Barry Guy, Vortex Jazz Club, London — from early music to avant-garde jazz
It had, said the MC, taken 33 years, 15 hours and 25 minutes for Intakt to showcase its artists in London. Now the Swiss contemporary music label is making up for lost time: this gig, packed almost to excess, launched a 12-day festival devoted to its musicians.
The event also marked the 70th birthday of double bassist Barry Guy, one of the first artists to record for Intakt. The four-ensemble event ranged from early music to the avant-garde and from the through improvised to the rigorously composed. In each setting, Guy delivered sensitive interplay, technical finesse and a gorgeously rounded tone.
The evening began with a delicate duo reading of H.I.F. Biber’s 17th-century Annunciation Sonata. Violinist Maya Homburger’s tone and technique balanced perfectly with Guy’s and the performance captured the composition’s mix of the stately and the profane. With theme and variations stated, the two also began spinning lines, scampers and drones of their own.
The ninth-century hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus” followed. Here, Homburger delivered an episode of scrapes, slashes and stops that conjured Astor Piazzolla. Next came Guy’s composition “5 for Anja”, five contemporary pieces that ranged from angular modernism to the abstract. The set closed with Biber’s Crucifixion Sonata — “a baroque rending of an earthquake”, according to Homburger. The duo developed the original’s mix of sadness and hope through to the final bravura flourish. It was the evening’s highlight.
Not that what followed was below par. The next two sets, which presented Guy with musicians he first played with in the 1970s, were thoroughly absorbing, though in different ways.
Howard Riley’s piano trio jazz is a sparse contemporary modernism that delivers spacious harmonies, free improvisation and Monkish dissonance — he pulled apart Monk’s “Friday the 13th” in the middle of the set. Guy developed each move, and underscored drummer Lucas Niggli’s polyrhythmic pulse. In contrast, the intense through-improvised duet with saxophonist Evan Parker delivered microtonal flutters, quick-fire lines that grew in power and recurring ululations that let Guy rampage underneath. It was an extraordinary performance of closely argued improv that rigorously investigated many pathways and moods.
The final set featured a trio led by saxophonist Jürg Wickihalder. Here, choreographed free jazz was themed by simple tunes. Wickihalder’s fusillades of notes, squeaks and simultaneous sax playing were well-executed free jazz staples but Guy, locked into Niggli’s drums and adding focus from within, remained imperious.
Intakt Festival runs to April 27, vortexjazz.co.uk