by Ian Mann
April 30, 2021
Aside from the brilliant writing and playing the quality of the sound and visuals was also exceptional. After over a year of watching livestream events tonight’s was probably the best so far.
Julie Campiche Quartet, Livestream from Unterfahrt Jazz Club, Munich, 28/04/2021.
Julie Campiche – harp, voice & FX, Leo Fumagalli – tenor sax & FX, Manu Hagmann – double bass & FX, Clemens Kuratle – drums & percussion
One of the beauties of the livestreaming phenomenon is the ability to attend, albeit virtually, gigs from faraway cities that you could never realistically attend personally.
Recently I’ve covered livestreams from Newcastle and Nottingham but tonight’s event found me venturing ‘abroad’ for the first time for this performance by the Swiss harpist and composer Julie Campiche and her quartet from the Unterfahrt Jazz Club in Munich.
I first discovered Campiche’s music in November 2020 when I was asked to cover the New Switzerland livestream event, a showcase for emerging Swiss jazz talent that formed part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.
Campiche appeared alongside the bands Ikarus and Trio Heinz Herbert and my account of this fascinating and highly enjoyable event can be read here;
Campiche’s performance for the New Switzerland showcase found her appearing alongside her regular bandmates Manu Hagmann (bass) and Clemens Kuratle (drums), plus guest vocalist Mirjam Hassig. With saxophonist Leo Fumagalli unable to appear due to Covid restrictions this EFG LJF set was very much a one off and included music tailored specifically for the occasion.
I covered the New Switzerland event following a request from Matt Fripp of the Jazzfuel organisation, who deals with Julie’s publicity in the UK. Now eager to hear what the full quartet would sound like I approached Matt again to ask if I could possibly cover the album “Onkalo” album as well. A copy duly arrived shortly afterwards directly from Switzerland, together with a personal note from Julie thanking me for my coverage of the EFG LJF event. My review of “Onkalo”, the Campiche quartet’s début release for the German label Meta, can be viewed here;
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.
Although I only really discovered Campiche’s music through the New Switzerland event I had been aware of her presence on the international jazz scene since 2019 when her quartet appeared at that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Scheduling clashes entailed that I had to miss her performance, something that I have very much come to regret. Her extraordinary music, with its skilful melding of acoustic and electronic sounds would have been perfectly suited to the environs of the Parabola Arts Centre, the venue at which the performance took place. I later heard some very positive comments from those who had actually been there.
Even though I missed the Cheltenham show Julie didn’t seem to hold this against me and since last November we have remained in regular contact. I received Julie’s Spring Newsletter by email on the afternoon of the Unterfahrt livestream and decided to tune in that evening to see the full quartet performing selections from the “Onkalo” album. After missing out at Cheltenham this was a very welcome source of compensation.
The full contents of the newsletter, including details of forthcoming genuinely live performances can be found in our news pages here;
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. “Onkalo” takes its title from “the world’s first final-disposal high level nuclear waste repository”, which is currently under construction in Finland. Campiche’s title composition was partly inspired by the Swedish author Henning Mankell’s book on the Onkalo project, and the fact that the waste buried there will take 100,000 years to fully decay.
Tonight’s performance began with a passage of unaccompanied harp with Campiche deploying a range of electronic FX to distort the sound of the instrument. Shadowy tenor sax and bowed bass added to the unsettling atmosphere, before Kuratle introduced a mesmeric groove, augmented at first by Hagmann’s percussive bowing and later by his powerful plucking. With Campiche deploying a range of devices to scrape and strike the strings of the harp, allied to her array of FX, she was able to conjure a remarkable variety of textures from the instrument, many of them quite other worldly. Indeed there’s a distinct ‘sci-fi’ feel to her music that is a million miles away from the sound of the classical harp. Saxophonist Fumagalli represents an earthier counterpart to the harp, but even he deploys a range of FX courtesy of a pedal-board. Nevertheless his powerful tenor soloing constitutes an important component of the quartet’s sound.
Following the ten minute opener came an extraordinary twenty minute sequence that embraced an extraordinary of sounds, from heavily distorted arco bass, to dramatic cymbal scrapes and Fumagalli blowing eerily into the detached mouth piece of his tenor. Campiche continued to scrape and strike, as well as pluck, the strings of the harp while Kuratle deployed a range of small, hand held percussion in addition to his work with brushes, sticks and mallets on the conventional drum kit. This was music that was constantly evolving and shape shifting, a kind of aural kaleidoscope, astonishingly vivid in terms of sonic colour and texture. Elsewhere we heard Fumagalli’s lengthy, echoed tenor sax melody lines, as if beamed in from deep space, then his contrasting muscular soloing. Campiche was also featured as a soloist, concentrating on the conventional plucking technique and demonstrating her undoubted virtuosity. After laying down an implacable brushed drum groove for much of the piece the excellent Kuratle was featured in a highly musical dialogue with the leader’s harp towards the close of the piece. Campiche’s ever mutating music, with its constantly changing colours and dynamics requires the services of a highly flexible, imaginative and intelligent rhythm section, and in Kuratle and Hagmann it has it.
Hailing from Geneva Campiche’s first language is French. Tonight she attempted to make tune announcements in German, occasionally falling back on English, so catching tune titles was difficult. I believe that the lengthy second item was an extended version of “Onkalo”, while the first piece may have been a new composition, possibly titled “Aquarius”.
Kuratle announced his own composition “To The Holy Land”, a richly atmospheric piece that added the sound of Campiche’s wordless vocals to the mix, alongside Fumagalli’s wispy tenor sax and the composer’s mix of sensitive percussive colorations and embellishments, these contrasting effectively his with savage and explosive drum outbursts.
The title of “Dastet Dard Nakoneh” is derived from a Farsi expression for “thanks” and was introduced here by an extended solo harp passage, answered by Kuratle at the drums, his delicate deployment of mallets leading to another innately musical dialogue with the leader. Campiche also exchanged ideas with Hagmann’s pizzicato bass, the latter later picking up the bow to play the Middle eastern inspired melody.
Elsewhere we heard other now familiar elements from the quartet’s sound world, aggressively plucked harp, the sound of a vibraphone mallet on its strings and fabric inserted between them to dampen the notes. There was also Kuratle’s use of small percussion, more melancholic, cello like arco bass, and of course, Fumagalli’s fluent tenor sax soloing.
The performance concluded with “Flash Info”, introduced by unaccompanied tenor saxophone with Fumagalli deploying live looping techniques to layer his sound, his soundscapes subsequently augmented by Campiche’s harp and its attendant electronic FX. Kuratle’s drums then crashed in with a power and suddenness that almost made me jump out of my seat, the nature of their intrusion intended to replicate the invasiveness of an unwanted news flash. Fumagalli’s sax then cut loose more powerfully, propelled by urgent bass and drums and Campiche’s increasingly distorted and deranged harp and electronics, the piece concluding in a barrage of electronica, the sound of which reminded me of the tone generators of the prog rock era and Egg, Hawkwind etc.
This being 2021 and the age of Covid the band members donned face masks as they took their bows, removing them again as they were encouraged to perform an encore by the enthusiasm of the staff and crew of the Unterfahrt.
This proved to be an altogether gentler affair with Campiche achieving a koto like sound on the harp and also deploying string dampening and live looping techniques, these combining with Fumagalli’s sax incantations to create a sound reminiscent of the UK’s own Portico Quartet, an acknowledged influence.
Campiche has also cited the influence of the ECM sound in general, and Keith Jarrett and Nils Petter Molvaer in particular, and also artists as diverse as Tom Waits, Portishead, Ahmad Jamal and Arvo Part.
As I have observed previously Campiche is a composer of vision and ambition and she has developed a highly distinctive group sound that skilfully combines acoustic and electronic elements. Her well balanced and highly skilled quartet is fully attuned to her vision and in this (almost) live environment her compositions were given additional room to breathe and grow, differing significantly from the recorded versions and with improvisation playing an important role within the musical framework.
However it should be borne in mind that the quartet is only one part of the restlessly creative harpist’s output. She is also involved in an international Strings Project, leads a standards trio and is a member of the all female trio Majudi. With vocalist Mirjam Hassig she is a member of the quartet Aye! and she has also been involved in a number of theatre projects. The quartet have also produced a series of videos in conjunction with the trapeze artist Vanessa Pahud and have worked with the Baroque ensemble Capelle Jenensis. For further details of Julie Campiche’s musical activities please see her recent newsletter and visit her website http://www.juliecampiche.com
After over a year of watching livestream events I have to say that tonight’s was probably the best that I have witnessed so far. This was the closest to a true concert performance that I have seen. At nearly an hour and a half in length this was a genuine concert set and one can imagine the Campiche Quartet performing something very similar at a genuine ‘in person’ appearance – at the Parabola in Cheltenham for instance. It almost made up for me missing out on this back in 2019.
Aside from the brilliant (if hard to describe, I hope I’ve done it justice) writing and playing the quality of the sound and visuals was also exceptional. It was as if the show has been filmed by a professional TV director.
Congratulations are therefore due to the staff and crew of the Unterfahrt, among them Rob Huber, Veit Oberrauch and Fiona Grond.
With a name meaning “subway” Uneterfahrt is a basement jazz club, with huge pillars that reminded me of our own Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London. As one of the leading jazz clubs in Europe it is part of the Jazz-Network, a cooperative organisation that also includes a number of the continent’s most famous jazz venues, namely;
Porgy & Bess, Vienna
Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene, Oslo
Unterfahrt hosts regular livestreams, with saxophonist Mulo Francel and pianist Chris Gall due to perform a duo set on May 6th 2021.
For details of all future events please visit http://www.unterfahrt.deblog comments powered by Disqus