by Ian Mann
November 17, 2020
Three distinctive, almost unclassifiable, acts featuring some of Europe’s most adventurous young musicians, demonstrating just how creative, vibrant & distinctive the contemporary Swiss jazz scene is.
Photograph of Julie Campiche by Dominique Schreckling sourced from the EFG London Jazz Festival website http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk
Trio Heinz Herbert
EFG London Jazz Festival Livestream, first broadcast 14/11/2020
This showcase of Swiss Jazz three featured emerging acts, united not just by geography but also by a willingness to experiment, take musical risks and generally push at the perceived musical boundaries.
I was asked to cover this event by Matt Fripp, of the London based Jazzfuel organisation, who was acting on behalf of Julie Campiche. I was more than happy to oblige, having been disappointed to miss the performance by Campiche and her quartet at the 2019 Cheltenham Jazz Festival due to unfortunate clashes in the Festival schedule.
In recent years EFG LJF has established strong links with the burgeoning Swiss jazz scene and has regularly presented events featuring Swiss artists, among them the two very different piano trios Rusconi and Plaistow. Both these groups have had LJF performances from previous years reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann, as has pianist Nik Bartsch, both solo and with his Ronin group.
Other Swiss musicians to have played at EFG LJF include vocalist Andreas Schaerer, drummers Julian Sartorius and Lucas Niggli, trombonist Samuel Blaser, and violinist Tobias Preisig.
Meanwhile the Jazzmann has reviewed both live performances and recordings by Swiss musicians, including vibraphonist Jean-Lou Treboux, pianists Colin Vallon and Thierry Lang, trumpeter Erik Truffaz, vocalists Elina Duni and Lucia Cadotsch, and the bands Vein, Schnellertollermeier, PommelHORSE, and The Great Harry Hillman.
Today’s event featured three emerging talents from the Swiss scene, jazz harpist Julie Campiche, the vocal / instrumental quintet Ikarus and the electro-improvisers Trio Heinz Herbert.
These brief descriptions barely do justice to three distinctive, almost unclassifiable acts featuring some of Europe’s most adventurous young musicians.
So, to the showcase itself, which featured Campiche as the opening act, followed by Ikarus and finally Trio Heinz Herbert.
The showcase was produced by EFG LJF promoters Serious in conjunction with Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council.
I was pleased to note that my friend Debra Richards was hosting the event. In a variety of roles, including journalist, promoter and DJ, Richards has been a great champion of European jazz and of Swiss jazz in particular. She was a regular contributor to the Swiss Vibes website, worked with the March & Fuse organisation and currently writes for Jazzwise magazine. As an agent/promoter she was responsible for bringing acts such as Rusconi, Plaistow and Andreas Schaerer to EFG LJF.
In her introduction Richards also mentioned that classifying the music of today’s three acts was a difficult process, with elements feeding into the music from classical, folk, indie, electronica, noise etc.
She also mentioned the emphasis placed upon the importance of musical education in Switzerland, particularly in the larger cities of Bern, Lausanne, Zurich and Lucerne. She also emphasised the role played by Pro Helvetia, effectively the equivalent of our Arts Councils. Jazz is much better supported in Switzerland than in the UK and as a result the scene is positively thriving, something that is echoed in many other European countries.
That said, Richards also mentioned the growing links between the Swiss and the UK scenes, including collaborations between Elina Duni and guitarist Rob Luft, Andreas Schaerer with saxophonist Soweto Kinch, Lucia Cadotsch with pianist Kit Downes and Julian Sartorius with multi-instrumentalist Dan Nicholls.
She also offered the opinion that Swiss jazz artists were discovering their own means of expression within an essentially Afro-American art form, finding their own artistic voices and saying the things that they want to say.
Julie Campiche – harp, voice, keyboard, electronics
with Manu Hagmann – double bass, Clemens Kuratle – drums, percussion, Mirjam Hassig - voice
A case in point is Julie Campiche, who plays the harp, an instrument not commonly associated with jazz despite the precedents set by artists such as Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby.
But as this performance revealed Campiche is far more than ‘just’ a ‘harpist’. She is also a composer, vocalist and electronic artist, with an artistic vision that reaches far beyond the parameters laid down by Coltrane and Ashby.
Her regular working unit is a quartet featuring saxophonist Leo Fumagalli, bassist Manu Hagmann and drummer Clemens Kuratle. Tellingly all four musicians are also credited with ‘FX’, which gives some impression of the importance of electronics in Campiche’s sound. The quartet released their début album “Onkalo” on the German label Meta Records in February 2020.
Besides her regular quartet Campiche has also been involved in collaborations with the baroque ensemble Capelle Jenensis and with the trapeze artist Vanessa Pahud, with whom she produced a series of videos.
Prior to becoming a bandleader Campiche had previously spent eight years as part of the quartet Orioxy, a group that also included Hagmann and which was fronted by vocalist Yael Miller.
Based in Geneva Campiche’s sound embraces the sounds of jazz, classical, Middle Eastern music and electronica. Her concerns include the invasiveness of social media, environmental issues, particularly the disposal of radio-active waste, plus more everyday matters such as parenthood and relationships.
From Switzerland Campiche introduced her own performance. It had originally been intended that her regular quartet would play, but Covid issues meant that saxophonist Fumagalli was unavailable.
In his absence Campiche decided to present some new music, performing in a variety of formats, ranging from solo, through a trio featuring her regular rhythm team of Hagmann and Turatle, to a quartet featuring guest vocalist Mirjam Hassig.
Filmed in suitably atmospheric fashion at the Chateau Rouge in Switzerland the performance began with “Umwelt” (a title translating as “Environment”), a compelling solo piece that featured Campiche creating an electronically generated soundscape featuring clicks and glitches, wordless vocals and the reverberating sounds of echoed drums. She then moved to the harp, sketching motifs and patterns that were woven into the eerie soundscape via the use of live looping techniques. A sampled male voice was then added to the mix, intoning (in English) phrases such as “we think too much, we feel too little” and “do not despair the power will return to the people” and “let us fight for a new world”. Above this self created backdrop of electronics and voices Campiche returned to the harp, soloing in relatively more conventional fashion. “We need humanity”, intoned the sampled voice “you the people have the capacity to create happiness”, meanwhile Campiche abandoned the harp once more to add her own ethereal wordless vocals.
“H-cab”, a piece loosely inspired by Bach (note the title) saw Campiche joined by Hagmann and Kuratle. The latter introduced the performance with an unaccompanied passage at the drum kit, He was subsequently joined by Campiche on harp, at which point the Bach influence became more obviously discernible. Hagmann then featured on bowed bass, before switching to pizzicato for his solo, as Campiche deployed a drum mallet on the harp strings to eerie effect, whilst also manipulating the sound of her instrument via a series of FX pedals. Campiche and Hagmann continued to trade ideas above Kuratle’s implacable drum groove, the bassist continuing to move between arco and pizzicato techniques. “Classical music meets hip hop” I scribbled down during the course of this compelling trio performance.
The trio were joined by vocalist Mirjam Hassig for a setting of the William Blake poem “Sick Rose”, with the singer vocalising in English. The other-worldly mood continued, with Hassig’s pure toned incantations augmented by the sound of harp, electronics, bowed bass and cymbal shimmers augmented by a vast, echoing drum sound.
Finally we heard a solo harp performance flagged up as “Improvisation”. This was a beautiful performance, largely shorn of electronic ornamentation and with Campiche relishing in the spaciousness. It truly sounded as if it could have been written.
At the conclusion Campiche said her ‘thank yous’ to camera, a lengthy list including EFG LJF, Pro Helvetia and Chateau Rouge. “I hope to you in real life, very soon” she signed off. Amen, to that.
Although she’s not the only jazz harpist around (here in the UK we have Alina Bzhezhinska and Ben Creighton-Griffiths) Campiche has carved out a unique space for her chosen instrument. Although Creighton-Griffiths also utilises electronic effects Campiche does so in a very different way, Her sound is closer to electronica and ambient music than it is to rock, and I was sometimes reminded of the music of the UK’s own Portico Quartet. Campiche’s use of the harp is just one element in a broader musical aesthetic that does indeed bring together many strands of music and culture. This altogether too brief immersion in her sound world revealed her to be something of a musical visionary, and one with a very human message behind the music.
Let’s hope for better days ahead when she can come and perform in the UK again. I’d love to see her perform in an authentically live setting.
Ramon Oliveras – drums, compositions, Anna Hirsch – vocals, Andreas Lareida – vocals, Lucca Fries - piano, Mo Meyer – double bass
The quintet Ikarus is led by drummer and composer Ramon Oliveras. The band features an unusual line up for jazz, with two vocalists, one male and one female. Their voices are deployed as instruments, and even more unusually they are often deployed in rhythmic rather than melodic roles. The voices become part of a shifting sound-scape that draws upon polyphony, counterpoint and subtle rhythmic patterns to create music that takes inspiration of jazz, choral music and minimalism to create a signature sound that is thoroughly compelling and often totally mesmeric. It should, perhaps, come as no surprise to learn that their most recent album “Mosaismic” was released on Nik Bartsch’s label Ronin Rhythm Records.
The word ‘mosaic’ is hidden within that album title (a portmanteau word that also incorporates ‘seismic’) and much of the group’s music resembles just that. Today’s performance featured two lengthy pieces, the titles of which remained unannounced.
The first featured a mosaic like lattice of interlocking voices, piano, bass and the leader’s drums, with Bartsch’s music an obvious influence. However the use of voices took the music into a whole other realm, with the voices being deployed in new and exciting ways. The use of wordless vocals in jazz is hardly new, but this wasn’t scatting, nor was it the use of long, wordless melody lines. Drawing on choral music and polyphony and a Bach like sense of counterpoint this felt like something different. Occasionally the vocalists would fall silent, and we enjoyed a piano solo from the impressive Fries, with Ikarus now coming on like a contemporary, post E.S.T. European piano trio.
The second piece was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied brushed drumming from Oliveras, subsequently joined by Meyer’s bass and Fries’ rapid fire piano arpeggios, followed by the soaring voices of Hirsch and Lareida, the music becoming increasingly powerful and complex, with the leader’s hard driving brushed drum rhythms steering the music into the kind of territory mined by such outfits as Plaistow and the UK’s own GoGo Penguin. Oliveras has spoken of the influence of electronic music on his writing, which invited comparisons with these two bands, both of whom use the rhythms of electronic music in a largely acoustic setting.
As the rhythms became more fragmented this second item felt more like a segue of several different pieces. The combination of Hirsch’s sweet, choral style vocals and Lareida’s more guttural ‘panting’ sounds made for an effective contrast, especially when underpinned by robust hip hop inspired bass and drum grooves and dampened piano strings, as the music pushed even deeper into Plaistow style territory.
The use of extended vocal techniques became more noticeable with a vocal feature from Lareida that included a style of vocal percussion that extended into the realms of beat boxing. One suspects that his fellow countryman, Andreas Schaerer, has been a substantial influence on Lareida’s style. The ‘beat boxing’ was augmented by Oliveras’s use of shakers, in addition to kit drums, and by the sound of Meyer’s percussive use of the bow on his bass. However as the band continued to build up a head of steam the video ended rather abruptly and we were returned to Debra Richards to introduce the third act.
On the whole I enjoyed this brief, seemingly prematurely truncated, set from Ikarus. Although obviously influenced by Nik Bartsch, Steve Reich, J.S.Bach and more, their unusual deployment of the human voice takes their music into new, unexpected, and often fascinating musical areas. They are certainly a band I’d like to hear more of, both on disc and in a genuinely live environment.
TRIO HEINZ HERBERT
Dominic Landolt – electric guitar, FX,
Ramon Landolt – keyboards, synth, live sampling, FX
Mario Hanni – drums, percussion, FX
Finally the intriguingly named Trio Heinz Herbert, none of the members is called Heinz, or indeed, Herbert, but I did surmise that Dominic and Ramon Landolt might be brothers.
In keeping with their unusual nomenclature Trio Heinz Herbert delivered the most distinctive of the three videos. If the offerings from Julie Campiche and Ikarus featured relatively conventionally presented musical performances, albeit of some pretty unconventional material, THH offered something else again.
Of the three acts this was the one that took the visual side of the EFG LJF commission most seriously, electing to deliver a one off audio-visual experience specifically for the Festival.
The following extract from the band’s website http://www.trio-heinz-herbert.com perhaps best sums up their intentions;
“‘2020’ is an exclusive video for the London Jazz Festival with new music of Trio Heinz Herbert!
In an obsolete factory in the east side of Switzerland, time and space are encapsulated. The band, together with film maker Samuel Weniger, took the space for a retreat to explore the vast emptiness, slow motion and dust. Meandering between live performance, montage and documentary, the video shows a close insight of the band’s micro-cosmos. It is about music, friendship and improvisation. It is also an attempt to open up the format of a digital concert to include the observer and the space as shaping forces of music.
What is in the center of this work is not the spectacle of a perfect show but rather the possible intimacy of experiencing music digitally through the merging of the three musicians, the video maker and the sound recorder. So that the music may seem so close and, at the same time, intangibly far away.
The continuous collaboration with film-maker Samuel Weniger started almost a decade ago. Weniger is intriguingly capable of capturing the band’s attitude of music making”.
Not your average livestream then. And not your average jazz trio either.
THH can perhaps best be described as ‘electro-improvisers’. Electronics are at the heart of everything they do, filtered through Ramon’s synths, samplers and other devices and Dominic’s range of guitar FX. That said nobody should doubt their credentials as genuine improvisers. A 2017 visit to the UK saw them performing at the Iklectik venue in Waterloo alongside the British free jazz pioneer Evan Parker.
Endorsed by American guitar experimenter Mary Halvorson the Zurich based trio have been widely acclaimed for their two album releases for the Intakt record label, “The Willisau Concert” (2017) and the studio set “Yes” (2018). In 2019 they won the “Zenith Award for Emerging Artists” at the 12 Points Festival, an award presented by the Festival in association with the European Jazz Network.
Debra Richards was at that performance and remarked on how exciting it had been and how tight and interactive the band were. She also described their sound as “electronic but organic” and commented on their use of “beats, melodic repetition and FX”.
The “2020” video opened with a wave of pulsing electronica, embellished by Hanni’s use of small items of percussion (finger cymbals, ‘toys’ and more), an example of their attention to fine detail, as remarked upon by Richards.
The video made effective use of the abandoned industrial space the band had chosen, the camera roving around the venue as the band played, with members of the film crew occasionally wandering into shot.
Dominic’s set up, with its array of foot pedals and other devices, ensured that he rarely sounded like a conventional guitarist, either jazz or rock, a quality further enhanced by his use of the instrument as both a rhythmic and textural device.
There was also an element of surreal humour about the trio’s performance. “Django Bates meets Squarepusher”, I found myself jotting down at one point.
An array of unorthodox sounds found their way into the mix, a drum head rolled across the floor, Ramon barking through a megaphone, the sound of a trolley being dragged across the concrete floor, these found sounds further sampled and treated via the band’s array of electronics.
At its most conventional the trio’s music sounded a little like something from “Twin Peaks”. Later a genuine ‘heads down’ groove emerged, courtesy of Dominic’s rhythmic guitar patterns and Ramon’s synthesised ‘marimba’ bass lines. But in THH’s world nothing remains fixed for long. As Richards had remarked there was the feeling of a large, overall sonic canvas being created from a myriad of smaller details.
After two fairly lengthy sonic collages Hanni called a series of four short improvisations. These fragmented episodes with their emphasis on pure ‘sound’ sometimes reminded me of German bands such as Faust or Einsturzende Neubaten.
THH’s final piece had more of a ‘composed’ feel about it and was more obviously tune orientated, based as it was upon a bed of layered synths, a wheedling guitar motif and a hip hop inspired drum groove.
Meanwhile this final musical performance was interspersed with images of the band packing their gear away and exiting the building, leaving the camera behind for a final wander around the venue, accompanied by the eerie sounds of the trio’s electronic textures.
Trio Heinz Herbert were the furthest removed of today’s three acts from orthodox jazz. I’ll admit that it took me a while to acclimatise to them at first, but as “2020” progressed I found myself being drawn more and more into their remarkable soundworld. This was both a sonic and a visual adventure, and as such offered something exciting and unique.
And for all the electronic trickery these guys can also play in the ‘conventional’ sense, there were ample examples of this during the course of the event. But it’s THH’s mastery of the various electronic devices at their disposal and their overall command of sound itself that sets them apart. Their use of electronics is genuinely creative and exciting, and one can imagine the group presenting their music in a variety of environments ranging from the concert hall to the night club.
Let’s hope that like Julie Campiche and Ikarus they get the chance to get back to regular gigging again in 2021.
This “New Switzerland” showcase demonstrated just how creative, vibrant and distinctive the contemporary Swiss jazz scene is. It is to be hoped that Serious will maintain their links with Pro Helvetia and that we eventually get to see these three acts performing again in the UK.
blog comments powered by Disqus