by Ian Mann
November 11, 2022
The quartet has established a highly developed mutual rapport and a highly distinctive group that sound that is essentially unique.
Julie Campiche Quartet
(Enja Records enja 9813)
Julie Campiche – harp, vocals, Leo Fumagalli – saxophone, Manu Hagmann – double bass, Clemens Kuratle – drums
“You Matter” is the keenly awaited second album from this quartet, led by the Swiss harpist and composer Julie Campiche.
It follows 2020’s exceptional “Onkalo”, which is reviewed here and from which some of the following biographical details have been sourced;
Campiche first came to my attention when she performed as part of “New Switzerland”, a livestream event showcasing emerging Swiss jazz talent that formed part of the 2020 online EFG London Jazz Festival. She appeared alongside the bands Ikarus and Trio Heinz Herbert and my account of this fascinating and highly enjoyable event can be found 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 left me feeling curious as to just what the regular quartet would sound like.
I covered the New Switzerland event following a request from Matt Fripp of the Jazzfuel organisation, who was dealing with Julie’s publicity in the UK at that time. I approached Matt again to ask if I could possibly cover the album as well and a copy of “Onkalo” arrived shortly afterwards directly from Switzerland, together with a personal note from Julie thanking me for my coverage of the EFG LJF event. This was a nice, personal touch and we have maintained contact since.
In truth I’d been looking forward to hearing Campiche’s music for a long time, after missing out on seeing the quartet’s performance at the 2019 Cheltenham Jazz Festival due to a series of unfortunate scheduling clashes. Those who attended the event at the Parabola Arts Centre were fulsome in their praise for a highly distinctive and innovative quartet, albeit one that was not yet represented on disc at that particular time.
In April 2021 I reviewed a quite brilliant livestream performance by the Campiche quartet from the Unterfahrt Jazz Club in Munich, Germany. The group’s extraordinary music was enhanced by the quality of the sound and visuals which led me to the following conclusion; “after over a year of watching livestream events tonight’s was probably the best so far.
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. She has also recorded with the group Jibcae, led by vocalist and composer Claire Huguenin.
The Julie Campiche 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. Campiche has also been involved in a wide range of collaborations with a variety of European jazz musicians and has appeared at numerous jazz festivals all across the continent. For further details of her musical activities visit her website http://www.juliecampiche.com
The “Onkalo” recording was named after “the world’s first final-disposal high level nuclear waste repository”, which at the time of the album’s release was under construction in Finland. The compositions on the album addressed Campiche’s concerns regarding such topics as the invasiveness of social media, environmental issues, particularly the disposal of radio-active waste, plus more everyday matters such as parenthood and relationships.
“You Matter” represents a very natural follow up and addresses similar themes, as Campiche explains in her liner notes;
“Things related to community and how we live our lives inform my vision of the world. Intentionally or not everything we do contributes to our interdependence. As a musician it is vital that my art weaves itself into the very fabric of our life together on this earth. Music is the door to imagination, where my dreams move freely beyond the confines of reason. Such dreams give rise to powerful creative emotions that enable me to transform my reality and live my dreams. May my music help you to connect with your own dreams and find the strength to fulfil them. Because your dreams matter. Because our dreams are the key to tomorrow”.
Campiche’s commitment to the environmental cause finds expression in a thank you to the young climate activist Greta Thunberg - “whose energy, tenacity and integrity are a constant source of inspiration and hope”. The track “Fridays of Hope” also incorporates a sample of a Thunberg speech.
Campiche’s music embraces the sounds of jazz, classical, Middle Eastern music and electronica. Her quartet draws inspiration from such musicians as Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and the UK’s own Portico Quartet. She also cites the influence of the ECM sound in general, and Keith Jarrett in particular, but also artists as diverse as Tom Waits, Portishead, Ahmad Jamal and Arvo Part. She also emphasises the importance of space within her music, plus a strong sense of narrative.
The material on “You Matter” comprises of five new compositions from the leader plus one piece each from Kuratle and Fumagalli. I’m fairly certain that the opening piece, Campiche’s “Aquarius”, was performed at Unterfahrt, although the Munich show was largely comprised of selections from the “Onkalo” album.
Although the group members aren’t formally credited with ‘FX’ this time round the quartet continues to make extensive use of electronics, as demonstrated by the Munich performance. Album opener “Aquarius” emerges out of an atmospheric intro featuring the sounds of eerily bowed bass, shadowy tenor sax and the echoed rumbles of percussion, these low register sounds contrasting effectively with the ethereal sounds of the leader’s harp. Kuratle then establishes a drum groove, augmented by the sound of percussively bowed bass, this providing the foundation for Fumagalli’s powerful sax melodies and the electronically enhanced timbres of Campiche’s harp. As the groove becomes more powerful and insistent Hagmann switches to a muscular pizzicato technique. Full on moments featuring Fumagalli’s sax blasting and the rhythm section’s dynamic grooves are contrasted by more atmospheric, freely structured sections, with Campiche’s harp sounding as if it’s floating in space. Colour, contrast, texture and dynamics are an important part of Campiche’s music and her writing has a strong narrative quality, her compositions consistently unfolding in profoundly interesting ways. The latter stages of the piece finds the quartet ramping up the energy levels once more with Fumagalli sounding particularly belligerent. Taking its title from the name of a boat that was criticised in Italy for trying to save drowning refugees this piece represents a powerful and stunning way to start the album.
Also by Campiche “The Other’s Share” contrasts flowing harp melodies with spiky, staccato rhythms and rich, sometimes unsettling, electronic textures. It’s another work that ranges far and wide in terms of colour, timbre and dynamics, again incorporating a wide range of contrasts. As on the previous album there’s the sense that every composition is a self contained story, yet still part of a broader narrative. The second half of this piece also features the sound of subtly treated wordless vocals, these floating above an increasingly insistent drum groove to create something of an anthemic effect. The piece takes its title from the concept of “the complex relationship between oneself and others, or between ones own many facets”.
“Fridays Of Hope” takes its title from Greta Thunberg’s “Friday for Future” network and skilfully weaves Thunberg’s speaking voice, with its ‘wake up’ message into the musical tapestry crafted by the members of the quartet. The wordless voices of the band members are again deployed as the mood of the piece gravitates between despair and hope. Fumagalli’s melodic sax is prominent in the arrangement, but as ever it’s a superb ensemble performance that also includes a dramatic sequence which finds Kuratle responding to Thunberg’s words via his drum kit.
The gently brooding “Paranthese” addresses “the many things we constantly put off doing” and draws inspiration from the spiritual jazz of Alice and John Coltrane. Campiche and Fumagalli weave melodic spells above a sparse drum accompaniment, with Campiche’s ethereal wordless vocals also featuring in the arrangement. It’s almost overwhelmingly beautiful.
Kuratle takes up the compositional reins for “Lies”, introduced by flute like saxophone and the sound of the harp’s strings being struck, possibly by a drum stick. Campiche’s technique includes the striking and scraping of strings in addition to conventional plucking. Following an extended atmospheric intro Kuratle establishes a skittering drum groove above which plucked harp dances as Campiche demonstrates her virtuosity. That’s not to say technique is everything, for all her undoubted skills Campiche serves the music at all times, this quartet’s music is complex but in no way is it at all about mere ‘flashiness’. There’s something of a Middle Eastern feel about Kuratle’s writing and Fumagalli later takes over as a soloist, his contribution eventually leading to a fascinating series of exchanges between the various instrumentalists.
The title of the near twelve minute “The Underestimated Power” refers to “the undervalued power of women”. It begins with the gently rippling sounds of unaccompanied harp before events take a more dramatic turn as the music begins to darken with the addition of the sounds other instruments. As so often in Campiche’s work the music ebbs and flows, alternating between aggressive, groove based passages and more reflective interludes. This rich musical tapestry sees different lead instruments swimming into focus, variously harp, saxophone and double bass either bowed or plucked. The quartet’s meditations eventually coalesce in a searing final passage, led by Fumagalli’s excoriating saxophone. The constantly evolving nature of this extended composition helps to ensure that it is continually absorbing and fascinating.
The album concludes with Fumagalli’s composition “Utopia”, which commences with the sounds of harp and double bass, quickly joined by the composer’s soft, breathy saxophone and the shimmer of Kuratle’s percussion. A joyous, piping sax motif is answered by Kuratle’s dynamic drumming as the piece enters its next phases, before subsiding again to incorporate a pizzicato double bass solo from Hagmann. The composer then takes up the cudgels once more to deliver a blistering sax solo, vigorously supported by Kuratle’s volcanic drumming. Dynamic contrast is a major feature in the music of this band and the piece concludes with a gentle, beautiful passage that mirrors its introduction.
The constantly evolving nature of the compositions makes this group’s music difficult to describe, but listening to it is a constant source of fascination as the moods and dynamics of the music mutate, the emotions ranging from joy to rage and addressing very human concerns. The underlying sweetness of the harp is countered by the harsher sounds of the saxophone, although the roles can sometimes be reversed. A flexible, intelligent and adaptable rhythm section responds brilliantly to the many twists and turns of the writing. The quartet has established a highly developed mutual rapport and a highly distinctive group that sound that is essentially unique. It’s still essentially an acoustic performance, but one that is positively enhanced by the intelligent deployment of electronics.
The Campiche Quartet is currently on an extensive European tour in support of this brilliant new album and their itinerary involves three UK Festival appearances during November 2022 which will see them visiting Cambridge, London and the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny. I’m really looking forward to seeing them in Abergavenny and witnessing a genuinely live performance from the group for the first time. Look out for my review of this event in the coming weeks.
Julie Campiche Quartet – forthcoming tour dates;
17 Nov. Cambridge Modern Jazz - Cambridge (UK)
18 Nov. Vortex, London Jazz Festival - London (UK)
19 Nov. Black Mountain Jazz Club, wall2wall Jazz Festival - Abergavenny (UK)
24 Nov. King Georg - Köln (D)
26 Nov. Kulturstadel - Wain (D)
27 Nov. Tonne - Dresden (D)
29 Nov. Theaterstübchen - Kassel (D)
30. Nov. A-trane - Berlin (D)
1. Dec. Public Jazz - Gelsenkirchen (D)
2. Dec. Kunstwerk - Ulm (D)
3 Dec. Chorus - Lausanne (CH)
4 Dec. Bee-Flat - Bern (CH)
9 Dec. Théâtre du Pommier - Neuchâtel (CH)
21 Jan. AMR - Geneva (CH)
25 Jan. Sunset - Paris (F)
27 Jan. Jazzstation - Brussel (B)
28 Jan. 27Bflat - Brugges (B)
1 Feb. Le Taquin - Toulouse (F)
2 Feb. Cri Du Port - Marseille (F)
4 Feb. Hear&Now Musikfestivals - Liestal (CH)
I’ll leave the last words about this album with Julie herself;
“We can feel overwhelmed by everything that is happening in the world, especially the climate crisis and what it bodes for us all. We can easily lose the impression that our actions count or have consequence. The idea is to re-connect with ourselves; with the feeling that we can impact our world; that our actions are important and meaningful. What I’m trying to do as an artist is to create a link between the big and the small, the intimate and the societal. We all matter, You Matter, so don’t give up, we can all make a difference.”
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