12 Points festival – Day 1 review
The double-edged sword of opening this year’s 12 Points Jazz festival fell to the Susana Santos Silva quintet, a young group from Porto led by trumpeter Silva. Opening-night nerves were in evidence, with the band relying too heavily on their charts and too lightly on each other in their opening numbers, which featured some terrific and unusual writing. Dark, troubling chords were often dislodged by almost Mariachi-style marches, with Latin influence splashing colour at unexpected turns; there is plenty fluidity and inventiveness here and once the band had shaken off their trepidation and opened up the trumpet of Silva and Zé Pedro Coelho’s flowing tenor saxophone lines, the songs really lifted.
The last two tracks were particularly strong, and brought much more of a rock element to the set. André Fernandes’s guitar lines were sometimes tricky to hear among the horns but on these final few tracks, and on his solos, they displayed polish and groove. The feel may have been straight ahead in places (which is no bad thing), with bags of punch and groove, but some excellent drumming from Marcos Cavaleiro, and his constant pushing and pulling of snare and cymbal hits, meant the songs never felt overly linear. This was a fine way to open a very promising festival.
From here, things took a turn for the anarchic. Amsterdam-based outfit the Ambush Party play improvised music that is impossible to predict, and impossible to resist. Oscar Jan Hoogland’s prepared piano lines are brilliant and unhinged; who knew a milk frother could be used to make a piano rumble with such emotion? The band sketch out the merest of musical lines, and than duck, jab and weave their way around them, little punches of percussion and sudden stabs of cymbals from Marcos Baggiani circling and irritating the piano, while Harald Austbø drags groans and moans from his cello and himself, before bursting into a voice that could rouse Wagner from a slumber. Meanwhile tenor saxophonist Natalio Sued wears the pained expression, and has the desultory brassy honks and howls of a man who believes he is the only sane one in the asylum. For every moment of chaos, though, there is clockwork efficiency beneath the melee that keeps the whole, swaggering bandwagon whirling onwards and upwards into unified bursts of sound that break like a storm. There is rigorous, meticulous magic at work here. This is music as theatre, and as exciting, engaging and humorous a band as you are likely to see. Seek them out, and leave any preconceived notions at the door because they will be of no use to you.
A tough act to follow then, but no band was perhaps better equipped to steal the show than Phronesis – they came to Dublin with a reputation as one of the best live acts in young European jazz, and opened in explosive style with one of the strongest and most frenetic tracks from Alive, their latest album. Abraham’s New Gift opens with a blistering, swaggering bass line that piano and drums spend 10 minutes trying to dislodge from its perch, and it is thrilling, potent, visceral stuff to listen to – Jasper Høiby is a player of prodigious power, Anton Eger’s drumming whips and pulses with ideas and emotions, while Ivo Neame’s piano lines take no prisoners. The band followed this up with Democracy and Love Song, another track that displays why they have been setting the live jazz circuit on fire.
After this, though, the set wandered into flatter terrain. Perhaps the unusual 60-minute slots wrong footed their set list, or maybe the fact that they only got into Dublin hours before the gig made fatigue a factor. But the remainder of the set, while eloquently played and satisfying to listen to, if perhaps a little too solo heavy, never matched the intensity of the opening salvo.
This was a superb night’s music, with three slots of very different jazz and a thrilling indication of how much various musicians are pushing the musical envelope in Europe. The festival is off to a flyer; here’s hoping tonight’s triumvirate can keep the fire’s stoked. Lisbeth Quartett are opening the set, MeTaL-O-PHoNe are the mid-rank (and much hyped) wild card, while Francesco Diodati’s Neko, who are headlining, were talking an excellent game in the Foam cafe festival club after last night’s gigs. Find out the truth for yourself at the Project tonight.