On 1. of July Poland started its presidency in Eropean Union - which was celebrated with various events across the country, including performances by Kenny G, Michael Bolton, Angie Stone or Tricky. "Trzecie Ucho" ("3rd Ear") was one of those events and, while I'm not really sure what's the connection between the polish presidency and experimental or alternative music scene, I'm very gratefull to whoever grabbed the opportunity to reach for the kind of fundings necessary to create an event like this. Because of the abbundancy of the performances I'll try to just briefly summarize the main projects of the evening that began in the Copernicus Science Centre and finished in the vast post-industrial space of the Warsaw's Heat Plant.
1. Fred Firth
With a table full of different objects and set of filters within the reach of his bare foot, and a guitar on his laps Fred Firth created a sound reality unlike anything else. For the first minutes he doesn't even touch the strings but puts metal tins, bow them, hit them with a metal chain - it's like an object's theatre. With a low bass string (played by regulating the tuning key) adding some dirt to the palette. With hypnotic structures created just by sliding two cans on the strings. Moving within some extraterrestrial zone he made music that was emotionally pure, like a fluence of energy levels really than anything close to the reality. Sometimes reminiscent of Bill Frisell gentle echoing harmonies, sometimes of Hendrix edge, but troughout unique and unreal. Hats off, a great performance.
2. Fred Firth and Friends
Putting together a 12-piece group of polish musicians active in the field of experimental, improvised and alternative music Fred Firth conducted the second set of the evening, with no notes on the stage, but gestures and designs. A sort of game piece similar to some of the works by John Zorn, or conducted improvisations by Butch Lawrence - with the conductor selecting the musicians to play, join the others, stop playing, sustain the momentum, crescendo and so on. Sounds intellectual but it was surprisingly fun and it was clear that the musicians enjoyed performing with Firth, taking care of the content while he would masterfully direct the form. Through the series of blasting tutti, abstract ensemble soloing, some simple rock riffs even some cued laughters and coughs there was surprisingly a lot of order in this conducted chaos game.
Fred Firth - conduction
with (left to right) on stage:
Patryk Zakrocki - violin, Mikolaj Palosz - cello, Jacek Mazurkiewicz - double bass, Piotr Zabrodzki - bass guitar, Bartek Tyciński - guitar, Macio Moretti - drums, Jerzy Rogiewicz - drums, Piotr Bukowski - guitar, Candelaria Saenz Valiente - vocal, Kamil Szuszkiewicz - trumpet, Ray Dickaty - tenor saxophone, Marcin Masecki - piano
3. Paristetris (with Eddie Stevens)
Paristetris was founded by the spriritus movens of the Warsaw alternative music scene - Macio Moretti with Marcin Masecki (probably my favourite piano player in Poland, equally agile in the improvised music, mainstream jazz or pop & rock genres) and Candelaria Saenz Valiente - a vocalist of many voices and great stage charisma (privately Masecki's wife). Together the trio delivered music that was fun and positively crazy music that hold no stylistic barriers (their first release was one o my favourites cds of 2009, I think I'll get back to it and post something more about it soon). The concert focused on their second cd (released earlier this year) "Honey Darlin'" which was produced by Eddie Stevens (ex member of the Moloko and keyboard player with Roisin Murphy") who joined them on stage for the evening.
Between the naive girlish singing, full-scale opera or screaming madness Candelaria's presence is absolutely commanding on the stage as the band plays and clearly enjoys itself through the peculiar and weird series of catchy themes that cross cabaret - opera - oldschool techno - broken beats - toy melodies - punk - dreampop - circus - glam and else. Fun and crazy, with rough stage energy replacing some of the smooth studio tricks used on the cd. The third big reason to be there that night.
Paristetris - Candelaria Saenz Valiente, Macio Moretti, Marcin Masecki, Bartek Tycinski and Eddie Stevens
Scianka played the alternative music before the term was even known in Poland and their 1998 debut is now a rarity item (I regret to this day giving away the cassette version I had). I haven't followed their releases in quite a while so I didn't really know what to expect. The heavily guitar oriented sound was great - simple and effective with a good punch. The band augmented occasionally with a two-trombone combo, a backup singer choir or event the strings section - although I have to admit that I couldn't really hear their strong influence on the music as they got lost (not sure if it was because of the arrangement or the acoustics). Still I was dissapointed with the depressive aura of the songs, sad melancholy autumn tunes or less melancholic but even sadder moments of noise and despair. With a couple of mad 'improv' passages that I felt were quite pointless. I missed the old rock'n'roll fun, the polish lyrics and the hint of psychodely and I guess it's not the same band I used to love in 1998.
5. Ililta Band
A trio from Ethiopia playing three traditional instruments: masingo (sort of a one-stringed bowed violin), krara (six string harp) and kobero (metal drums). With a very low drums sound (the bigger one close to the bass drum in the traditional set) and captivating tribal dance rhythms and, especially, the krara riffs (sounded like a funky wah-wah guitar) this group plays music that is contagiously joyfull. If you like african folk music it's definitely recommended.
6. The Ex & Ken Vandermark
An energetic high-point of the evening. Three massacrated guitars creating a wall of sound and noise against the relentless and powerfull drumming. Terrie and his cohorts jumping all over the stage (and the crowd under the stage followed) in a crazy exchanges of punk rhythms that induce tribal energy, furious guitar riffs and witty shouted lyrics.
Ken Vandermark was staying on the side and for the most parts of the evening filling a modest side role - doubling the melody on the saxophone (as it would be a mad suicide mission to go against the three guitars in any other way, in fact I think Ken had a hard time hearing himself anyway), yet the band give him space land ets him loose on a couple of fiery, grooving and gritty solos - not unlike the way he plays with Paal Nillsen-Love in their funky moments or the way he used to play with the Crown Royals (hard to get by the cd now but it's highly recommended). Plus he plays a charming, beautifull solo on clarinet in, the only ballad of the night - a hungarian folk melody.
I tell you The Ex rock!
Ken Vandermark - tenor saxophone, clarinet
7. Dj Rupture, Mouse on Mars, Pantha du Prince
Obviously I'm hardly a fan of club music but still I had my hopes for this part of the evening, especially the Mouse on Mars set, as I am still quite fond of a couple of their cds when it's party time (I haven't heard before of the other two), but I was rather dissapointed. Some of the passages were quite interesting rhythmically but otherwise and for the most part the music was quite simple and monotonous. But, only slowly decreasing, crowd under the stage kept dancing (if bit awkwardly) while the others (me included) were trying to get some rest. Definitely better way to spent the night than waiting 3 hours on the train station.
Note that, if you are a fan of club music, my impressions of the dj sets shouldn't be treated seriously as I can't really say where does the value of those performances stay within the respected genres.
Overall a great evening/night, I hope it's a good omen for the polish presidency period. :)