.

And Robinson's mallet work I found seductively hypnotizing, especially given its warmth as it balanced Ochs' pushes of the soprano into highly charged shimmers. Another tune showcased Ochs on tenor, alternately parading and flailing like a wildebeest in a 44-story stairwell while Robinson pumped out Kenny Clarke-like accompanying beats. Scattered, denoted, and given a definitive ending, walnuts.

I love improvisations that wander and forage for ever more wild and delectable sources of nutrition that might be out there, and end up playing for close to an hour or more without stopping, but there's something I really admire about improvisors who are capable of starting a piece, and respecting the music enough to let it end where it should end, whether it be 5 minutes or 25 minutes into a set. And this duo, while they may have had some endings pre-arranged and some explicit plans for what they wanted to explore within each tune, I appreciated that they made the decision to focus, cordoning out zones that helped the audience concentrate on their deft display within each piece.

One tune featured Ochs grrrrr-ing a lullaby on tenor with Robinson swaying elliptically back and forth on brushes; as my pal Michael pointed out, if you closed your eyes it was very easy to think we were listening to Hamid Drake and Ken Vandermark, especially with the hyperadroit sense of polyrhythmicality Robinson thumped out. The total erotics of enchantment.

I approached the duet between Alexander Hawkins (piano) and Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums) with feverish anticipation, as I hadn't seen Moholo-Moholo in about ten years, and couldn't wait to get his sound in my ears again. The richness of the recordings he has made over the years; the fact that he is the last surviving member of the Blue Notes, a band that I hold as dear in my heart as any other; his gift of a light touch, still full of flair, as his drums anchor a song - it all adds up to my possessing a wellspring of admiration for the man.

When they first started playing, I found myself distracted by Hawkins' overly dramatic runs up and down the length of the keyboard. So I stood up and walked to the back of the Jazzgalerie to get a different view and clear my head. I focused on Moholo-Moholo and heard him laying down a healthy ballast of rhythms, prompts and pauses: amazing stuff...but Hawkins was nowhere to be found within any of it. He was so involved in his own never-ending sequence of chord flourishes that he couldn't pause and couldn't relate. In the middle of this emerging conflict, Hawkins started inserting quotes from "What A Wonderful World," but in such an ornate and maudlin fashion that I had to check and doublecheck where I was and what I thought I was hearing.

I was shocked by Hawkins' decision to bulldoze over Moholo-Moholo's ideas with such ostentatious sap, so much so that I decided I didn't want to remember Moholo-Moholo this way, so I walked out of the Jazzgalerie and ambled around the streets of Nickelsdorf at night. After the set I talked with several people who questioned whether Moholo-Moholo was still capable of doing what he wanted to do on the drums; that thought never occurred to me because I heard beautiful, inventive, passionate playing from him. I simply could not figure out what was going on with Hawkins, it hurt, and I wish I had been able to talk to him the next day, so I could find out from him what he was trying to do.

By the time the Portuguese band Motion Trio (Rodrigo Amado, tenor sax; Miguel Mira, cello; Gabriel Ferrandini, drums) came on the stage, my ears were pretty exhausted. Starting with a 100 m.p.h. highest-possible-volume freakout didn't help either. They mellowed out after the first five minutes and actively started paying attention to each other, but I still had a lot of trouble hearing the cello. In fact, I had a lot of trouble hearing most of what they did, and I think a lot of my fatigue could be chalked up to the fact that of the five sets at the Jazzgalerie this day, all five had drummers, and four had saxophones.

I love saxophone and drums together. Anthony Braxton and Max Roach's One in Two - Two in One was not only the first improv record that shook me to the core, but it affected me so powerfully that it changed what I wanted from all music from that point on. I can still instantly recall several specific interactive sequences from that record right now. But the amount of saxophone and drums played on this night was too much for me. I stayed and listened for the whole set, but called it an early night immediately afterwards, and went to sleep at 4 a.m.

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TagsREVIEW, EXCLUSIVE, Andrew Choate, Konfrontationen, Nickelsdorf

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