Jazzkaar returns and exciting 'wayward creativity' abounds
Thursday, May 12, 2022
Martin Longley returns from a thrilling set of performances at the Tallinn jazz festival in Estonia
The Estonian capital of Tallinn has deservedly been awarded UNESCO City Of Music status from 2022. Its always-wonderful Jazzkaar festival has now returned to its accustomed month of April, following the virus-enforced date-shiftings of ‘20 and ‘21. International artists reappeared for the eight-day programme, along with the expected Estonian presence.
Avishai Cohen’s Big Vicious combo (pictured below - photo by Sven Tupits) were quite good at the Polish Jazztopad festival in 2018, but now seem to have been completely revivified into a far mightier entity, ending up being one of this Jazzkaar’s absolute highlights. The Israeli trumpeter remains the most stable element in his own band, very much inhabiting the Miles Davis role, during his early 1970s electro-funko-rocko period. Cohen’s horn was largely untouched by FX, always gleaming right at the heart of his sidemen’s shifting plates of groove. Big Vicious benefits from a twinned drums and guitar membership, although one of its six-string slingers does favour the lower tonal regions. All band members are garbed in name-tag overalls that suggested either side-work as astronauts or grease monkeys, possibly inspired by Devo. They looked half-silly and half-cool. One of the drummers, Ziv Ravitz, took a deservedly extended solo on ‘The Hidden Chamber’, as the guitarists built their lattices, swirling with vocal-type sonics. The drumming team also knitted together, combining fast hi-hat and snare repeats, one aspect apiece, perfectly interlocking. Basslines alternated with treble guitar strafes, chains were laid on cymbals, and the leader’s trumpet ascended majestically over all. Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ was spilled sideways, as Yonatan Albalak crouched over his floor pedals, while Ravitz performed live dubs on his kit. A heavy blues encore surprised again, sparkle-topped by extended trumpet and slide guitar solos.
There was an excellent opening concert for the festival, ‘Ode To The Forest’ being a specially commissioned piece by the Peedu Kass/Joel Remmel Ensemble. This bassist and keyboardist both lead their own bands and are central to the Tallinn scene. The new work repeatedly unveiled genuinely surprising combinations, having a suite-flow that presented a sequence of player permutations from within the nonet ranks. Jason Hunter (trumpet) and Aleksander Paal (saxophones) were joined by drums, guitar, electronics, cello and violin, the latter player being Hans Christian Aavik, a noted classical artist. Forests abound in Estonia, and another aspect of this performance was a backdrop of suitably arboreal images. Moods moved from forceful funk to a chamber sensitivity, sonorous bass-bowing sparseness and then a piano-violin sensitivity. A violin-cello dialogue continued these featured sonic compartments. Then there was solo acoustic guitar, with ensemble responses, all of these phases passing with a natural grace, in the ‘third stream’ manner. Drums and bass began an emphatic progress, heading into a cosmic electronic section, with relaxed horn exchanges, Kass on acoustic guitar, the horns making stark wildlife statements, the tune becoming, eventually, more of a purposeful swinger. A sharp, atonal horn-bend closed, in yet another completely satisfying surprise move.
The Estonian bassist and composer Mingo Rajandi regularly provides a completely different slant when she appears at Jazzkaar. This time she partnered with the dramatic vocalist Eva Koldits, theatrically intoning her text, and gesturing powerfully in front of an ensemble performing the extended ‘Beastesses’. The horn section trio had a ton of horns, mostly low-end, regularly switching, the deepest alternatives being bass clarinet, baritone saxophone and bass trombone, united as a highly effective palette. There were flattened guitar krangs, bowed bass and Koldits herself, sometimes sitting silent and tranquil, before re-injecting the doomy-charisma declamations, poised and perilous, with death-mask portent.
There was also a notable Polish presence, a couple of days into the festival, with alto saxophonist Maciej Obara leading his quartet. Fine though his own playing was, Obara appeared to be forced higher by his partners, particularly Norwegian bassist Ole Morten Vågen and Swedish drummer Jon Fält, both driven by intense inner forces. An unpredictable dynamism ensued, with Fält tapping mini gongs, liberally slinging small objects and using brushes to stinging effect. Meanwhile, Vågen’s repetitive, speeding bass figures urged Obara higher towards a volatile state, pianist Dominik Wania also investigating runaway patterns of complexity. Some mystical aura around this year’s Jazzkaar was encouraging for risk-taking, surprise-making and general wayward creativity…