ZCLAM! Festival Européen de Musique Improvisée
September 16-18, 2022
By Ken Waxman
Photos by Susan O’Connor
It is no easy task to launch a new creative music organization while hosting the inaugural ZCLAM! Festival to showcase improvisers’ talents. Nevertheless, the participants in the SHARE network did so September 16 to 18 with showcases of music, dance, art, workshops and discussions at the Anis Gras arts space. Located in the multi-cultural, working class but gentrifying Paris suburb of Arcueil, about eight kilometres from the city centre, Anis Gras is a block- long former distillery converted into a multi-space facility. During those three days there was plenty of room for exhibits and workshops as well as afternoon and evening music concerts. Improvisers from Italy, Austria, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, the Czech Republic and Belgium created ever-shifting ensembles along with their French hosts, as additional participants added their musical ideas to open-air sets and late-night jam sessions.
By their very nature, some of the workshops were inconclusive; others very successful. Audience interaction was paramount in those which came off best; abstract discussions were more problematic. Probably the most memorable workshop took place on the second afternoon as a prelude to the concert animated by French percussionist Lê Quan Ninh and French dancer/choreographer Emmanuelle Pépin. Here instrumentalists and dancers, both professional and amateur, intermingled in a studio space. Lê rubbed and resonated implements, mallets and drumsticks onto his gran casa’s surface to organize dynamic interactions from the reed, brass and string players present, in tandem with the dancers’ stretching, sliding and gyrating. Adroitly skating across and along the floor at the same time as the dancers’ near-gymnastics moves, through trial and error, the 25-odd participants were well on their way to matchless group creativity when the extended session ended.
On his own, Lê put the larger concert hall’s floor to use by smacking and pummeling it along with his drum top and sides for imaginative accompaniment that same night. He also rubbed bowls, cymbals and a small metal wheel on the Mylar surface for additional effects. Meanwhile the veteran Pépin swept around the space with her usual mixture of grace, finesse and body rotations. She was one of the few dancers confined to movement. Others, such as Austrian Agnes Distelberger also vocalized; Greek-Belgian Sofia Kakouri played pocket trumpet as well as danced; and at different times Lyon’s Cynthia Caubisens played inside and outside the piano, vocalized and danced.
On the other hand, Italian Elisabetta Lanfredini exhibited the sonic sophistication of a full-time vocalist, as she demonstrated during sets on the first and second evenings. Her yodels and groans in the first instance projected wordless timbres that were underscored by buzzing obbligatos from Portuguese oboist/flutist Paulo Chagas plus slurs and split tones from Danish tenor saxophonist Nana Pi Aabo-Kim and Czech alto saxophonist Michal Wroblewski, as German drummer Wolfgang Schliemann clunked and crashed cymbals and snares, and French bassist Olivia Scemama provided a steady pulse. Later Lanfredini’s laughs and coos, harmonized with her own live-recorded vocal expositions, were intensified with a tougher drum backbeat, bowed bass strings and foghorn-like honking from the saxes that culminated in a final group decompression.
A looser affair, the next night’s improvisation joined Lanfredini’s vocals with riffs from Portuguese trumpeter João Almeida, Italian trombonist Carlo Mascolo, French alto saxophonist/flutist Florent Dupuit and Swedish tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Johannes Gammelgaard Lauristen as well as Distelberger’s distinctive movements. Overlapping and leaning into one another in a statue-like tableau at first, the six participants quickly disengaged as a new focus brought more music to motion. Gammelgaard Lauristen improvised while in a modified headstand and later angled his clarinet straight upwards into the air as Distelberger slid between the bent and arched legs and bodies of the players. Finally, when the trombonist projected a Balkan-like melody, Lanfredini yelped through a bullhorn, prodding harmony from the horn players already lying prone on the floor. Eventually Mascolo and Dupuit joined timbres long enough to draw even higher pitches from Almeida into the mix, with a cumulative ending from all three.
Equivalent multitasking was demonstrated by Kakouri during the first night’s concert when she blended her pocket trumpet lines with tones from Almeida’s trumpet, local François Mellan’s huffing sousaphone and sympathetic drumming from Lille’s Peter Orins. Working off the drummer’s press rolls and clip-clops, Kakouri alternated taut bites with Almeida’s straightforward brassiness as portamento sousaphone puffs created an ostinato over which the others could solo. When the drummer introduced rim shots and rattles, the others’ output turned more linear; that is, until Kakouri began screaming through her horn’s body tube and pirouetting at the same time.
Expressing the breadth of improvisational forms was one aspect of what ZCLAM! was all about. For instance, any set involving Mascolo included some aspect of individualized burlesque. This was demonstrated at its freest on the first evening when he matched his collection of brass tricks with contributions from Gammelgaard Lauristen, Distelberger, Portuguese alto saxophonist José Lencastre and Danish bassist Jonathan Aardestrup. As the dancer moved around the stage and the saxophonists vamped, the trombonist slid mutes and a water bottle in and out of his instrument’s bell, attached a plastic hose to the bell braces for enhanced amplification, and sometimes whirled the hose in the air like a lasso. All the while he continued burbling, sliding and shaking rips and triplets from his horn. At one point after serenading two amplifier-equipped plush toys on stage, Mascolo placed one in an audience seat and rested the other atop the bridge of Aardestrup’s bass. Rising to the occasion the bassist gamely bow-stroked just above the toy and thumped strings around it as both saxophonists, by now kneeling, honked mocking split tones. While his other antics included projecting smears through the slide with a tambourine perched on his horn’s bell, Mascolo never disrupted the performance’s close harmonies and summed up the set with a contrapuntal exchange with the saxophonists.
Other sets took on configurations more like chamber improv. For instance, when local flutist Christine Chardonnier played an outdoor courtyard set with Toulouse violinist Lucie Laricq and Köln bassist Jonas Gerigk, the floating transverse peeps and swift violin glissandi were perfectly balanced by double bass vibrations. Although the three soon moved into multiphonic territory when Laricq suddenly brought out a Laotian khên to blow irregular vibrations, and Gerigk advanced his interjections with col legno smacks against his instrument’s strings and wood, basic mellifluousness was maintained by Chardonnier’s horizontal trills. Contrast that with another set that took place during Sunday night’s series of improvised jam sessions. Featuring Aardestrup, Almeida, Brazilian drummer Márcio Gibson and Greek soprano saxophonist Ayis Kelpekis, it was the closest thing to unhyphenated Free Jazz heard during the three days. With clip-clop drumming, timbre-shredding bass thumps, penetrating trumpet blasts and slippery reed vibrations, the single stop-time piece galloped in a straight line to its multilayered conclusion.
One other set the first night, and another that closed the second evening of concerts perhaps best illustrated the continental aspirations of the festival. On Saturday, Aardestrup, Orins, Chagas, Danish tenor saxophonist Nana Pi Aabo-Kim, local trumpeter Nicolas Souchal and Kakouri united for a European face-off. Featuring squeezed half-valve effects from Souchal, tongue slaps from the saxophonist and percussion rattles, it was Chagas’ mellow flute interlude which challenged the others’ strident exposition, then reversed course by upending his oboe and blowing into its bell for circus music-like suggestions. Joined by the other horns in sonic deconstruction, it was left to the bassist and drummer to fluidly advance the line. Kakouri then began moving around the stage, hand-tinkling miniature temple bells before contributing a pocket trumpet obbligato. Finally, trumpet slurs combined with reed sighs and double bass strokes into an undulating drone pierced by rippling brass grace notes.
Additionally, during the last night’s final jam session, Caubisens was often beneath the upright piano, stretching and scraping its strings rather than playing keyboard. Because of this, her percussive clangs and basso pitches attached themselves to brass tonguing from Almeida and slurps and whines from Wroblewski’s saxophone. Advancing to resonating keyboard tickles, internal string pulls and vocalized yelps or faux lyric soprano sallies, Caubisens also breathed into the bell of Jérôme Fouquet’s trumpet. Later she joined with the saxophonist’s calculated flutters to move disparate parts into proper progression.
These were just a few musical snapshots from ZCLAM! Since other distinctive improvisers also made their presence felt in one way or another during the three days, the result was confirmation of both the program’s cohesion and its adventurousness. Overall the festival’s first iteration succeeded in showcasing how improvisers from different countries can collaborate, with the outcome often spectacular, musical or both. It also demonstrated in a lesser way how other artistic disciplines could be integrated into this creative music gestalt. Well-run and well-organized, the festival also posits that if this careful formulation is maintained, SHARE’s plans for future festivals and organization, expansion may soon be realized.
For more individual photos click on the Artists tab.