An eclectic finale to BCN Impro Fest

BCN Impro Fest 4th session at Sala Fènix – 1st March ’16

For the fourth and final session of the festival, we end on a more varied set of disciplines, adding dance, spoken word and even a touch of the theatrical…

Agustí Martínez (tenor saxophone)
Rubén Fernández (voice)
Josep-Maria Balanyà (piano)
Amaiur González (tuba)
Sònia Sanchéz (dance)
Miquel Jordà (sopranino saxophone, wooden flute)
Rafael Metlikovez (voice)

There’s a fluidity tonight, as one sound leads into another and the performers likewise. We begin with an empty stage, the sound of a lone saxophone from behind a curtain, stage right. Agustí Martínez steps out and provides a prolonged solo introduction to the evening. It’s a very mellow, round tone, which he uses to create beauty but also to subvert that beauty with stabs and passages of deliberate harshness. The absence of collaborators means perhaps less concern about dovetailing or car-crashing with another instrument, Martínez can explore wherever the mood takes him but equally there’s nowhere to hide. The result is some quite lyrical passages, balanced with more rhythmic-percussive use of the keys and extended technique. It’s energetic, upbeat in a way – not necessarily joyful but it has a definite certain joie de vivre – in contrast to the darker moods and themes that are explored later.

After a pause for applause, Martínez continues and is then joined by Rubén González carrying a microphone, uttering a series of non-verbal vocalisations. After a brief overlap, Martínez exits the stage, leaving González performing alone with a combination of clear tones (which verge dangerously on scatting at times) and creaks, moans, sighs and the occasional cartoon sound.

Then the next ‘layer’ arrives. Josep-Maria Balanyà steps up, inserts a rod into the piano’s guts and uses a violin bow to set up a series of groaning resonances. González begins blowing into the mic, moving it back and forth to create a gathering and receding wind effect, and now Amaiur González is on-stage, ready to throw out a few bursts of tuba thunder – there’s a storm brewing…

Enter Sònia Sanchéz with slow deliberate steps, casting shapes with that beautiful awkward elegance (or elegant awkwardness, perhaps) that is her trademark. The sound gets darker: bursts of voice, blocks of discordant piano, bowel-trembling tuba. Sanchéz’s movements speak of anguish and restriction.

The final addition to the ensemble is Miquel Jordà who adds a surprisingly harsh-toned sopranino wail to the proceedings (the mouthpiece definitely looks unconventional and Jordà has been known to combine a tenor with a trombone mouthpiece in the past – the ‘trombosax’ – so I suspect this is a similar hybrid; the ‘trump-a-nino’?!?)

Now fully assembled, what follows is a prolonged improvisation in which piano and tuba mainly provide a constantly shifting but solid bedrock of sound, supporting the interplay between voice, horn and feet.

Well, far more than feet, actually… Sanchéz’s intense physical expression is a full-body affair. A momentary hint of the muezzin call from Rubén González is a brief Moorish touch, reflected in a flamenco-ish stutter from red shoes, Sònia Sanchéz’s hands clawing at her throat and beating her chest in the process… she grabs her own hair and jerks her head back and forth as if helpless… suddenly, the mane is pulled across the face and she holds it in her mouth, a veil, facing the audience with a set of seductive hip and belly rolls as if forced to reluctantly perform – the brief eroticism soon fractures and is discarded for a more nakedly helpless presentation, as if in the grip of the sounds buffeting around her.

After a while, everything dies away, very still, just the sound of Jordà’s finger cymbal departing and then we all sit in utter silence for at least two minutes, it seems longer. Everyone holds their breath, not a peep from anyone in the room.

Finally, MJ plays the quietest wooden flute refrain possible and the others brings the volume right down for a series of tiny, minimalist embellishments. It’s at this point, Metlikovez begins to intone from within the audience itself. He steps down and prowls stage and seats, declaiming and inviting random others to contribute a phrase for him to weave into the monologue before… a final silence.

It’s an eclectic and bold finish to this first BCN Impro Fest, mixing in elements that take us beyond just a musical improvisation. Looking back over the last four weeks, each session has offered a number of different flavours and facets and not everything will have been to everyone’s taste (I certainly admit to enjoying some sounds more than others) but it has definitely showcased the wide variety of the improvising scene in Barcelona and that’s the sign of a strong programme.
Huge credit goes to Miquel Jordà for taking on the headache of organisation… and to Jolanda Marrone of Sala Fènix for playing host… and naturally to the 35 musicians and performers who took part… and finally to Elena Márquez, Roberto Dominguez, and Joan Cortès for adorning the gallery walls with visual examples of Barcelona improvisation.

It’s been fun. I hope it’s not the last BCN Impro Fest, and I hope next year’s festival is even bigger and better…