16 February 2013

#2, the chalk or the cheese?

It’s chalk and cheese to hear Andreas Böhlen at Bite to Eat café one day and the Loft another. Bite to Eat is chatty and noisy and bigger. The Loft is quiet and small and the audience is ready for a more challenging outing. That said, the band played plenty of their original material at B2E and it went down well. Also at the Loft, of course, but I missed the bustle of a lively environment. Quiet is better for listening, but the playing can be more relaxed and outgoing in a noisy environment: musos can perform for themselves, worry less about the audience, possibly be more indulgent. Perhaps because of the Swiss Embassy connection (thanks to the Swiss government for funding the flights) there were some new faces, including the ambassador and partner. It’s nice to see, even if the numbers of the locals were down. Given the changes at the Music School, I expect the aspiring students will be in short supply in future, but good luck to the Loft, regardless.

The band played a string of tunes in contemporary style: difficult counts, 7/4s and 5/4s, interpolated bars of 2/4, latin feels and occasional swing, some lovely ballads with obtuse changes into faster paces, some altered blues and cycles that had clear historical references but were distinctly modern. There was a very interesting excursion into microtonality which Andreas described well as both a technical and an aesthetic challenge for Western ears. I could hear the close intervals on sax, but wondered if the guitar was just chromatic (it’s got frets and didn’t seem to be bending notes) and maybe also the acoustic bass. I found the whole gig quite loud and busy, perhaps I could say youthful and energetic, especially the guitar and drums that were busily filling spaces. They also revealed their generation with grunge/indie guitar, sometimes chordal that hinted at metal, sometime effected and sounding like electronica, sometimes solos straight from an indie songbook. These refreshings of the concept and ear of jazz are gems to my ears. I conceive jazz as a catholic and inclusive art, the serious music of syncopated rhythms (that also includes improv) and these exploits fit perfectly. In fact, I heard in Sebastian’s guitar quite a frantic melange of ideas pouring forth: a post-modern conception of rattled difference and inclusive variety. Brother Andreas was more ordered and settled. His solos were rapid sweeps of notes coloured with melody and mostly in a settled tonality and with occasional low honks and high imploring screeches. The alto doesn’t have the earthiness of the tenor, but I’m hearing more of it and feeling it’s more of this age, which may be just my conceit. Andreas happens to also play SATB recorders in early music, so he has feet in several camps and I think the discipline of the dots shows. Jakob’s bass was wonderful. Solos that spoke uncannily like a sax, not a bass; a speedy fluency in the thumb positions which he’d settle into for much of the time while soloing, as well as easy crossing of strings, long intervals and long scales using low strings high on the neck (not too common) and nice mix of open strings with higher notes, double stops, harmonics and the rest. A very impressive outing for someone just 3 years out of training. I heard drummer Severin as busy in accompaniment but more settled in solos: one principally on cymbals, another on drums, both quite airy and flowing and internally consistent.

It’s a pleasure to hear visitors like this and quite exciting for venues like the Loft and Bite to Eat (B2E’s first international performers). They are busily touring with around 14 gigs, including SIMA and Bennett’s Lane. They are busy. I hope they can hear some Australian jazz wile they’re here. Quality is everywhere and communication and influence can only spread the word. Andreas Böhlen (alto) led a quartet with Sebastian Böhlen (guitar), Jakob Dreyer (bass) and Severin Rauch (drums) at the Loft.

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