Again an indication of the global nature of Jazzahead was exemplified by an appearance from Bahia singer Xênia França with a strong band. França, who has a light, flexible and persuasive voice, was pretty mobile on stage. But attempts at audience participation didn't come off as well as perhaps she hoped. And yet her band threw together some pretty immersive routines particularly spearheaded by percussionist Ricardo Braga and bass guitarist Robinho Taveres. It didn't quite ignite and França pushed for time like all the acts given the brevity of the sets didn't explain the songs sung in Portuguese which was a pity.
By complete contrast over in the Schlachthof which has a completely different vibe to the main concert hall spaces the more bohemian atmosphere and less dry acoustics suited ''free jazz'' German power trio Malstrom better than most. Characterised by hyperactive - and a bit mannered to be fair - stunt guitar from the Gandalf, and presiding ''character,'' of the band Axel Zajac, saxist Florian Walter screamed over the top of the sound leaving drummer Jo Beyer like the referee and pillar of sanity who did not need to groove to spur the others on. The crowd seemed to really get what they did. Consumerist and plastic Malstrom are not. And you could imagine heavy metal fans being into Zajac especially when he started tapping and upping the sheer levels of velocity that he had kept carefully under wraps for a while.
Malstrom taking a bow at the Schlachthof - l-r: Florian Walter, Jo Beyer, Axel Zajac
The best performance by any act that we caught over the two days was of the Ruins and Remains derived suite released last year by ECM that hushed Hall 7.2 later on in the afternoon. The work of pianist and composer Wolfert Brederode with the Matangi Quartet and drummer-percussionist Joost Lijbaart completing the ingeniously knitted together instrumental mix - I was quite moved to be frank.
An album actually recorded in Bremen, at the Sendesaal where Keith Jarrett recorded 50 years ago a key contributory part to his classic solo improvisations Bremen/Lausanne released the following year and also produced by the great Manfred Eicher, dazzling pianism framed inside a transcendental dream consciousness makes you reflect via Brederode's compositional arc on war in Europe whether 20th century global conflict or perilously now in Ukraine in the mind's eye inevitably as we listen. 'Duhra' was highly pertinent with pristine violin soloing against piano, the genre-less quasi classical crossover area navigated expertly. It was worth coming to Jazzahead just to hear this remarkable performance alone.
Into the evening there was even more variety and French Armenian pianist Yessaï Karapetian did not disappoint with traditional instruments from Armenia like the duduk and the blul in the front line providing plenty of interest. More folkloric and less prog than Trio Hadouk's approach by quite a distance inevitably given some of the piano language you think of Tigran Hamasyan more. And yes Karapetian reasonably stands such a big comparison to the master Tigran given how fluent and adroit he proved in switching from the scintillating runs and tight discipline of the maze like passages to the aching lament laden passages also folded in. Driving, head bobbing, sections ably goaded on by his bass guitar-playing brother Marc inspired Yessaï to new heights.
Belgian Japanese pianist Alex Koo's nuanced performance later included an imaginative musical description of - yes you guessed it - a sperm whale. And Koo was good too in the granular detail of the almost Terry Riley-like minimalism he achieved developed organically. Koo manages to coax out both a big roar from the mighty Yamaha and by contrast pivots to a stillness that only noise filtering in through the open doors of the hall murmured over from the vast atrium beyond. With still more action into the evening the last band we caught was the likeable Austrian/Czech melodic sax/piano/bass/drums quartet Purple is the Color who received some of the best applause of the day in a by-this-point packed out Schlachthof. Days like this ''when all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit'' as the song goes - you bet.
- Review: Stephen Graham