Festival Report:

Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon
By Ken Waxman

London saxophonist John Butcher and Chicago percussionist Tim Daisy were the MVPs during the Ulrichsberger Kaleidophon at the end of April. To stretch the metaphor further, Butcher was doubly valuable, since as a pinch hitter he replaced Una Casa/Observatorio’s third member when that saxophonist was unable to perform with Buenos Aires-based trumpeter Leonel Kaplan and Viennese computer manipulator Christof Kurzmann. If Butcher’s playing was sympathetically creative with that trio, his improvising was equally spectacular with The Apophonics, a new group, otherwise consisting of British bassist John Edwards and Bay-area percussionist Gino Robair. Meanwhile the cap-sporting Daisy subtly pacing Wrack, the chamber-styled string-and-horn quintet; as well as added rhythmic heft to saxophonist Dave Rempis’ Percussion 4Tet, whose raucous free jazz closed the festival to enthusiastic audience cheers.

These were just four of the memorable performances that took place during the 27th edition of the Kaleidophon, which annually animates this alpine village of fewer than 3,000 people, located in Upper Austria, about 200 kilometres west of Vienna. What’s equally remarkable is how artistic director Alois Fischer not only attracts high-quality players from Europe, Japan and the US to the Jazz Atelier, a 16th century former pig barn, during the fest, but also programs innovative improvised music throughout the year. It’s a European phenomenon that can make outsiders envious.

Built around extrasensory sonic perception, The Apophonics’ strategy advanced amoeba-like. Continuously melding and breaking apart timbres in different configurations and with varied possibilities, Edwards’ super-speedy wood and string smacking was sometimes appropriately violent; Butcher’s output jumped from sonorous glissandi to staccato reed bites; while Robair’s holistic approach sometimes seemed child-like as he smacked his mallets on the stage floor, rubbed a violin bow on drum rims and literally blew on the drum skin. The saxophonist’s lines could be sonorously wispy or could consist of reed finger-tapping or using foot-pedal-controlled electronics to pick up the feedback generated as he moved his tenor in different arcs without blowing into it.

This technical versatility and familiarity with electronics also served as entrée to Una Casa/Observatorio’s game plan. As quivering, synthesized static produced by Kurzmann’s ppooll interface underlined the performance Butcher used key percussion, gurgles and expelled unaccented air to make common cause with Kaplan’s multiphonic wheezes. The trumpeter not only inflated his cheeks à la Dizzy Gillespie to force air out of his horn, but at points held his horn horizontally to blow into individual valves. Key to the interaction was a buzzing timbral exchange that occurred between the horn men.

Another instance of electronic interface came from the No Business for Dogs trio which used graphic scores plus processing to link Juun’s piano harp with the unison pressure from the drums of Bernhard Breuer and Steven Hess. Although excitement was engendered by lockstep cymbal clacks and bass drum smacks from the percussionists, temple-bell-like or marimba-approximating inferences from the piano strings ensured there was an overlay of delicacy as well. More chamber music-like were a series of miniatures performed by Munich-based soprano saxophonist/bass clarinetist Udo Schindler, cellist Margarita Holzbauer and table-top guitarist Harald Lillmeyer. Low-key and elegant, concerned with subtle tonal shifts as well as extended techniques there were points at which pauses were too elongated and solos too minimalist.

On the other hand Wrack’s tactics uniquely mingled the qualities of so-called classical music, jazz improv and, of course, Daisy’s bounces, pops and smacks. Oboist/English hornist Kyle Bruckmann and violist Jen Clare Paulson provided the airy sonority – somewhat leavened when Bruckmann wrenched his straight horns’ tone into narrowed shrillness – while pumping double bass lines from Anton Hatwich and Daisy maintained jazz rhythms. Meanwhile the slurs, cries and honks masticated from bass clarinetist Jason Stein’s reed created the taut friction that epitomized free-form improv.

Rempis’ Percussion 4Tet also offered an updated variant of energy music with the leader’s alto and tenor saxophone lines often coming across as if played by a combination of Charles Gayle and Big Jay McNeely; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten rigidly pulling and thickly stroking his bass strings; as Daisy and Frank Rosaly pummeled ruffs, claps and bangs from dual drum kits. Surprisingly, when not wedded to the backbeat, both percussionists produced subtle rhythms as well: Rosaly with graceful tap-dance-like strokes and Daisy with clean pops.

Taking Rempis’ go-for-broke brutality one step further, trombonist Matthias Müller, guitarist Olaf Rupp and drummer Rudi Fischerlehner – all Berlin-based –reconfigured a heavy metal trio, with Müller and Rupp as the two lead voices. Often cradling his instrument vertically, Rupp’s distorted fingering or single-line picking united with Fischerlehner’s hard smacks and press rolls to drive the tunes forward. Meanwhile the substitution of Müller’s horn for a rock band’s electric bass added taste to the trio’s forceful interpretations. The trombonist’s facility with a plunger, hand mutes and slide positions means that his tongue jujitsu and staccato braying brought passion as well as power to the forefront

With other sets showcasing everything from a solo violin recital of contemporary notated music, to a site-specific happening that encompassing schuhplatten, drone guitars, action painting and free samples of luncheon meat, the Kaleidophon truly lived up to its designation as an international Festival for all types of advanced music.

—For New York City Jazz Record July 2012