12 Points review: Maciej Obara Quartet, Divanhana and Actuum
Polish jazz has a fine heritage, and Maciej Obara exemplifies many of its best characteristics. The playing of Obara and his band is polished to a pristine degree, full of elegance and well structured chromatic developments. Obara likes to introduce tracks fairly full on and then sit back to let the drums, piano and bass take a freewheeling wander into more abstract areas, before reasserting the groove and letting his saxophone run a little wild – never too wild though.
The band build big dramatic landscapes of introspective sound that occasionally find themselves in unsettling territory, the sax haunting the off-kilter piano of Dominik Wania above scraps of scraped cymbals with the bass of Maciej Garbowski solid and relentless in the background while Krzysztof Gradziuk’s kit skitters nervously and Obara drops rolling bursts of colour low on the song’s horizon. It’s very full and accomplished, but the band rarely seem to overly push or expose themselves, and there is little risk of their intricate and impressive outfit becoming rumpled or ragged.
Divanhana are a very different prospect. The eight-piece band come from Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina and play rich folk music from the sevdalinka tradition, tracks full of melancholy and lament, hearts broken and loves lost and won.
The band build large swirling tones of mystery before turning slyly romantic and hurling the track down a rockier flight of stairs, the Sephardic clarinet lines of Ismar Poric harassing the riffs all the way. Other times they lay on the melancholy and the melodrama in much thicker strokes, and force the emotion of the songs across a little without trusting the melody to carry its own emotional weight. A few tracks sound like a Balkan wedding has suddenly stumbled into the room, bleary and boisterous with plenty of rootsy charm thanks to its big choruses and frenetic jigs.
At one point the band strip back to a four piece and deliver a spare and beautiful lament full of heartache and defiant resignation that is a stand-out moment in the set, Leila Catic’s vocals allowed to fill the room with plaintive sound. But it is not long before we are back in the full flight of a gentle Balkan folky fury.
Oddly there is a sense throughout that the band are playing well within their own limits, so while it has sweep and drama there is no roughness, no risk taking and the band are never in danger of running wild and rampant. Usually it is this fire in the belly that brings this sort of folk music up to another level, but here it never breaks out into a sweat.
French band Actuum rarely break into anything other than a riot. The band set out their stall early, big sudden muscular jazz, Ronan Courty abusing his double bass from the get go, barely breaking for a groove that lasts more than a few bars while Louis Laurain on trumpet and Benjamin Dousteyssier on saxophone snarl and snap their way above the furious kit of Julien Loutelier, that reels and jabs in space he somehow manages to carve out of the musical madness. The band seem to embody a particular band of French malady in jazz (fellow Parisians Metal-o-phone also have a heavy dose and both bands work within the Coax collective) where the only option is to play the entire set at the absolute limits of your abilities. It’s a set of extraordinary power and attack, with leaps into the unknown that teeters on the edge of total chaos and instability without ever slipping, retaining its musical identity amid the fury and flooring a venue with some very stylish and very challenging musical violence.