12 Points festival review: Hugo Carvalhais and Nebulosa, Livio Minafra and World Service Project
The second night of the 12 Points jazz festival in Porto had sets that were in sharp contrast to one another, something of a hallmark of the festival. First up was Hugo Carvalhais and Nebulosa, the local representative at this year’s festival. The band tend to introduce lines piece by piece and build to raucous finishes with stop-start rhythms and sudden changes of direction along the way, before muscular descents bring things to sudden, slick stops.
The band are lead by double-bass player Carvalhais, but here he is largely dictating the flow from the background allowing the other players to lead the way, from Gabriel Pinto on piano and keys to the intricate rhythms of Mario Costa on drums. It is saxophonist Liudas Mockunas who bosses everything into submission though, with his behemoths of solos. He might sacrifice his tone in places but it’s worth it for the fury of a great wrenched noise that adds a welcome ragged edge to the polish of the rest of the band. As a whole, it’s a good set. Occasionally the groove is lost a little in pursuit of tricksy diversions, but there’s enough character at play to keep things intriguing.
Next up is Livio Minafra, who spends most of the set giving the sound engineers a heart attack and charming the pants off a packed Casa Da Musica. Minafra is, it has to be said, the son of Pino Minafra, a grand old man of Italian jazz, but here it’s almost like he’s trying to destroy the instrument he works so hard with. His music is thrilling and playful, with burst of romantic classicism and an attempt to embody grand ideas into the very fabric of the songs.
Livio Minafra – a danger to pianos and others
He attacks the piano in every way, from sheets of music with the density of diamonds but a lightness of touch in the writing, to flinging cables, CDs and anything else to hand into the bed of the instrument (he gets some help from an audience member at one stage, empty a bag full of items in until the strings can barely choke out the notes). His hands rarely slow to a blur, his pounds the keys with his feet and he only pauses to deliver explanations and musical philosophy in-between tracks that are brilliant, gnostic and pretty much impossible to follow. “This song is about masks, which we all wear, it’s in honour of us and how we are not honest.” Then there is his belief “in the choo choo of life” which is followed by a blistering attempt to get the piano to sound like a locomotive tearing its way through the Italian countryside and into the furthest reaches of Europe and beyond. He follows this by orchestrating the crowd into jingling their keys to accompany another song to simulate the delicate tropical rains of Columbia.
He is part pianist, part storyteller with theatre, history and a mixture of his home place of Puglia and its near neighbours and their mixed Arabic heritage in his DNA. It could be difficult to follow but the best thing to do with Minafra’s work is to surrender completely to it. Sometimes the best way to get to know a city is to simply get lost in it.
World Service Project – tune in
The closing session of the evening, before the free jams in nearby Café Labirinto, saw UK act World Service Project boss the Casa da Musica stage. This is big, swaggery jazz played with passion, aggression, and no little humour. The band don’t take themselves too seriously on stage, but the music is honed and crafted to a fine degree. It is loud – ear bashingly loud in places, which is not something you always get in jazz and pays dividends within a mixed set dynamic such as in this festival. In the opening salvo drummer Neil Blandford almost sounds like he’s channelling Slayer’s Dave Lombardo before settling into some slightly more restrained whipcrack grooves. The sax of Tim Ower and trombone of Ralph Clarkson joust and feint centre stage, deploy bursts of colour around each other with the piano lines of Dave Morecroft bringing direction while Conor Chapman solidifies the groove and keeps the package tight and dynamic.
Blandford works the kit so hard that sometimes there’s not enough headroom for the band to move into, if they want to step it up a gear. But the dynamic rarely dips below anything other than the cracked, fizzing energy of robust tunes that are a pleasure to share a space with live.
There’s a sound in the UK that keeps making its way outside the country, with more wide ranging influences and elements than most jazz, a confident, stylish approach that is always looking outwards for influences and inspiration. It’s exemplified by the likes of Trio VD and Phronesis; World Service Project are another case in point.