Review: 12 Points day three

The final day of the jazz festival sees six acts stretch their abilities and their musical definitions

Artist: Varioius

Venue: Norrland Operan

Date Reviewed: April 9th, 2014

Alexander Hawkins; Herd Trio; Violet Spin; Marcin Masecki; Alarmist; The More Socially Relevant Jazz Music Ensemble

One of the main frustrations of your typical jazz festival is that the best gigs frequently clash. At 12 Points, there’s just one stage and everybody gets the same amount of time on it. Each band is an unknown headliner and, as a result, the audience tends to be made up of the kind of open-minded listeners who bring the best out in musicians.

Day Three of the festival sees six bands in as many hours, each in their own way here to stretch what jazz means for young European musicians in the 21st century. The spirit is willing alright, but it’s too soon to say about the flesh.

English pianist Alexander Hawkins gave up a career in criminology to pursue his passion for music, and there is something forensic in the way he goes about his solo performance. In among the crash, bang and wallop of a young pianist showing brave disregard for the technique he clearly possesses, there are fragments of stride and swing, echoes of Thelonious Monk and briefly glimpsed ghosts of Hawkins’ favourite, Duke Ellington. Indeed, it could be argued that the whole enthralling performance is a radically improvised recomposition of Duke Ellington’s Take the A-Train .

Finnish trio Herd are awarded brownie points in Gerry Godley’s introduction for travelling to the festival by ferry across the gulf of Bothnia, but are honest enough to admit later that it was only bassist Mikko Pellinen who had actually got his feet wet. Their music is a sweetly melodic confection of percussive instruments – bass, drums and vibraphone acting like one big thumb piano. Without any traditional chordal accompaniment, vibist Panu Savolainen is free to follow the music wherever it leads him, keeping his damper off and allowing the ringing bars to congregate in the air in clouds of overlapping harmony, while Pellinen and drummer Tuomas Timonen drive the grooves along with delicate precision.

Of all the castle walls being stormed here this week, perhaps the hardest to breach are the formidable defences of classical music, where the composer holds the strings and the notes are decided before the performance begins – often several hundreds years before. String quartet Violet Spin from Vienna are brave outliers, trying to find a way to ditch the dots and function as a single improvising unit. It’s a work in progress and there are still a lot of written passages in their gutsy performance, but at their best violinists Irene Kepl and Paul Dangl, violist Magdalena Zenz and cellist Fabian Jäger point the way to a new frontier for the string quartet.

Warsaw pianist Marcin Masecki continues the assault on classical certainties with a solo piano performance that opens the evening session, deconstructing a series of Scarlatti sonatas. The 17th-century Spanish composer’s melodies are dismantled and reassembled in a charmingly innocent, almost childlike fashion. Although he’s clearly a well-schooled classical pianist, Macecki doesn’t try to show off, and there are times when he sounds like a bold child deliberately screwing up his piano lesson while his teacher is out of the room. It takes a good musician to take on such challenging source material, and a great one to use it to create something so fresh.