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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 15, 2012 @ 9:45 pm

    A 12 Points plan for better jazz

    Laurence Mackin

    This weekend sees the 12 Points festival invading the Portuguese city of Porto. Last year’s edition took place in Dublin, and every second year this Irish festival finds a foreign home, so now it is headed for the banks of the Duoro.

    The city might be an ancient gem full of Moorish mystery, but the festival is all about the freshest, hottest sounds in jazz and contemporary experimental music. Some 12 bands from 12 European cities will be descending on Porto for three gigs a night in one of the slickest venues in Europe – the new Casa da Musica.

    I’ll be blogging from the festival at the weekend, but in the meantime here is a preview of what’s on offer, with links to some audio to fill your ears with. Just click on each band’s name.

    In the blue and yellow corner, fighting for Helsinki, Finland is Big Blue. This is a straight up quarter of trumpet, piano, bass and drums that allows themselves to work in plenty of space, before building to rich finishes with taught dynamics. It features Kalevi Louhivori on trumpet, Antti Kujanpaa on piano, Jori Huhtala on bass and Joonas Leppänen on drums

    The Irish contingent this year is Thought-Fox. The quintet will be familiar to those who follow the Irish jazz scene: Lauren Kinsella is on vocals, with trombonist Colm O’Hara, Michael Coady on bass, Londoner Simon Roth on drums and Glaswegian Tom Gibbs on piano. Expect plenty of improv vocal that moves into chanteuse, and some intelligent, experienced interplay.

    Ghent, Bleigum is represented by De Beren Gieren (try saying that after a few beers). This is (hurrah!) an old-school piano trio with Fulco Ottervanger on keys, Lieven Van Pee on bass and Simon Segers on drums. They play with plenty of groove and an infectious dose from the classical world. Plus they might collectively have the best names in the festival.

    Playing on a home pitch is Hugo Carvalhais and Nebulosa. This quartet, led by Carvalhais on bass (which means naturally they are the best), features Gabriel Pinto on piano, Liudas Mockunas on saxophone and Mario Costa on drums. They come into the festival, having built on the critical acclaim of Carvalhais’s debut album, which shares its names with the band. Lithuanian tenor saxophonist Liudas Mockunas will be familiar to diehard 12 Pointers – he was at it before with the Saga Quartet.

    Livio Minafra hails from Bari in Italy, and will be bringing his singular, solo approach to the piano to 12 Points. He comes from some serious jazz heritage – his father is the Italian jazz patriarch and leader of Orchestra Instabile Pino Minafra, and he has a reputation for running the gamut of colour and expressiveness in concert from delicate lines of simple beauty to rampant, raucous improvs.

    World Service Project are (of course) from London. The quintet feature Dave Morecroft on piano, Tim Ower on saxophone, Ralph Clarkson on trombone, Conor Chapman on bass and Neil Blandford behind the kit. Expect this to be louder, pushier and rockier than your average jazz quintet. We’ll look forward to lighting the touchpaper on this one and stepping well back for a good view.

    Poland has a terrific jazz heritage, so we expect high things of the Maciej Obara Quartet, who call Krakow home. Obara cut his teeth playing with the great Tomasz Stanko, and here is joined by Dominik Wania on piano, Maciej Garbowski on bass and Krzysztof Gradziuk on drums. Expect this to be a fairly dark and introspective affair, with the potential to go to very special places indeed.

    Last year, Kaja Draksler’s band, with their expansive and inclusive approach, stole the show with a stunning performance. Could octet Divanhana be this year’s wild card triumph? The band come from Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and features Leila Catic (voice), Nedzad Musovic (accordion), Ismar Poric (clarinet and saxophone), Rifet Camdzic (drums), you’ve stopped reading haven’t you, Danijel Condric (guitar), Azur Imamovic (bass), in fairness it is a long list, Neven Tunjic (piano) and Irfan Tahirovic (percussion). Rich folk influences and fiery Balkan passion, that finds a comfortable place of rest in the home of fado is on the cards, with more than a hint of Oriental mysticism.

    It wouldn’t be 12 Points without some Parisian style, so bring on quartet Actuum. Louis Laurain is on trumpet, Benjamin Dousteyssier is on saxophone, Ronan Courty is on bass with Julien Loutelier on drums. According to the press materials, Actuum “are not afraid to express an ambitious manifesto with implications of dystopia, chaos and instability, and they’re well equipped to give it a very convincing musical representation’ – the comparisons with last year’s Frenchmen Metal-o-phone are unavoidable. Expect some stylish musical violence then.

    Schneeweiss und Rosenrot come from Berlin, and feature Lucia Cadotsch on vocals, Johanna Borchert on piano, Petter Eldh on bass and Marc Lohr on drums. This is music with a purely artistic heart employing elements of storytelling, theatre and oh all right some jazz too.

    Machine Birds come from the stunning little city of Bergen in Norway, home to the excellent NattJazz festival. This is perhaps the oddest line up on the festival, with Marte Eberson on synthesizer and vocals with just Maria Skranes for company. There will be loops and sweeps of colour, lashed down with the pure beams of Skranes’s elegantly Nordic vocal. Intrigued? You should be.

    Girls In Airports are enormous liars. There is not a female among them. When not dressing as women and catching flights they call Copenhagen home, but this music has wider borders, with strong African elements bringing groove and muscle to proceedings. Fans of Ibrahim Electric take note. The quintet are Lars Greve and Martin Sender on sax, Mathias Holms on Fender Rhodes, Victor Dybbroe on percussion and Mads Forsby on drums.

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