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.
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.
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.