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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 20, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

    12 Points Festival review: Schneeweiss und Rosenrot, Machine Birds and Girls in Airports

    Laurence Mackin

    On the final day of the 12 Points festival, things took a turn for the accessible, but after three days of challenging, contemporary jazz the shift in programming came as something of a relief.

    Berlin-based group Schneeweiss und Rosenrot got things off to an assured and compelling start. It’s a slightly unusual set up of voice, piano, double bass and drums, but one that has plenty of scope for colour and drama and SuR lend a healthy dose of theatre to their sound – little surprise, given that their name comes from a brothers Grimm fairytale. The band like to stop and start proceedings to keep things interesting, but the grooves here are more straightahead, with a definite hip hop feel to some of the tracks. Johanna Borchert builds a wide, warm platform on the piano, with clever repetitive figures that take occasional diversions. This allows the almost-funk and subtle shuffles of Mark Lohr on drums and Petter Eldh on bass to take the audience on a satisfying musical journey, with diversions down darker more abstract alleyways.

    Borchert shifts the creativity up a gear, and tinkers with the piano’s innards, at one point sawing at the strings inside with what looked like horsehair to produce a harsher, haunting effect punched through with planted chords, while the double bass snarled and the kit snapped fitfully in the background, tempting the tracks on with jabs and slaps. Sudden echoy grooves and samples, some of it dialogue from classic movies, add another element to the mix, with Lucia Cadotsch’s vocal tying it altogether with style and elegance.

    SuR have plenty of crossover appeal and given the intelligence of the songwriting they seem aware that their set could sit happily in a festival that is much more mainstream than 12 Points. Here’s hoping it proves a lucrative pursuit for them.

    Machine Birds sit somewhat uneasily in this festival context. This is pretty, melodic music, made up of synths, keyboards and vocals from Marte Eberson and Maria Skranes, with the odd bit of looping and sampling thrown in for good measure. In places it builds to something more than the sum of its parts, with the purity of Skranes’s vocal charming a packed Casa da Musica. If there was a full live band with some jazz chops behind this music, it could develop into something really interesting. As it stands it seems too mainstream to be sharing a bill with the more ambitious pedigree at 12 Points. Not that this band don’t have a bright future – it’s pleasant and attractive synth-pop, with an occasional Cocteau Twins hue, though calling it jazz is a stretch of the imagination.

    Girls In Airports closed things off for 12 Points 2012 and gave a robust and suitably groove-filled end to the evening, before the freejams of the festival club produced one last hurrah and gave the Porto police some work in the early hours, before bleary eyed musicians stumbled back to their hotels to pick up their bags and head straight to the airport and on to the various European cities they call home.

    The Danish band are not the most technically accomplished outfit at 12 Points, but they hone their rhythm section and Rhodes to build substantial and intricate post-rock platforms that allow the saxophones of Lars Greve and Martin Sender to take things into more improvised territory. African influences make their presence felt, particularly through the drums and bass of Victor Dybbroe and Mads Forsby respectively, beguiling a crowd with their irresistible syncopated rhythms and lending a bit of style, warmth and feel good atmosphere to the punch jazzy lies of Mathias Holms on the Rhodes, and the more Scandinavian sound of the brass. These wide-ranging flavours give a terrific undercurrent to the spooky Pirates and Tankers. The band lay it down straight in 4/4 rhythms, giving the keys and brass room to bring a bit of drama and hurt to the process.

    As a final festival hurrah they play Children’s Temple, with lovely, soundtrackish colours building in slow sweeps over delicate grooves that gain substance and style as the song progresses. It’s a very satisfying, stylish and sublime end to a festival that punches well above its weight and gives more than a few clues as to where jazz, and music as a whole, is heading in the near future.

    • Mark Hermvil says:

      I saw Machine Birds live at Nattjazz in Bergen and fell in love with the atmospheric and anthemic tunes. I’m glad to see someone agreeing on their quality and potential. However, I find it fascinating to see someone state with authority that what they do on stage isn’t jazz. Not because of Machine Birds, it’s obvious that they are using a jazz background to make 4AD-tinged pop: but because I find it limiting to what 12points could and should be about in the future.

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      Mark – I take your point on what is jazz and what isn’t, it’s an argument I usually try to avoidI because in that way madness lies. I do think though that in this case they stood out, given the other acts at the festival. Nattjazz is great, and it has loads of acts that are definitely pop and rock. They had Cornershop on the bill last year. Cornershop?

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