Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
27 April 2007
Improvised Music Company’s 12 Points! festival of new European jazz, which took place over four nights in late April at the Project, was a great idea waiting for someone like IMC artistic director Gerry Godley to bring it to life. And Godley and his staff did an excellent job, presenting a dozen very different young artists and bands from Norway to Hungary in an atmosphere that was relaxed, stimulating, and intimate.
If the three acts at the Friday night show were any indication, the next generation of European jazz is talented and diverse. All three – the Danish quintet Light Airborne, the Swedish band of multi-instrumentalist Nils Berg, and the Bulgarian pianist Dimitar Bodurov – played innovative and energetic sets that betrayed a complex and global range of influences.
Of the two Scandinavian quintets, Nils Berg’s group, which included the excellent vibraphonist Mattias Stahl, was the more impressive. Like Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Sun Ra (to whom Berg dedicated the quirky, swinging ‘Sunny Side’), Berg is a musical eccentric, with an uncanny ability of breaking down a tune into its constituent parts and rebuilding it as something unique and organic. His wry musical offerings, with offbeat references to folk and pop, kept surprising the audience, and the band’s distinctive instrumentation (including cello and harmonica) was used to create subtle and compelling harmonies.
Light Airborne’s leader is another multi-reedman, Niels Løkkegaard, who moved easily from tenor to alto sax to clarinet to flute, managing a distinctive style on each. With a breathy alto sound reminiscent of Eric Dolphy and a much lighter feel on tenor, he expertly matched instrument to composition, and his writing displayed a broad emotional range. ‘Song for the Northwest Neighbourhood’, a duo for alto and piano, was especially evocative: a spare, plaintive Nordic song with a clever use of silence. Unfortunately, Løkkegaard’s band, under-rehearsed and lacking in cohesion, failed to do full justice to the writing.
The highlight of the night was Bodurov, the only solo performer in the festival and a remarkable young piano talent. Drawing primarily on Bulgarian folk songs and dances, Bodurov brought classical technique and intense jazz lyricism to this distinctive material, full of complex rhythms and exotic melodic lines. Like Keith Jarrett, he seems to have a very open approach to improvisation, interpreting the songs freely and creatively while shaping them with his very personal style. And as if to show that he was equally adept in the mainstream, he played a bravura version of John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ which swung mightily and captivated its listeners.
Let’s hope that IMC can build on this success and make 12 Points! an annual festival that helps keep Dublin at the heart of the vibrant European jazz scene.
Published on 1 July 2007
Kevin Stevens is is a Dublin-based novelist and writer on history, literature, and jazz.