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EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 11th 2017 - Part Two

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday November 11th 2017 - Part Two

Ian Mann enjoys the ACT label 25th Birthday Celebration at Cadogan Hall with performances from Adam Baldych with the Helge Lien Trio and the European supergroup Out Of Land.

Photograph of Adam Baldych by Tim Dickeson



This unique double bill at a sold out Cadogan Hall represented a momentous double celebration. 2017 represents both the 25th anniversary of the London Jazz Festival in its current format and the 25th birthday of the Munich based ACT record label founded by music manager and producer Siggi Loch. Two of the label’s most acclaimed and successful groups made rare UK appearances with both bands receiving rapturous receptions from a capacity crowd comprised of many nationalities.

Both acts represented international collaborations with the Polish violinist Adam Baldych joined by a Norwegian trio led by pianist Helge Lien.

Meanwhile Out Of Land is the band name adopted by the European ‘supergroup’ of ACT artists comprised of Swiss vocalist Andreas Schaerer, German pianist Michael Wollny and French musicians Emile Parisien (soprano sax) and Vincent Peirani (accordion).


The evening commenced with the young lady who was introducing the proceedings leading the audience in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” in honour of the ACT label. Following this she welcomed the Baldych / Lien quartet to the stage to deliver a set of sublime music.

Baldych, born in 1986, first came to the attention of the ACT audience in 2013 with his label début “Imaginary Room” (actually his fourth album) recorded by an international ACT all star band dubbed The Baltic Gang and featuring saxophonist Marius Neset, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, pianist Jacob Karlzon, bassist Lars Danielsson and drummer Morten Lund. He later released “ The New Tradition”, an intimate set with pianist Yaron Herman as part of ACT’s “Duo Art” series.

Since 2015 Baldych has forged a highly successful creative alliance with pianist Helge Lien and his trio featuring bassist Frode Berg and Per Oddvar Johansen. Together they have delivered two excellent albums, 2015’s “Bridges” and the recent “Brothers”, the latter also including contributions from the Norwegian saxophonist Tore Brunborg. However it should be noted that the Lien Trio is a successful entity in its own right and has released a total of nine albums in the piano trio format.

Tonight’s performance was supported by the Norwegian Embassy and the Polish Cultural Institute and featured music sourced from the “Bridges” and “Brothers” albums. The bulk of the compositions were by Baldych and the quartet began with “Polesie” from the “Bridges” album.
Baldych’s writing embraces elements of jazz, classical and folk music and his abilities as both a player and a composer were apparent from the outset.  Once considered to be something of a child prodigy in his native Poland Baldych honed his technique at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and his playing, both with the bow and pizzicato was flawless and seemingly effortless. His fluency and purity of tone were stunning. Named after a region of Poland this opening piece embraced folk melodies and cadences and also included a significant contribution from Lien at the piano, who was also featured as a soloist. Meanwhile Johansen’s richly detailed, neatly energetic drumming helped to push the music forward.

The majority of the music came from the “Brothers” album, a highly personal work for Baldych which was written and recorded following the untimely passing of his own brother Grzegorz. The album’s tracks all have one word titles and next we heard “Faith” with its melancholic violin melody above a sparse piano vamp and filigree percussion. As the piece developed Lien added his own lyrical piano solo to Baldych’s mournful fluency.

Unaccompanied violin introduced introduced the next piece, which was unannounced. Again the music was thoughtful, melodic and often downright beautiful and included a melodic double bass solo from Berg and a typically lyrical contribution from Lien as Baldych alternated between arco and pizzicato techniques.

Ushered in by Berg’s unaccompanied bass the title track of “Brothers” introduced a spikier, more aggressive approach from the quartet with Baldych’s violin soaring above the muscular grooves laid down by Berg and Johansen with fiercely plucked bass augmented by some busy and dynamic drumming. With its avant garde flourishes this was a piece that epitomised Baldych’s album liner note explaining “our new music is more dirty and wild than on the previous album, balancing on the border between scream and silence; as does today’s world, where joy and suffering coexist side by side”

By way of contrast “One” proved to be a delightfully delicate and emotive duet between Lien and Baldych with the violinist again deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques on the larger renaissance violin.

Johansen, a skilled and highly distinctive presence at the drums, ushered in the next (unannounced) piece in conjunction with Baldych’s pizzicato violin and Lien’s dampened piano strings. As the rhythm section established a groove Baldych picked up his bow to stretch out and soar before handing over to the Norwegian trio to generate an impressively big group sound on their own account.

The set concluded with “Love”, a piece played by Baldych using the pizzicato technique exclusively. This proved to be stunningly effective on a beautiful piece that demonstrated the violinist’s remarkable gift for melody, on this showing almost on a par with Pat Metheny’s. What could have been a mere novelty proved to be a moving and brilliantly realised piece of music.

The Cadogan Hall crowd gave the quartet a terrific reception and on this genuine double bill Baldych and Lien returned to the stage for a deserved encore. Their second duo performance of the evening proved to be an inspired instrumental interpretation of the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” that combined great beauty with a solemn gravitas. The “Brothers” album features an equally effective duo arrangement.

During the interval business at the ACT record stall in the foyer was brisk with copies of the “Brothers” album quickly selling out.

“I wish for my music to carry the message of Love and Beauty” Baldych has declared. This concert fully delivered on that promise and with his flawless technique and remarkable compositional gift Baldych is arguably the world’s leading jazz violinist right now. The members of the Lien trio, of which I’m a fan in their own right, played their part but ultimately this was Baldych’s show. It was my first live sighting of him and I was extremely impressed with all aspects of his music making.


The four members of this ACT ‘supergroup’ are all band leaders in their own right and each has recorded solo albums for the label. Originally brought together by Schaerer for a one off club engagement in Budapest the four musicians had never played together as a unit before despite the fact that there had been other collaborations between various members of the group, all of them part of the wider ‘ACT family’.

Originally intended to be a trio featuring Schaerer, Parisien and Peirani it was the accordionist’s idea to bring Wollny on board, the pair having toured and recorded frequently as a duo.

Following the Budapest club date the new quartet went on to play a theatre show in Berne, the results of which were recorded and subsequently released on ACT under the title “Out Of Land”, this subsequently becoming the name of the band. Rather like the Anglo-American alliance The Impossible Gentlemen a seemingly one off collaboration has evolved into a semi-regular working band.

There was a palpable air of expectation at the Cadogan about the appearance of this European ‘supergroup’. They commenced with an opening segue of Schaerer’s “Air Song” and Wollny’s “Kabinett V” that combined individual brilliance with a strong group aesthetic. With no bass or drums the group shared rhythmic responsibilities between them with Wollny and Peirani inevitably taking on much of the work, even after making allowances for Schaerer’s vocal percussion effects.
The singer’s voice proved to be a wonderfully flexible instrument, predominately deployed wordlessly and forming an essential component of the music. There was a vitality and playfulness about the group’s music making with the quartet often breaking down into smaller units, invariably duos. Thus this lengthy opening segue included Parisien’s soprano solo dancing above Schaerer’s vocal percussion, or beat boxing if you will. Then there was the impish duet between Parisien and Peirani, both previously familiar with each other’s playing after years on the Paris jazz scene. Peirani then duetted with his old sparring partner Wollny, the latter adding prepared piano effects to an already heady mix, Parisien eventually added searingly incisive soprano sax to the mix as he danced around the stage. This was music that was constantly evolving, shifting from one point to another at the drop of a hat in a fast moving roller coaster ride that demanded lightning reactions from the players. With no anchoring rhythm section this was very much music without a safety net.

The next piece was unannounced but explored similar territory with Schaerer entering into extended dialogues, firstly with Parisien and then with Peirani, the accordionist’s playing taking the music in the direction of a kind of twisted cabaret. Humour was an essential ingredient of the quartet’s performance.

Schaerer’s lengthy “Playing With Fire” concluded the performance, the piece beginning with the organ like sonorities of Peirani’s accordion, this joined by Schaerer’s haunting wordless vocal. Wollny then delivered a typically bravura passage of unaccompanied piano imbued with the dramatic gothic flourishes that characterise his work as a solo artist. Parisien’s soprano sax feature borrowed from both North African music and the blues while Schaerer’s vocal solo included a stunning display of beat boxing that mimicked the beats of electronic music without resorting to any form of electronic manipulation as he encouraged the audience to clap along.

The Cadogan crowd loved Out Of Land’s spirited display of musical virtuosity and gave the group a standing ovation. They returned for a deserved encore that saw the musicians finally coalescing on a unison theme statement but with Schaerer eventually taking the individual honours with a display of quasi-operatic vocalising followed by a passage featuring his voice approximating the sound of a trumpet soloist. He’s clearly a remarkable talent – and the formation of the group was his idea so it was perhaps appropriate that he had the final word.

The audience clearly loved this performance by Out Of Land and the group were practically overwhelmed at the subsequent ‘meet and greet’ at the ACT stall in the foyer. Subsequent reviews have been favourable but for all this I found myself harbouring doubts.

For all his skill and adventurousness Schaerer’s style of vocalising doesn’t always do it for me, but I guess that’s just a personal thing. More pertinently I didn’t feel that Out Of Land genuinely cohered as a band in the way the Baldych / Lien group had done. For all the individual brilliance the music too often seemed to represent a series of ‘set pieces’, full of virtuosity and stunning technique and undeniably delivered with good humour and a sense of both fun and daring. Yet ultimately this was music that lacked the emotional impact that Baldych’s had done and, for me, it was less satisfying overall. I don’t deny that it was spectacular and I’m sure that there are many who will disagree with me but I didn’t want to take the Out Of Land CD home with me in the same way as I did the Baldych one.

I remain a fan of the individual members of Out Of Land, particularly Wollny and Parisien, whose output as leaders is strongly recommended. Despite my personal reservations this was an excellent celebration of one of the most enterprising and distinctive labels in European jazz.


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