“Two days time” for improvised music

The Swiss improvised music scene is highly varied, as has been demonstrated once again by the festival for improvised music “Zwei Tage Zeit”.

Thomas Meyer - 2018-01-25
“Two days time” for improvised music -
“Two days time” for improvised music - Soundcheck at Theater Rigiblick: Jason Kahn © Christian Wolfarth
Soundcheck at Theater Rigiblick: Jason Kahn © Christian Wolfarth

Every other year since 2006, “Two days time” has offered a carefully selected programme of six concerts over two evenings. At the seventh edition, held on 19 and 20 January 2018 in the Theater Rigiblick in Zurich, those “two days” were long, but not overloaded.

The festival’s organisers include the Zurich City Music Podium (which has long been involved in promoting local music), the local section of the International Society for Contemporary Music (which is devoted to presenting the newest trends), and the Workshop for Improvised Music, for whom improvisation is their daily bread (as their name suggests). And it was the precepts of the last of these that dominated on both evenings. Whoever came expecting to hear a jam session would have been disappointed, because on offer were time-tested concepts of musical interaction that proved fruitful thanks to the longstanding familiarity of the performers.


Soundcheck at Theater Rigiblick: Hildegard Kleeb (piano) and Roland Dahinden (trombone) © Christian Wolfarth


Not always new, but vibrant and fresh

The festival offered not just a coming-together of different personal styles, but also the most varied ideas of what music can be, from solo performances to a quartet after the manner of free jazz with the usual solo interludes. The concert by a British quartet featuring Paul Dunmall on sax, Liam Noble on piano, John Edwards on bass and Mark Sanders on drums drew us into a kind of music that was perhaps not particularly novel, but has retained its vibrancy over the decades. This was the weekend’s finale.

In the performance by the trombonist Roland Dahinden and the pianist Hildegard Kleeb, we were able to enjoy to the full what happens when two musicians come together who have long been a duo both in music and in life: they had a common language, a common turn of phrase, and they offered a give-and-take that was at one and the same time brilliant, edgy, wild, fierce, expansive, fresh and sparkling. Their concert was the festival opener, and they offered an agile, highly gestural musical dialogue that was also full of fun.



The long and the short and the throaty

The rest of the Friday evening required greater perseverance on the part of the audience, however. Jason Kahn’s vocal/percussion performance took some getting used to. With throaty sounds and choked gurglings, always teetering on an existential brink, he was a vocal Beckett in a red pullover, his performance underpinned by subterranean, fingered drumming. There wasn’t any variety in his music-making, for it was something that developed only slowly. It presumably didn’t intend to offer any surprises, but aimed instead to chafe up against the listener’s patience. You slowly became accustomed to it – and yet you were also glad when it ended.




Similar perseverance was required in the next performance, by the quartet Evi Beast – Koï, with video images by Delphine Depres, percussion from Béatrice Graf, electronics from Coralie Lonfat and long, held-out sounds on the sax and bassoon from Sandra Weiss. It was like a close-up shot of an event rolling uniformly past you – or like different elements whisked up in a water glass. It wasn’t an unpleasant experience, but ultimately not very enlightening.


A melody!

But Saturday evening offered two highpoints. First, there was the poignant, intimate, tautly structured performance of the singer Marianne Schuppe from Basel: she sang "Slow Songs" and "No Songs", alone, supported by just a few soft, extended sounds. These were real songs, at times even modal and reminiscent of mediaeval or Irish music, but emerging out of the moment. Something startling bubbled up here out of the dark that we’d all but forgotten about: you can also improvise a melody that’s very simple and lovely, even melancholic.

Improvisation doesn’t need to be complicated or belligerent. It maybe just needs a lively, attentive interplay such as we experienced from the dancer Anna Huber and the cellist Martin Schütz, who created an ensemble piece from two different art forms. They’ve been working together since 1999, and their performance achieved a natural ease, the subtlest variety, and a spontaneity of dialogue that was a thing of wonder.