The band was led, or should I say pulled together for the night, by Pacho Davila. He calls it his Chinese Souvenir Band, but my understanding is that the players had played together in various formations but not as a regular band. It fits. No charts; two tunes; two sets. I’d call it free jazz, but that’s just a name. Certainly the techniques were mostly conventional and the instruments certainly were, but there were squeals and squeaks too. I was mightily impressed by their technique. Once again, I caught Antonio Borghini and he was better still. Great German bowing; great intonation; great tone; steady time and support; excellent in solo or in combination. This music demands flexibility. One minute he’s soloing, next he’s playing a duo with guitar, next switching between bow and pizz with bow in hand, next various unconventional bowing techniques. He’s a wonderful player. Antonio was truly a standout (to this bassist) but the others were also experienced and skilful. Pacho would swoop and spray and tongue notes on tenor and indulge in the luscious tone of the bass clarinet but I also noticed some hints of standards melody and formative jazz styles. I respect history and people who show an awareness and response to it: neither life nor music exist in isolation. I felt guitar worked really well in this combination, too. It’s a clearer and crisper tone than piano and leaves more space, although a little less so when Max dropped into overdrive and a fusion solo. I liked that too, and he chose the time well. Mostly, though, he was crisp, nicely comping with single note or arpeggio lines and, although loud, not overwhelming. Oli was busy or coloured and was all eyes.
This is artistically sophisticated terrain but essentially unpretentious. I enjoyed Sowieso for its small, dark dishevelled presence that reminded me of our own Front Café but darker. The band appeared in an odd frame cut in a wall, but it didn’t seem problematic for sound. Earlier on, the host had Laphroig available and that was a topic of conversation until it ran out. Everyone smoked, but it was cool but friendly and all-aged. Actually, all this side of Berlin is like that: lots of smokers, often roll-your-owns; youth, both males and females, walking with open beer bottles; but comfortable and not threatening. Looks rough on the outside, but there’s a heart ticking here.
Pacho Davila (tenor sax, bass clarinet) led the Chinese Souvenir band with Max Loep (guitar), Antonio Borghini (bass) and Oli Steidle (drums) at Sowieso.