A L’arme Festival Vol. 10 (Part 2 of 2) ~ The Free Jazz Collective

By Paul Acquaro

My first visit to A L’arme was for it’s second installment in 2013 when I was still bedazzled by the shaggy chic of Berlin. It was there that I met up with my Free Jazz Blog colleague Martin Schray for the first of many times at the festival and took in the ‘beach bar,just one of many that dotted the Spree river as it flowed through the city. These were typically scrappy shacks, on the sandy river embankment, that sold bratwurst and a beer for 3 euros and may or may not have offered a volleyball net for anyone interested in gathering a group to play. Nowadays, these have been mostly replaced by luxury condos and office buildings.

This evening, next to the Radialsystem’s grounds, a building was going up where the sand bar used to be, a luxury condo building, lots of concrete and glass. “Things change,” I thought, as I dug through the crates of LPs and CDs offered by the local dealer, No Man’s Land“but it doesn’t seem that I will.”

Nakama. Photo by Carlos H. Juica.

Tonight at A L’arme was the most free jazz of the nights, starting with Nakama. The Norwegian group’s inspiration comes from Japanese culture, or as the program states, they “mix Japanese anime, minimalism, and Zen Buddhism.” The group is Christian Meaas Svendsen on bass, Andreas Røysum on clarinet, Klaus Holm on saxophone and clarinet and Ayumi Tanaka on piano and Andreas Wildhagen on drums, and their music runs minimal the gamut from saidism to colorful free improvisation. In the main hall, the group began quietly, with only a sprinkle of notes from the piano and breath from the woodwinds. Meaas Svendsen, in a hushed voice, recited lyrics. As the intensity of the band slowly increased, they achieved a delicate bittersweet balance. Between the hopeful chord voicing from the piano and darker tones from the others, they created an uncertain atmosphere that lasted until an extended drum solo. After, chanting from Meaas Svendsen began anew, and the two woodwindists engaged in a fluttery exchange. This clarinet duet grew stronger and more melodic with slight dissonances, then more dissonant with slight melodic moments, and finally to a folk-like melody that the band took over. Then came my favorite moment – nothing can squeal and squawk like a bass clarinet, and Røysum’s turn on the instrument did just that, playing fantastically inside and outside tonality. A second piece, apparently based on the Sony PlayStation zombie game “Last of Us” gave saxophonist Holm the opportunity to play an evocative micro-tonal solo on his alto. The group ended with a hushed plink plonk of sounds and a recitation of a Buddhist chant.

(LR) Macie Stewart, Ludwig Wandinger (out of view), Ken Vandermark

The next set came together through an unlucky situation, percussionist Claire Rousay, who was scheduled to play with woodwindist Ken Vandermark and violinist Macie Stewart, had been in a car accident in the US. Luckily, she was reportedly not severely injured, nonetheless, unable to travel*. Her replacement was Berlin based drummer Ludwig Wanderer, who seemed to actually be quite a natural fit with Vandermark and Stewart whose own musical relationship now spans many years with the group Marker and other projects. This evening, Vandermark kicked off the set with a burst of notes, Stewart reacted with a blend of violin and voice, and Wandinger used a foil space blanket atypically for rhythmic purposes, after which focusing on his drum kit and adding some electronics. The trio acted as a cohesive organism, listening and reacting closely. Pointed, high energy moments suddenly stopped, almost telepathically. Wandinger’s drumming was strong, but lithe, and Stewart instinctively wove her sometimes gentle, sometimes assertive textures around Vandermark’s clarinet or sax playing. It was a wonderful set of free improv, mostly acoustic with just a smattering of electronics thrown in by Wandinger. It was pretty damn perfect.

Frank Bretschneider and Jan Jelinek

The synthesizer work of Frank Bretschneider and Jan Jelinek followed in the same hall. The two Berlin based electronic musicians used modular synthesizers to create an evolving sound-world. The video screen above the stage added quite a bit to the performance, filling in a missing element of electronics shows, namely, how does one ‘see’ the music making? The video, providing a changing perspective of the performers, offered at times a birds-eye or ‘hands-on’ views. The audience could see all of the switches and controls, a joystick that was used to bend the waves or control the attack, giving a more visceral feeling to the performance. Through these complex set ups the musicians created drones, crafted sine waves, and stirred the sense with oscillating bass frequencies.

Vincent von Schlippenbach, Farida Amadou and Warren G. Crudup III

The final set was by bassist Farida Amadouwho, like Vandermark, was a return performer to A L’arme, drummer Warren G. Crudup IIIand Vincent von Schlippenbach (a/k/a DJ Illvibe). The trio effectively blended the bass and drum format with the exploratory vibe of a free jazz concert. It seemed that without any preconceived notions, the group went at it with at it with fervor. The first out of the gate was Schlippenbach, whose dynamic scratching invited Crudup and Amado to play a simple beat to begin. Heads started bopping and it seemed to be starting out as fairly straightforward, danceable set, however, it wasn’t too long until Crudup began shifting the beat around, separating from Amadou, who’s plectrum struck precise and thick notes and who also began bending time . Slipping in and out of each others rhythmic orbits, Schlippenbach held the center with his textural samples and scratching. Sometimes slowing down to search for a new core idea, the group mixed the hypnotic joys of drum and bass with the excitement of free improvisation.

A L’arme Vol. 10 still had one more night to go, and the program looked like a solid cross section of all the bold styles that the festival has been covering since 2012. A nice way to wrap the tenth anniversary and onward to 2023!

See part 1 of the A L’arme Vol. 10 write-up.

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