12 Points jazz festival day two: Thali, Soil Collectors and OKO
Day two of the 12 Points festival at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre had a strong vocal line-up, which turned out to be a very good thing indeed.
First up were swiss act Thali, led by vocalist Sarah Büchi, a musician who has a fascination with the music of southern India, and lives partly in Dublin, where she teaches in Newpark Music Centre. The ensemble’s sound is an intriguing blend of her raga-rich vocals, stretched across microtonal scales, and a more straightforward European feel. It’s a cracking combination, fizzing with invention and complex rhythmic ideas, but without betraying a groove that will hook in even a casual listener.
The band’s approach reaches its zenith in a track built around the Indian konnakol technique of singing percussive lines. Büchi sets off at a rattling pace while the rest of the band fall in frenetic step behind her lead. It’s a formidable feat of rhythmic prowess and endurance, particularly from Andre Pusaz on the kit, that does the track justice. Büchi, though, is unlikely to realise her dream of hearing a stadium of fans singing this song at the top of their lungs; after all, we can’t all take free kicks like Ronaldo.
At one point, Büchi takes a back seat and lets the band build a really punchy rhythmic groove. This helps put her vocal in relief and further highlight the intricacies of what she is doing; the set could do with more instances of this. This is a strong collection of impressive music that easily wins over the Project’s full-house crowd.
On paper, Soil Collectors shouldn’t work. The Gothenburg band use just two vocalists and one drummer/pianist to build their musical landscapes – but what extraordinary vocalists. Isabel Sörling was last in these parts two years ago for 12 Points, and on this project she is joined by Hannah Tolf and Jonathan Albrektsson to create music that simply has to be experienced live.
The band tap into Nordic choral traditions, with strong ecological themes wrapped in mystical shamanism to create music that veers between the sublime and the terrifying. Tolk and Sörling use their cathedral-sized ranges to create soaring, almost unearthly harmonies that are looped and filtered live through a series of pedals, while Albrektsson adds primal pulse and dynamics that mean the songs never feel shapeless or accidental. If the vegans are right and plants feel pain, then Soil Collectors might have figured out what the earth sounds like when it’s being ripped up to build a car-park.
If that sounds a little nebulous, the music is far from it – it is never more substantial than on Papa Please, a song about child abuse, which introduces a fantastic groove after a heartbreakingly tentative vocal intro. It carries the kind of visceral shock to the system you usually find only in novels such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
It’s not all anguish, though. Zero could rock a festival crowd to its roots and when the band leave the stage and ditch the amplification to sing from different parts of the room, the crowd isn’t long in joining in to clap and thump the beat. This is elemental stuff, and a barely believable musical experience that’s a privilege to witness.
OKO were handed the unenviable task of following Soil Collectors, but at least the Dublin band could rely on a bit of hometown support to get things up and running. The band weave a glittering electronic curtain of music, with guitarist Shane Latimer popping frequencies, loop and whorls from his guitar and effects pedals, while Darragh O’Kelly reciprocates on piano and keyboards. Shane O’Donovan lays down busy beats and lines while Jack McMahon scratches samples and low-end beats on decks from the back of the stage.
The builds take place over long stretches, intricate with electronic texture. The groove remains intentionally elusive and often takes too long to make its presence felt. One track in particular, though, when they lock it in off the back of some strong piano melodies, is fantastic, producing a Mogwai-like scenario that shifts and shakes with energy and substance.
There’s no doubting the complexity of the songs, and they trade depth in electronic detail for a lightness in their emotional payload. If you like your sonic fields wide and cerebral, then this is the band for you.