Bill Orcutt & Eric Arn, Vienna Fluc, 24 October 2015

You’re never quite sure with the Fluc whether the gig you want is upstairs in the Fluc proper or downstairs in the Wanne. Going through the correct set of doors assumed particular importance on this occasion, since while one venue was showcasing an evening of avant guitar tunesmithery, the other was set to host a men-only strict leather fetish night. I wouldn’t have much fancied wandering into the wrong room by mistake, but fortunately the queue of fearsome-looking black-clad moustachioed types snaking halfway back to Praterstern tipped the wink that it was up the stairs for me.

In a way, this evening could be seen as an appendix to the Editions Mego 20th anniversary celebrations that took place in Vienna and several other cities earlier this year. Not only was headliner and Mego signing Bill Orcutt, now on his third release for the label, making his Vienna début, but label boss Peter Rehberg could also be seen spinning the discs up at the back. Completing the line-up was local hero and psych overlord Eric Arn, on a busman’s holiday from his day job fronting Primordial Undermind. In keeping with the theme of the evening, Arn left his electric axe at home and treated us instead to a short but compelling set of acoustic guitar inventions. Their ghostly traces and spiralling repetitions evoked pure and ineffable sadness, while for an unexpected cover of Rain Tree Crow’s “Every Colour You Are” Arn added cool, affectless vocals that effectively offset the trancelike quality of his playing.

Having sat and listened appreciatively to Arn’s set, Bill Orcutt cut a deceptively nonchalant figure as he shambled onto the Fluc’s low stage. It’s worth mentioning, for those who may be new to him, that Orcutt plays a standard acoustic guitar from which the A and D strings have been removed. The results are mesmerising, as the guitarist savagely deconstructs traditional approaches to the guitar with his fierce, livid playing. What emerges is some kind of eerie, shattered take on the blues, with Orcutt making occasional wordless vocal utterances while shooting angry sparks from his devastated guitar.

Orcutt had lost his capo at some point along the road, so he was forced to improvise with a small piece of card which he was able to jam between the strings and the fretboard. Such a minor distraction was no problem for the guitarist, who continued to play with a staggering level of intensity. I was very much hoping that he would play his version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, which has captivated me since I first heard it (there’s a wonderful film of it on YouTube, in which the camera never leaves the body of the instrument). And indeed he did play it in a medley with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, the two songs together describing a fractured and perilous vision of modern America. It’s a vision, moreover, that bleeds through all of Orcutt’s music, steeped as it is in turbulence and rage.

Jaga Jazzist, Vienna Porgy & Bess, 10 November 2015

Fabulous evening of out-there prog/jazz/electronica action from this phenomenally talented Norwegian octet. It’s been ten long years since I last saw Jaga Jazzist at the Pavilion Theatre in Brighton, an intimate upstairs venue that will forever hold a special place in my heart by dint of the fact that I saw my first Swans concert there (the Children of God tour in 1987). Back in 2005, though, I knew precious little about jazz of any stripe, and it was only thanks to my friend J. coming down to Brighton to see this group that I ended up at the Pavilion at all. Come to think of it, it must also have been around that time that I saw the late, much missed Esbjorn Svensson and his trio at the Dome next door, another important step in my discovery of jazz. But I digress.

I’ve long been a sucker for large ensembles, from that other Nordic big band Fire! Orchestra (whom I’ve sadly yet to catch live) to Peter Brötzmann’s epic, and now retired, Chicago Tentet. The physical presence of a large number of people on stage inspires awe and wonderment, underlines the significance of collective activity, and not least produces a massive wall of sound that has the power to flatten anything in its way. In the case of Jaga Jazzist, the vivid tones of the guitars, keyboards, vibraphone, brass and reeds combine to form a dreamlike soundworld that cascades around the infectious grooves proposed by the bass and drums.

Speaking of drums, it’s drummer Martin Horntveth who readily assumes the role of face and voice of Jaga Jazzist. Sitting off to the side of the stage, his impressive beard lending him the air of a friendly backwoodsman, Horntveth introduces the songs and acts as the convivial cheerleader of the evening. His multi-instrumentalist brother Lars, the group’s main composer, occupies centre stage but stays out of the limelight. Switching between guitar, reeds and goodness knows what else, Lars is the architect of the pulsing melodies that define the immensely persuasive Jaga sound. Meanwhile, the tuba and trombone form an exultant partnership up at the back, their jazzy tone perfectly complementing the burbling tide of the synths.

The stage itself is beautifully lit, with rows of multi-coloured upright poles evoking some kind of playful, welcoming forest. It’s an impression amply reinforced by the spirited manner in which the group goes about its business. Lively and vivacious to the end, Jaga Jazzist warm the feet while appealing directly to the head and heart.

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