Blue Shroud Band

Blue Shroud Band

Blue Shroud Band

Barry Guy bass and director (GB)
Savina Yannatou voice (GR)
Agustí Fernández piano (ESP)
Ben Dwyer guitar (IR)
Percy Pursglove (UK)
Maya Homburger violin (CH)
Fanny Paccoud viola (FR)
Marc Unternährer tuba (CH)
Torben Snekkestad soprano sax / tenor (NOR)
Michael Niesemann alto sax / oboe / oboe d’amore (D)
Per Texas Johansson tenor sax / clarinet (S)
Julius Gabriel baritone sax / soprano (D)
Lucas Niggli percussion (CH)
Ramón López percussion (ESP)


THE BLUE SHROUD

There are three strands that informed my writing of THE BLUE SHROUD - the bombing in 1937 of the Basque city of Guernica by German Condor Legion pilots at the invitation of Franco, the painting by Pablo Picasso that arose following the event, and in more recent times (2003) a blue drape that was hung over a tapestry reproduction of the Guernica painting in the United Nations building before U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered his case for invading Iraq to T. V. viewers and the world in general. Incontestably, the Guernica image of death, panic and mayhem would have sent a far too literal message about the horrors of war to the receivers of Powell’s statement. In an act of extreme cowardice, it was deemed necessary to sanitize the presentation , so the tapestry was covered with a blue drape by U.S. staff and media personnel prior to the broadcast.

So, why write a piece of music with such emotive subjects ?

It was historian Simon Schama’s analysis of Picasso’s painting in his TV series “The Power of Art” that drew me into the world of “Guernica” and the resonances that have accompanied its history. Not that I needed reminding, but it triggered off thoughts about 20th/21st century abominations that have occurred under the umbrella of power, domination and obfuscation. Here was a painting that had a message that I needed to access. What seemed certain to me: a piece of music could be written reflecting the actualities of the subject matter. One that would indicate the power of the human spirit to withstand the oppression of tyrants.

Assembling an international team of musicians that were adaptable and able to co-exist in the worlds of improvisation as well as baroque music was essential to this project. Fragments of H. I. F. Biber and J.S. Bach included in the score were, I felt, needed to elevate the listener to a particular aural sensitivity; and baroque violin, viola, oboe and serpent offered the unique colours I was looking for.

For the expectant listener, I should point out that despite the inclusion of the Biber and Bach fragments, there is no attempt at “jazzing up” or creating “crossover” music. As in concerts by the Homburger/Guy Duo, early music sits side by side with contemporary modes of expression, the rhetoric of each being sufficient to bridge the centuries.

A painting like Guernica is obviously strong on the visual message but is essentially mute for the purposes of providing words for the ensemble’s vocalist Savina Yannatou. Discussing the project with Irish poet Kerry Hardie, she was enticed to create “Symbols of Guernica” which, as she said, could be used as the text for my composition either in fragments or its entirety.

Additionally she offered two further verses for the end. This generous submission became the backbone of the piece as I negotiated the structure appropriate to the subject matter.

Whilst THE BLUE SHROUD reflects on the human condition and the continued suffering and violence in the world, seen through the lens of Picasso’s iconic painting it is certainly not meant to be an overt political statement. It is a composition that presents superb musicians in a creative scenario that reflects my humble belief that compassion is still a currency open to all, with the ultimate hope that humanity might at some stage learn from history.

Barry Guy

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THE BLUE SHROUD

Drei Leitgedanken haben meine Komposition THE BLUE SHROUD geprägt - der Luftangriff auf die baskische Stadt Guernica durch deutsche Kampfpiloten der Legion Condor 1937 im Dienste Francos, das Gemälde von Pablo Picasso, das als Reaktion auf diese Ereignisse entstand und, in jüngerer Zeit (2003), ein blauer Vorhang, mit dem eine Ta-pisserie des Guernica Gemäldes im Hauptgebäude der Vereinten Nationen verhüllt wurde, bevor der amerikanische Außenminister Colin Powell den Fernsehzuschauern und der gesamten Welt seine Position zum Einmarsch in den Irak erläuterte. Zweifellos hätte Picassos Bild von Tod, Panik und Zerstörung eine viel zu deutliche Botschaft über die Grauen des Krieges an Powells Zuhörer gesendet. In einem Akt höchster Feigheit hielt man es für nötig, diese Präsentation von allem Negativem zu reinigen, und so wurde der Wandteppich vor der Übertragung von Regierungsangestellten und Sender-personal mit der blauen Fahne der Vereinten Nationen verhüllt.

Warum also nun ein Musikstück mit einem so emotionsgeladenem Thema?

Die Analyse des Kunsthistorikers Simon Schama von Picassos Gemälde in seiner Fern-sehreihe ‚The Power of Art‘ hatte meine Aufmerksamkeit auf Guernica gelenkt und auf den Nachhall, der seine Geschichte begleitet hat. Nicht, dass eine Erinnerung nötig gewesen wäre, aber es war dennoch ein Anlass nachzudenken über die Gräuel des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts, die sich unter dem Deckmantel von Macht, Herrschaft und Ver-schleierung ereignet haben. Hier war ein Gemälde mit einer Botschaft, die ich aufgrei-fen musste. Eines schien mir sicher: man konnte ein Musikstück schreiben, das die Ak-tualität des Themas widerspiegelt. Ein Stück, das die Kraft des menschlichen Geistes zeigt, der Unterdrückung durch Tyrannei zu widerstehen.

Das Wesentliche an diesem Projekt war es, eine internationale Gruppe von Musikern zusammenzustellen, die offen und fähig waren, sich sowohl in der Welt der Improvisa-tion als auch der Barockmusik zu bewegen. Nach meinem Gefühl sollten musikalische Fragmente von H. I. F. Biber und J.S. Bach in die Komposition aufgenommen werden, um den Hörer zu dieser ganz besonderen Klangsensibilität zu führen; die Barockgeige, Viola, Oboe und Serpent boten die einzigartigen Klangfarben, die ich suchte.

Für den jetzt erwartungsvollen Hörer sollte ich darauf hinweisen, dass dies trotz der Einbeziehung von Biber‘schen und Bach‘schen Fragmenten kein Versuch einer ‚verjaz-zenden Musik‘ oder des Crossover ist. Genau wie bei den Konzerten des Duos Hombur-ger/Guy steht Frühe Musik Seite an Seite mit gegenwärtigen Ausdrucksformen, und die ‚sprachlichen‘ Möglichkeiten beider reichen aus, um die Jahrhunderte zwischen ihnen zu überbrücken.

Ein Gemälde wie Guernica hat offenkundig eine starke visuelle Botschaft, bleibt aber grundsätzlich stumm, wenn es darum geht, Worte zu liefern für die Vokalistin des En-sembles, Savina Yannatou. Ein Gespräch mit der irischen Schriftstellerin Kerry Hardie über das Projekt regte diese an, den Text ‚Symbols of Guernica‘ zu schreiben, den sie mir für die Komposition, in Teilen oder auch als Ganzes, überließ. Darüber hinaus stell-te sie zwei weitere Verse für den Schluss zur Verfügung. Dieser großzügige Beitrag wurde zum Grundgerüst dieses Stückes, während ich an einer Struktur arbeitete, die dem Thema angemessen war.

Obwohl sich THE BLUE SHROUD mit der menschlichen Existenz und dem fortwähren-dem Leid und der Gewalt in der Welt beschäftigt, betrachtet durch Picassos prägendes Gemälde, soll das Stück auf keinen Fall ein rein politisches Statement sein.

Es ist eine Komposition, die hervorragende Musiker in einem kreativen Szenario prä-sentiert, und die meine Auffassung widerspiegelt, dass Mitgefühl immer noch eine Option für uns alle ist, schlussendlich mit der Hoffnung, dass die Menschheit vielleicht irgendwann aus ihrer Geschichte lernt.

Barry Guy

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Reviews

Reviews can also be found on the Intakt Records website : www.intaktrec.ch/rev266-a.htm

Es fällt ein Mensch, die Erde birst
Barry Guy: The Blue Shroud, Intakt Records Nr. 266

Das bisher eindrücklichste Konzert der noch jungen neuen Saison? Ganz klar Barry Guys «Blue Shroud», vorgetragen von der gleichnamigen 14-köpfigen Band in Miller’s Studio in Zürich. Ein weit ausgreifendes, komplexes Werk, das Picassos epochales Antikriegsbild «Guernica» von 1937, auf das die irische Autorin Kerry Hardie mit Versen reagiert hat, zum Ausgangspunkt nimmt, aber auch den Einmarsch der USA 2003 im Irak thematisiert; damals wurde eine Tapisserie nach Picassos Gemälde im Hauptsitz der Uno mit einem blauen Vorhang verhüllt. Barry Guys Werk verbindet Jazz und Barock (Bach, Biber), ausgeschriebene und improvisierte Teile. Der politischen Botschaft zum Trotz ist die Musik nicht moralisch überfrachtet, sondern genuin, dringlich und von grosser Schönheit. Faszinierend ist die Besetzung mit Streichern, Holz- und Blechbläsern, Klavier, Gitarre sowie Perkussion. Persönlichkeiten wie Maya Homburger (Violine), Michel Godard (Tuba), Savina Yannatou (Stimme) und Lucas Niggli (Drums) zählen zum Ensemble, welches Barry Guy vom Bass aus dirigiert. Die vorliegende Fassung des gut siebzigminütigen, ungemein dichten Werks wurde am 17. und 18. Oktober 2015 am Festival Ad Libitum in Warschau eingespielt. Die sorgfältig produzierte CD überzeugt; noch intensiver wirkt das Werk live. Ehrgeizige Veranstalter sollten sich um das Projekt reissen!
(Manfred Papst, NZZ am Sonntag, October 2016)


The Blue Shroud,
In some ways, The Blue Shroud might be Barry Guy's signature work. It's the first to unite his varied interests in Baroque music, composition, jazz and improv at an orchestral scale. To do so Guy assembles a 14-strong crack unit capable of interpreting each aspect to the highest level, including several early music specialists who are also able to extemporize.
And Guy's topic is worthy of such endeavor. He takes as his inspiration three interlinked themes, the Spanish Civil War atrocity at Guernica, Picasso's masterpiece of the same name, and the titular blue awning hung over a tapestry of that painting which was the backdrop when US Secretary of State Colin Powell set out the case for the invasion of Iraq at the UN Building in 2003.
Given such weighty subject matter it's tempting to try to view everything through a programmatic lens, but many passages defy simplistic determination. It's just compelling music. As always Guy's charts promote opportunities for individual expression, and the wonder is how well they flourish within the notated framework. But of course that has been Guy's specialty ever since his formation of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra back in the day.
The work's interlocking and overlapping sections have been demarcated into 11 tracks which help the listener navigate the structure. In "Prelude" Guy sets out some of the building blocks which recur throughout the piece. It begins with Percy Pursglove's unaccompanied trumpet reveille, which is joined by a bristling ensemble before an abrupt switch to drifting strings. Thereafter the piece evolves through sudden dizzying shifts and kaleidoscopic textures, in which the diverse styles coexist on their own terms.

Starting with a mercurial exchange between Agusti Fernandez' piano and Pursglove's trumpet, "Bull / Mother and Child / Warrior" comprises a series of improvised duets and trios, mixed with orchestral interjections. Later after an initial martial cadence, "Light Bearer" turns jazzy, with Michael Niesemann's alto saxophone ramping up the intensity in a tour de force for the reedman's thickened vocalized wail, and the orchestra metamorphoses into a surging big band behind him.
The group of Ben Dwyer's Spanish guitar, Savina Yannatou's voice and the leader's bass plays a key role, and appears at the heart of the sections denoted as "Songs." Here Guy creates lyrical backdrops for Irish poet Kerrie Hardie's text, sung/spoken with great emotional weight by Yannatou. Elsewhere she uses her wordless voice to convey confusion, fear, anguish and defiance. At other times she also intones the words "Resolution 1441 and "Weapons of Mass Destruction," as Hardie encourages insertion of excerpts from the UN Resolution into the performance.
To offset the spiky improv and dense ensembles Guy co-opts some of the loveliest melodies ever written, creating settings for extracts from H.I.F. Biber's "Mystery Sonatas" and J.S. Bach's "B minor Mass." In this context, Guy uses these reimaginings to signify humanity, indomitable spirit and ultimately hope. At over 70-minutes, The Blue Shroud constitutes a complex and expansive work. While there is a lot to take in which requires repeated listens to appreciate, the payback is more than worth the effort.
(John Sharpe, All About Jazz, September 17, 2016)


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Wie tönt Weltgeschichte?
Was Genregrenzen betrifft, scheint der britische Kontrabassist und Komponist Barry Guy blind. Auch auf «The Blue Shroud» kombiniert er Barockklänge und Jazz mit schlafwandlerischer Sicherheit.

Barry Guy ist ein alerter Musiker, ein hellhöriger Routinier, dem man auch grosse Herausforderungen zutraut. Dazu gehören allemal Brückenschläge zwischen Klassik und Jazz sowie Verbindungen von Komposition und Improvisation. Der 69-jährige britische Kontrabassist und Komponist hat sein flexibles Können auch schon in unterschiedlichen Ensembles unter Beweis gestellt – etwa im Duo mit seiner Partnerin, der Geigerin Maya Homburger, aber auch in Grossformationen wie dem London Jazz Composers Orchestra.
Prätentionen
Trotzdem erschrickt man nun fast etwas ob der konzeptionellen Ambitionen, die sein neues Projekt «The Blue Shroud» getragen haben: Die mehrteilige Komposition sollte einerseits eine Hommage an Pablo Picassos Anti-Kriegs-Werk «Guernica» sein – und an die Opfer jenes historischen Bombardements. Andrerseits will Guy daran erinnern, dass ebendieses Gemälde im Uno-Sicherheitsrat mit einem blauen Tuch verschleiert worden war, als US-Aussenminister Colin Powell im September 2003 den Einmarsch der US-Truppen in den Irak verkündete . . . Weltkunst, kombiniert also mit Weltgeschichte: Wie soll das tönen? «The Blue Shroud» jedenfalls klingt eindrücklich – dabei weder monumental noch hymnisch.

– Und gleich wollen wir ganz prinzipiell daran erinnern, dass die Qualität von Musik eben nicht an deren Absicht (und mag diese auch edel sein) zu messen ist, sondern an ihrer Wirkung.
Als Rezipienten darf man sich auch die Freiheit nehmen, das Trompetensolo zu Beginn von «The Blue Shroud» nicht gleich als militärisches Signal zu deuten, sondern als komprimiertes Signet und schlanken Einstieg in ein mitunter üppiges, jedenfalls facettenreiches Stück.
Barry Guy hat die Komposition für die Blue Shroud Band geschrieben – ein 14-köpfiges, hochkarätig besetztes Ensemble. Zu drei Saxofonen (Michael Niesemann, Per Texas Johannsson, Julius Gabriel), drei Blechblasinstrumenten (Percy Pursglove, Torben Snekkestad, Michel Godard) und drei Streichern (Maya Homburger, Fanny Paccoud, Barry Guy) kommen hier zwei Schlagzeuger (Lucas Niggli, Ramón López), Piano (Augusti Fernandez), Gitarre (Ben Dwyer) sowie die Stimme von Savina Yannatou dazu.
Wenn Streicher mit Saxofonisten und Perkussionisten in der gleichen Band spielen, mag bald eine Kombination von Jazz und Klassik vermutet werden. Und damit liegt man bei Barry Guy nicht falsch (tatsächlich hat er die eigene Musik überdies mit Stücken von Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber und Johann Sebastian Bach ergänzt).
Stringente Dramatik
Allerdings sind die scheinbar heterogenen Komponenten in «The Blue Shroud» in ein stringentes musikalisches Geschehen eingepasst, bei dem man Genregrenzen ebenso vergisst wie die Übergänge zwischen komponierten Vorgaben und Improvisation. Oft gruppieren sich die Instrumente um Gesang (oder gesprochene Lyrik). Immer wieder aber wird man auch durch schroffe Kontraste und durch die vielfältigen Möglichkeiten des schillernden Klangkörpers überrascht.
So steigert sich das Tutti mitunter in ein Stimmengewirr oder in eine an Coltranes «Ascension» erinnernde Üppigkeit. Dann wiederum verzweigt sich der Gesamtklang in die einzelnen Register. Besonders in Erinnerung bleibt etwa der Dialog des Trompeters Percy Pursglove mit dem Pianisten Augusti Fernandez. Oder das zarte Trio von Savina Yannatous Stimme mit Geige und Kontrabass.

(Ueli Bernays, NZZ 19.9.2016 )

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TENSEGRITY small formations from within the Blue Shroud Band

The legendary Alchemia Club in Krakow (Poland) has played and continues to play host to musicians worldwide to present their musical ideas.

In recent years I have had the pleasure to prepare large ensemble projects there during the daylight hours, whilst the evening has given way to small formations from within the big band that, in a way, expose the heart and soul of the group, an ontological musical debate that informed the total experience of our work together.

TENSEGRITY represents the summation of three evening performances, where regular but most often new alliances came together for creative evocations in an uncharted musical landscape. To my ears these experiences in turn informed the Première performance of “The Blue Shroud” at the end of our residency where a unified sense of purpose provided the listener with an especially emotional focus.

My thanks go to Marek Winiarski for making the project happen and to Maya Homburger for managing the band as well as playing in the ensemble.

To the musicians involved, I send my thanks for their commitment, but above all for their amazing creativity, endlessly demonstrated night after night.

Barry Guy





REVIEWS

By John Sharpe about the Krakow days....
(These words first appeared as part of a review of the 9th Krakow Jazz Autumn, reprinted courtesy of All About Jazz www.allaboutjazz.com)

During the days leading up to the final concert of his 2014 residency in Krakow, Guy rehearsed his hand-picked band through the score for his ambitious new work “The Blue Shroud”. But in the evenings they broke into smaller subdivisions to improvise freely. That plan not only provided a way to promote familiarity and let off steam after a long day's intense rehearsal, but also sowed the seed for some of the improvisatory passages in the longer work. Each night there were three sets, each comprising up to three separate groupings. While everyone had links to the bassist, many of the participants had not worked together. So it was inevitable that there would be some first time meetings among the small formations. Often these were some of the most potent of the short engagements.

Guy’s presence was also a surefire indicator of quality. Individually, he stands as one of the world’s preeminent improvisers on bass, having developed the quicksilver aesthetic first posited by Scott La Faro to its logical extreme. In performance Guy simply has to be seen to be believed. His spurts of hyperactivity combined precise articulation, a plethora of extended approaches and seemingly inexhaustible stamina. He thrived on opposites and tension: between pizzicato and arco; between deep resonance and a nimble upper register; and between straight and idiosyncratic techniques.

While with one hand he might brandish a mallet to mine overtones from the strings both above and below the bridge, with the other he would simultaneously finger rapidly evolving pitches and chords. Then afterwards he might insert knitting needles between the strings to act as temporary bridges which modified the tuning and at the same time add a random metallic shimmer. His use of a volume pedal meant that even the most subtle effects, such as his ringing harmonics, could hold their own in dialogue. But whatever he did was informed by an acute musical sensibility. It was never just technique for its own sake.

Day One

While the overall standard of the sessions was astoundingly high, there were some sets that stood out even more than others. Unsurprisingly the most seasoned improvisers proved the most accomplished, but even the chamber specialists gave a strong account of themselves on less conventional turf. On the first night highlights included the opening solo set from Spanish pianist Agusti Fernandez, and his subsequent duet with trumpeter Peter Evans, and the duos of Evans and Norwegian reedman Torben Snekkestad, and Guy and Greek vocalist Savina Yannatou.


Fernandez' first gesture was electrifying: swiping a wood block across the strings inside the piano to magic a wild gust of sound. It announced a panoply of percussiveness from which occasional plucked notes materialized as if by accident. Few other pianists can equal the Catalan's dexterity and resourcefulness in extracting maximum potential from his instrument. Amid the multiplying overtones, Fernandez drew out an almost vocal quality from the piano interior. As a very hushed groaning passage subsided, Evans joined the pianist.

With the bell of his trumpet over the mic, he created a resounding bass drone, which the pianist punctuated with shrill plucks from the piano interior. Purposeful interplay ensued, testament to prior collaboration, not only on disc with Mats Gustafsson, but also as a duo on tour. Fernandez paralleled the American's rapid fire exhortations with dense muscular runs. One wonderful moment of synchronicity saw both seemingly independently settle on a trilled phrase. Evans' speed of thought and reaction provides a severe test for anyone he shares the stage with, but Fernandez was equal to the task.

Likely the duo of Evans and Norwegian reedman Snekkestad will also surface on disc at some point, such was the success of their inaugural meeting. After exchanging growls and quiet susurrations, Snekkestad using a trumpet with a reed mouthpiece, the pair exuberantly braided squalling tones. Snekkestad sneaked his soprano into his mouth next to the reed trumpet to conjure lacerating exclamations, before focusing wholly on the straight horn. Seated next to each other, circular breathing through a brass lexicon, the twosome appeared every inch terrible twins.

Yannatou has featured in previous Guy projects, including “Time Passing” at the 2013 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, as well as in a pairing captured live on Attikos (Maya, 2010). On this occasion Yannatou constrained her wordless ululations, muffled stutters and introspective screams within a low level passion, which allowed full rein to Guy's exquisite filigree runs. Arco swoops interrupted flurries of pizzicato notes and slurs akin to Yannatou's vocal sighs. It was as if they conversed in an intimate discourse in an alien language complete with its own syntax, which was at times stirring, mournful and ethereal.

Day Two

The second evening furnished a study in polarities. The opening combination of Guy, drummer Lucas Niggli and violinist Maya Homburger performed "Rondo for Nine Birds", a composition by Guy inspired by a picture which adorns the wall of their home. In the through-composed piece, the players returned at regular intervals to a jaunty ditty, interposed between diverse vignettes. Niggli interpreted the repeating theme differently each time, varying between fingers and sticks, and between exact and loose, while Homburger and Guy's parts intertwined, sometimes austere but at others nervy and staccato.

If much of the first set dwelt in the chamber, then the quartet of Niggli, drummer Ramon Lopez, Fernandez and Evans probably resided in the garage, with a default setting of all out aural assault. Evans' bravura trumpet cut through the waves of noise with aplomb, dipping into the troughs and skimming above the surf. He and Fernandez once again united in a high energy face off, fuelled by a clattering accompaniment. But there were astonishing contrasts too, as when Evans key pad popping prompted the Spaniard to delve into piano's innards. But the respite was brief. Fernandez hammered the keys, smashed his forearms and used his fingers in sewing machine motion, while Niggli excitedly bounced on his stool translating the fervor into apocalyptic tumult.

Day Three

On the third night high points included the duo of Guy and alto saxophonist Michael Niesemann, the larger grouping growing out of the initial threesome of Michel Godard, French violist Fanny Paccoud and Guy, and the Aurora Trio with Evans and Yannatou. Niesemann alerted unsuspecting listeners to his qualities with a searing clarion call on his alto saxophone. It heralded not a maelstrom, but an interlude of subdued intensity in which plaintive alto vied with fluttering bass. That pattern of alternating animation and meditation continued, as Niesemann's short guttural phrases matched Guy's sudden switches between bow and hands. Such was the combustive zeal, that their first selection peaked in frenetic oratory, as Niesemann screeched multiphonics, with the veins on his neck looking ready to pop.

Paradoxically given their backgrounds, Paccoud, Godard and Guy gave rise to some of the most swinging sections of the three nights. From the serpent, a convoluted wooden ancestor of the tuba, Godard drew a jazzy buzz, which encouraged Guy into a relaxed lope. When Paccoud entered from backstage she picked out Godard's rhythm on her viola, before sawing a bluesy wail. Once Swedish reedman Per Texas Johansson joined on clarinet his jagged lines brought about a return to the accustomed abstraction, which turned into a garrulous swelling collective with the addition of Julius Gabriel's baritone saxophone and Snekkestad's reed trumpet. At one point Johansson arrested the whole audience's attention by affixing a balloon to the mouth of his clarinet, which he inflated and then allowed to deflate with a booming gasp.

Guy programmed the Aurora Trio for the final set of the three nights. Completed by Fernandez and Lopez, the trio's blend of soulful balladry and spiky invention is immortalized on three acclaimed outings: Aurora (Maya, 2006), Morning Glory (Maya, 2010), and A Moment's Liberty (Maya, 2013). However tonight they were supplemented by Evans' trumpet and Yannatou's voice, and as a consequence eschewed the melancholic lyricism which so strongly pervades their repertoire for a set of daredevil flights.

A special bond was evident between the members of the Aurora Trio, manifest in the shared rhythmic attack between Guy and Lopez, and in the instantaneous trafficking between the bassist and the pianist. Fernandez spent most of the set with at least one hand under the piano lid. Evans was once again a scorching presence. His narrative ripened and evolved at breathtaking pace, transmuting into a stream of highly detailed fizzing sound. Yannatou took the opportunities as they arose in the ebb and flow to interpolate her wordless vocals. It made a cracking finale which engendered keen anticipation for the final show by the entire aggregation.

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by Stuart Broomer, New York City Jazz Record, January 2015

Barry Guy’s Blue Shroud Orchestra, the 14-piece band created to perform the English bassist’s Blue Shroud, gathered for the final week of Jazz Autumn from Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and America, some members meeting for the first time, then spent the next three days rehearsing the piece eight hours a day, only to spend each night in three sets of small ensemble improvisations, getting to know one another’s musical personalities at the granular level. The musicians were drawn from Guy and partner/baroque violinist Maya Homburger’s diverse worlds of jazz and contemporary classical, free improvisation and period instrument performance, all possessed of remarkable skills and a willingness to test and extend them in fresh contexts.

Over 20 different groupings would appear between Agustí Fernández creating a storm of original sound in the piano’s interior to begin Tuesday’s program and the final quintet on Thursday, which expanded the Aurora trio of Guy, Fernández and drummer Ramon Lopez with trumpeter Peter Evans and mercurial Greek singer Savina Yannatou. In between one encountered a range of stunning musical voices, from the solo pieces by Homburger on baroque violin and Irish composer/classical guitarist Ben Dwyer to a remarkable group of saxophonists whose reputations are only beginning to reach beyond Europe: Michael Niesemann has the previously unknown capacity to play both fire-breathing free alto and virtuoso baroque oboe d’amore; Torben Snekkestad’s doubles are just as unusual: in addition to tenor and soprano, he plays a reed-trumpet hybrid that sounds like a roar from the dawn of time. The young Julius Gabriel plays ferocious baritone while Per Texas Johansson doubles tenor and clarinet, sometimes with distinctive humor: during one improvised dialogue, a black balloon emerges and expands from the bell of his clarinet. In addition to various duos and trios, the reed players performed as a quintet, the fifth member Michel Godard, a virtuoso of the tuba and the medieval serpent, sounding on the latter like a modern trombonist. The violist Fanny Paccoud, another ancient music specialist, played skittering free improvisations in assorted ensembles while another incongruous component of this assembly—the two contrasting drummers, Lopez, loose and unpredictably propulsive, and Lucas Niggli, a demon of precision—performed as a duo and in a quartet with Fernández and Evans.


This unique collection of musicians and their compound skill sets were matched together for a special vision, one crisscrossing past and present, combining seemingly contrary views, voices and methodologies to create a new kind of composition, one that reached beyond collage to a polysemous musical discourse, born at once in a score and the accelerated evolution of free improvisation.

The debut of the 75-minute Blue Shroud brought these contrasting virtuosities together. Inspired by Picasso’s Guernica, Guy named the piece for the blue shroud that was placed over a tapestry copy at the UN building during Colin Powell’s 2003 declaration of war against Iraq. As vast as Picasso’s painting, Guy’s work is equally ambitious, a great musical meditation on the horrors of war and the quest for compassion. Constructing songs on poems by Irish poet Kerry Hardie, Guy employed methods ranging from atonality and Spanish flamenco to a gorgeous chorale of high-pitched reeds, contrasting lyrical passages with bursts of violent energy and lacing passages of free improvisation through and over both, with Yannatou singing text in four languages, blending formal declaration with speaking in tongues. One uncanny component was the dramatic inclusion of pieces by the 17th century composer H.I.F. Biber and Bach, images of compassion and respite, beautifully realized and continuous with Guy’s own lyrical episodes. It’s a major work, bridging musical chasms, and should be widely heard.




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Odes and Meditations for Cecil Taylor by Barry Guy and Intensegrity (The Small Formations) Blue Shroud Band

by John Sharpe

While there have been many tributes to Cecil Taylor, who died a year ago this month, there will be few as ambitious as this five-CD set from bassist Barry Guy’s Blue Shroud Band (BSB). Strictly speaking Taylor is the dedicatee of only the multi-part work taking up the entirety of Disc 5 while the remaining CDs document the BSB in small formations. The music was recorded during the BSB’s residency at the Krakow Jazz Autumn in November 2016. During the days leading up to the final concert of the written material, Guy, who turns 72 this month, rehearsed the band through his score while in the evenings they broke into smaller improvisatory subdivisions.
Taylor is but one of three pianists, all heroes to Guy, at least notionally involved. Marilyn Crispell wrote three short poems dedicated to Taylor, which Guy has used within the larger work, while the actual pianist is Catalan Agustí Fernández. Guy has repurposed some of the music contained here from 1995’s Three Pieces For Orchestra by his London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Preceding each of the original pieces he adds three “Meditations” in which Greek vocalist Savina Yannatou sings Crispell’s texts against shimmering chamber music backdrops.

First of the main sections is “Owed to J.S.”, a punning homage to drummer John Stevens providing one of the highlights. Staccato rhythms crisscross the ensemble while Yannatou vocalizes wordlessly. Cacophonic backing suddenly coalesces into a careening riff shifting in and out of synchrony before a slow moving melody opens up the piece for smaller improvising units. Notable among these is the duet between Julius Gabriel’s rampaging overblown baritone saxophone and Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli’s crisply articulated tumult. Whip-crack ensemble interjections increase the intensity even more, until the ensemble subsumes the whimpering saxophone and a countermelody predominates.
Fernández assumes even greater prominence during “Sleeping Furiously”, uneasy but inward looking in the first part against a pensive orchestral chorus, but then more bombastic in the second where hammered tremolos ring out against gliding strings, evoking the title by suggesting something unwillingly tethered. The final “Strange Loops” is the most dense and daunting work, blending woozy swirls, jagged ostinatos, abrupt silences and sweeping orchestral phrases. It once again features Yannatou, whose vocal gymnastics encompass shrieks, whispers and yodels but also reprises the poems, lending a satisfying unity to the program.
The first four discs present groupings ranging from solos to nine-strong ensembles, unified by their high quality yet varying dramatically in style, from the Baroque repertoire of violinist Maya Homburger to quick-fire improv exchange to all-out aural assault like that engendered by Fernández, Guy and Norwegian reedplayer Torben Snekkestad. The first disc starts with a wonderfully programmed sequence of solo pieces: circular breathed trumpet spluttering from Percy Pursglove; Homburger’s stunning recital of H.I.F. Biber’s “Passacaglia in G minor”; then another continuous line from Gabriel on baritone saxophone, which in its multiple strands manages both to echo the simultaneous string voicings of the Biber while contemplating stormier weather.
Fernández is involved in many of the most outstanding offerings. French violist Fanny Paccoud shines during a quicksilver duet with him, evolving from clanking dissonance to stately grandeur, while German alto saxophonist Michael Niesemann embarks on flights of fancy paced by piano’s rumble and chime. Among the more unlikely yet successful combinations are a bottom-end extravaganza by Frenchman Michel Godard on tuba along with Guy and Spanish drummer Ramón López and a rambunctious trio for Guy and both drummers. Other peaks include an exciting blowout initiated by a rousing free jazz riff from Swiss saxophonist Jürg Wickihalder, along with Gabriel and López, and an extemporized off-kilter march from Irish guitarist Ben Dwyer, Godard and Niesemann that ultimately heads west.
Taylor once said that if he played bass he would play it like Guy. He would surely have appreciated how that singular style has been expanded to orchestral dimensions.
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CDs

THE BLUE SHROUD
Blue Shroud Band, Intakt CD266/2016

TENSEGRITY
Barry Guy, Blue Shroud Band, Small Formations, NOTTWO MW938-2 (4 CDs box)

ODES AND MEDITATIONS FOR CECIL TAYLOR / INTENSEGRITY
Barry Guy, Blue Shroud Band and Small Formations , NOTTWO MW980-2 (5 CDs box)