Antonio Borghini, Benoit Delbecq, Mariel Roberts & Pablo Gīw
Another week in sound
I was suffering some rough jetlag in the first couple of days after returning from Chicago on March 1, but seeing Antonio Borghini’s excellent new sextet Banquet of Consequences at KM28 on March 4 seemed to set me straight. I was impressed by the group’s first show at Au Topsi Pohl last year, but the band and its repertoire felt infinitely more focused and ridiculously more fun. Along with fellow bassist Joel Grip, Borghini was one of the driving forces behind the programming Au Topsi Pohl, and while the venue’s schedule offered lots of disparate approaches there were certain creative hallmarks that seemed to turn up repeatedly. Despite leaving Berlin during the first in the venue’s three-year run, cellist Tristan Honsinger felt like the space’s creative role model, mixing daring free improvisation, wry humor, and an Italianate sense of drama. (It’s fitting that another key part of Au Topsi Pohl, bartender and venue boss Laura Sansan, has been helping Honsinger secure a stable home in Trieste, Italy). Banquet of Consequences represents the cellist’s aesthetic with irresistible elan and pure joy.
Of course, it helps that the sextet includes Toby Delius, a long-time cohort in Amsterdam’s ICP Orchestra, and arguably the finest reedist at work in Berlin today, who balances a deep regard and knowledge for classic swing and bebop verities with that special Misha-and-Han wit. Turkish cellist Anil Eraslan carries on Honsinger’s aesthetic in his own ways, through boisterous vocalizing and slashing string lines and sing and sigh. The rest of the group is no joke: pianist Rieko Okuda possesses, in part at least, an audible throughline to piano radicalism of Monk, Nichols, Hope, and Hasaan, while drummer Steve Heather both keeps everything percolating and reigned in. Finally, there’s the sublime Parisian alto saxophonist Pierre Borel, a kind of searing, sharp-edged contrast to Delius’s post-Ben Webster luxury; they have a profound kind of rapport, playing endless yin-yang exercises in shifting ratios. I can’t remember the last time I grinned so much at a concert. Borghini has written a strong book of music that makes no efforts to veil his influences: the post-modern collisions of the ICP, the absurdist, hot-blooded humor of the Italian Instabile Orchestra, the gospelized flair of Albert Ayler, and the skittering bounce of South African kwela, among other things. I can’t wait for more.
Benoit Delbecq at Pierre Boulez Saal
On Saturday night I ventured to the ravishing Pierre Boulez Saal where French pianist Benoit Delbecq presented two new ensembles. The venue is extraordinary, a gem of a concert hall that feels simultaneously grand and intimate. It was designed primarily for chamber music, but it still works for jazz and improvised sounds without the need for amplification. The first set featured a trio with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum—a member of the pianist’s working quartet Illegal Crowns with guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara—and Sarah Murcia, a French bassist I was unfamiliar with, but who has worked with the likes of Kamilya Jubran and Louis Sclavis. Few jazz pianists have incorporated preparations into their work with the invention of Delbecq apart from fellow French pianist Eve Risser—folks like Magda Mayas and Hermione Johnson occupy a totally different approach in my mind. He’s effortlessly toggled between rhythmic structures build from muted notes and buzzing-rattling tones over the years, leaving it behind altogether in some cases, interspersing it with more lyric passages. Delbecq has roots in a very romantic, contemplative approach, he can swing intensely, and he thrives in wide-open settings.
The trio set definitely veered into chamber territory, even though the opening piece featured a soliloquy-like statement by Bynum, unleashing tart smears, unpitched cries, and lyric shards over a four-handed rhythmic scheme with Murcia joining the leader at the piano, that felt like a mini-gamelan orchestra. Murcia turned to the bass for the rest of the set, showing off some bass preparations of her own on the second piece of the set, but the performance remained exquisite in its restraint. The musicians felt connected even if there were a few times when a visual gesture by the pianist failed to connect with Bynum, who often closed his eyes during extended passages. The group clearly took the stunning acoustic into account, with a gentle attack strengthened by seriously active listening. The group seemed to be casting a weightless trance, a hovering spell unbroken by deliberate injections of tension and conflict.
For the second set the pianist was joined by a younger group of players: the young Belgian drummer Samuel Ber and two Berlin-based Swedes, bassist Petter Eldh and tenor saxophonist Otis Sandsjö. I expected this group to provide more muscle and propulsion, but in many ways the quartet carried on with same hushed, delicate attack, which got me wondering if the space had actually cowed or influenced Delbecq in dialing back the energy to serve the pristine room. The venue definitely sells the space, in part, with those superior acoustics. There was plenty of internal tension, with overlapping rhythms coursing through nearly every piece, and at times Delbecq inserted terse snippets of a real-time recordings of the group into the performance; still, there was never a moment when the group locked into a conventional swing pattern, preferring the explore a series of contrasting lines and grooves, doing so without ever really raising the temperature. The material in both sets was strong, but I’m eager to hear it a different setting, to discover if it was all intentional, or if the setting muted the proceedings. I honestly hope it’s the latter.
Mariel Roberts and Pablo Gīw
It’s been encouraging to observe how many players trained in the classical world have increasingly been dispatching the score to embrace improvisation, albeit with wildly mixed results. I think there are a number of factors explaining this change, including the creative dead-end that meticulously replicating a rigid interpretation must bring. Another factor involves a reckoning about how improvisation, particularly through the Black experience in the US, has been endlessly dismissed and legitimized by the power-holders and gatekeepers. This is a complex web of activity, but it’s hard not to see a lot of this expansion stemming from the brilliant scholarship and first-hand experiences of George Lewis. I felt like every classical musician that read his invaluable 2008 AACM history A Power Stronger Than Itself suddenly checked out the organization’s vast musical legacy.
I can’t pretend to know what motivated cellist Mariel Roberts—a former member of Mivos Quartet and a gifted performer of solo and chamber music—to explore improvisation in recent years, but she’s demonstrated a real commitment and an increasing facility to the practice. Her feel for improvisation has never been more apparent nor stronger than it is on Kryo, a new collaborative recording with Cologne-based trumpeter Pablo Gīw. Over the course of three extended works each musician alters their output with electronics, deftly enhancing, warping, and reconfiguring acoustic sounds. Those electronic manipulations are just as important to the work as what their produce on their instruments. On “Icicle/Carámbano,” which you can check out below, the players alternate in shaping arcing, striated long tones that curve, dissipate, flare, and throb in shifting combinations within aqueous washes of elusive noise and effects. Elsewhere Gīw cuts against his partner’s sustain with percussive puffs of breath or valve clacks, or Roberts will make visceral thwacks and stabs in the face of an unstable ambience. I assume the duo had developed a number of strategies or developed some particular methods before recording, but Kryo provides a sophisticated hybrid for finding new avenues of improvised music where ambient qualities become a surprising compositional tool rather than bland sonic wallpaper serving up a canvas we don’t need.
I had the privilege of writing the liner note essay to Ain’t No Saint (Intakt) the recent debut album by Jim & the Schrimps, the wryly named new quartet led by drummer Jim Black with three stellar young European musicians, at least two of them half his age. The hungry, tonally rich interplay between Danish saxophonist Asger Nissen and German horn man Julius Gawlik, and the woody propulsion provided by bassist Felix Henkelhausen is infectious, recalling a less febrile, more buoyant update of the drummer’s work in Tim Berne’s brilliant Bloodcount.
On the second Tuesday of each month I present Nowhere Street Radio, hour-long program on Berlin’s Collaboradio. The show is broadcast live at 88.4 FM in Berlin and 90.7 FM in Potsdam, and online at https://fr-bb.org/, at 16:00 locally (10:00 AM EST, except this month due to Daylight Savings Time, when it will air at 11:00 AM). If you can’t tune in live all of the shows are archived at the KM28 mixcloud page, where you can also check out Judith Hamann’s terrific program MOSS.
Recommended concerts in Berlin this week
March 15: Richard Valitutto plays Maura Capuzzo, Frederic Chopin, Nicholas Deyoe, Thomas Feng, Marc Sabat, Wolfgang von Schweinitz, Linda Catlin Smith, and Rebecca Saunders. 8 PM, KM28, Karl-Marx-Straße 28 12043 Berlin
March 17: Echo Mirror #2: Annette Krebs/Stephen Flinn & Bryan Eubanks/Takako Suzuki/Viola Torros (Johnny Chang & Catherine Lamb)/DJ Peter Cusack, 8 PM, Petersburg Art Space, Kaiserin-Augusta-Allee 101, 10553 Berlin (entrance in the Hof, Aufgang II)
March 18: Fluid Form Club #1: Maarja Nuut x Witch ‘n’ Monk (Heidi Heidelberg, vocals, guitar-bass hybrid; Mauricio Velasierra, flutes, electronics; Maarja Nuut, vocals, violin, electronics: Klara Ravat, DJ). 8:30 PM, Ausland, Lychener Straße 60, 10437 Berlin
March 19: Marianne Svašek, vocal and Nathanaël van Zuilen, pakharaj. 11 AM, ACUD Club Raum, Veteranenstraße 21, 10119 Berlin-Mitte
March 19: Oùat (Simone Sieger, piano; Joel Grip, double bass; Michael Griener, drums). 3:30 PM, Industrisalon Schöneweide, Reinbeckstr. 10, 12459 Berlin