The second phase of Poland’s Jazz Jantar festival involved five nights of mostly twinned bills. The northern port city of Gdańsk was washed over with some of the most vital young acts from the UK and the US, its three programmers having a particular feel for what’s rising to the surface in this bubbling pot of modernity.
The Thing With Five Eyes might sound like some heavy-ass doomcore combo, but instead, they are a trio dedicated to spacious ambiance, adopting a ritual presence, complete with massive gong, laptop and prominent oud soloing. A fourth member, Mohammed Antar, was booked to play flute, but ultimately wasn’t able to make it to Gdańsk. Emanating from the Netherlands, TTWFE are a pan-European grouping, from Dutch, French and Russian quarters. Jean Christophe Bournine’s bowed bass imparted an immediate Arabic aura, rapping the body of his instrument, as if it’s a darbouka. Leader Jason Kohnen initially stroked his gong, then deployed mallets to intensify its rumble, turning to electro-pads while a growing symphonic swell emerged from his laptop. The Russian Dmitry Globa-Mikhailenko’s oud was played comparatively straight, as bass sounds quaked out of the computer. The following stretch retired the electronics, allowing a sensitive relationship between oud and bass, with Kohnen turning back to his gong subtleties. Soft electronic womb pulses eventually returned, so low that they represented internal ribcage business. The oud became coated in harmonic effects, to the extent that it no longer sounded like an oud. The overall sonic experience was Arabic-styled meditation, but heavily filtered into the abstract zone via electronic processing.
Pulverize The Sound have changed. This NYC trio have now decided to operate in a wildly improvised mode, even if they are allowed to drop in sudden modules from already existing compositions. No set-list guarantees high flying. Peter Evans often picked pocket trumpet, Tim Dahl favoured fuzz bass and Mike Pride brought along a side-display of thunder-bass drum, two heavy gongs, and tiny chimes. Evans rammed his tiny bell onto the microphone, hooded for amplified internal tubular distress. Pride clacked blocks like a 1930s dance-band percussionist. Dahl’s bass sound became an oscillating slipstream tone, shorn of audible fingering sounds. Then he wrenched out jetstream extensions, Pride switching to brittle bongo rattles. Dahl vocalised, melding inseparably with the bass storm, and Evans gruffly groaned through his horn too, each phase of the fairly concise set imploding or exploding in turn, crushed tightly with manic hyper-speed rifflets. This was one of the peak festival sets, taking jazz improvisation to its almost ridiculous limits. We were exhausted, but still just about sane, when a suitably brief encore featured Pride on bongos and Evans on pocket trumpet again, taking it down a touch for the finish.
Drummer Greg Fox (pictured above) is still arguably best known for his initial work with the controversial black metal outfit Liturgy, but he has since gone on to operate in multiple prolific settings, including Zs and Ex Eye. Quadrinity finds him joined by Justin Frye (bass), Michael Beharie (guitar) and Maria Grand (tenor saxophone). Fox pummelled beside Beharie’s 12 acoustic strings, with extra electronic cycles controlled by the leader, who remained the most powerful presence throughout, absolutely at the centre of his own music. Quadrinity possessed a magnetic co-existence between slow eruption and a strangely introverted power, sustained at length, solos passing thoughtfully between each member, in the midst of a rolling process.
There was just one set on the final night, with James Holden & The Animal Spirits being much jazzier than expected. The leader sat on a high platform, in the manner of an Indian classical musician, his modular synthesiser wires knotted around an ecstasy of spiritual electro-pulsation. The stage was profusely decorated with plastic plant life (or possibly even the real greenery). Holden was always central, but crucially aided by percussion and horns, the latter section featuring Polish guest reedsman Wacław Zimpel, who provided several outstanding solos. There were bells, intoned vocals, then free bursts of alto saxophone over the sequenced pulsing, a multiple tone plateau planting a Terry Riley sense memory deep within our bowels. The final run was staggering, with older works ‘Renata’ and ‘The Caterpillar’s Intervention’, stomping and shaking over a big tom boom, coated with a pseudo-sitar shimmer. This was a typical example of Jantar viewing a jazz core, prone to spreading out into further universes. Holden beamed with sheer joy.
– Martin Longley
– Photo by Paweł Wyszomirski