Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger, Vienna Shelter, 7 June 2011

Nice to catch a gig at Shelter again. I hadn’t been there for over two years, since checking it out for the Time Out guide, and was relieved to discover that nothing much has changed there in the meantime. Guinness and Strongbow are still on draught, the table football is still there and so is the pinball machine. Not that I was there to play retro games, since Kern and Quehenberger were lined up to make a holy, disciplined racket on drums and synths. And speaking of retro, it seems as though this duo have released their first album on cassette only in an edition of 99 copies which is already sold out. Spare copy, anyone? And maybe you could provide me with something to play it on at the same time. I still haven’t heard that Peter Rehberg cassette I bought a year or two ago.

This was the first time I had heard this duo. Quehenberger was new to me as well, although Kern was known to me from his work with Heaven And, Bulbul and Broken Heart Collector as well as his one-off appearance backing Jandek in 2009. On this occasion he dominated proceedings through an extraordinary barrage of polyrhythmic drumming. Switching with ease between forceful anchored rhythms and out-and-out free sections, Kern made the stage his own to such an extent that Quehenberger at times struggled to make his presence felt. The keyboardist kept things bubbling along nicely enough with attractive riffs and melodies, but Kern’s playing was so intensely fluid and total that there often seemed little room for a second instrument. On the other hand, the physicality of Quehenberger’s approach – playing as though hardwired to the keyboard, practically dancing to the insane reach of Kern’s percussive attack – came as a welcome antithesis to the stereotypical image of the immobile synth man prodding sullenly away.

For the encores the duo were joined by saxophonist Marco Eneidi, leader of the Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music, the weekly free jazz blowout at which both Kern and Quehenberger are regular guests. Eneidi’s astringent blasts brought a vivid extra dimension to the music and seemed to lead the keyboard player towards harder, heavier modes of activity. With the warm textures of Quehenberger’s analogue synthesizers melting blissfully into Kern’s infinite rhythms, the duo’s navigation of inner space was as mesmerising as it was heroic.

The Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music, Vienna Celeste, 6 April 2009

This evening was just another example of how live music in Vienna has the capacity to constantly surprise and entertain. “The Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music” is the peculiar name of a free jazz/improv blow-out session that takes place every Monday at the Celeste bar in the fifth district. The setting is surprising enough in itself: you walk along a quiet, nondescript street, find the bar, go downstairs and suddenly, as if this were the most normal thing in the world, find yourself in the midst of a hundred-odd people, all enjoying the wilfully unco-operative music, the deliciously tasty food available and the general atmosphere of relaxed bonhomie.

Curated and championed by American-born, Austrian resident saxophonist Marco Eneidi, the session consists of a changing cast of jazz and improv musicians who take the stage in various duo, trio and group formats to blast their way through short sets of music. It’s rather like munching your way through a box of chocolates – it doesn’t matter if you come across one that’s not to your taste, because you’re sure to find one that you do like soon enough.

On this particular evening – my first visit to the session, and hopefully not my last – I arrived in the middle of a fairly frantic piece of blowing by Eneidi, accompanied by an agile and vigorous drummer. (Apologies for not knowing the names of most of those who played.) The evening became even more engrossing when Susanna Gartmeyer came along on the bass clarinet, joined by two guitarists and a drummer for a superb slice of bone-crunching improv. Things did go slightly awry next, courtesy of a sub-Haino guitar abuser with a rote, uninspired drummer who bafflingly stuck to one snare drum and one cymbal for pretty much the entire turn, but quickly looked up again with a delightful and infectious workout for burbling analogue synths.

After that, Marco Eneidi returned for another serpentine flare-up on the sax, joined this time by Didi Kern behind the kit. Next up, a fidgety yet compelling improv for guitar, bass and drums, Eric Arn (of Primordial Undermind) peeling off wave after wave of arcing bottleneck slide runs from his acoustic. That was closing time for me, but not for most of those present, who carried on long into the night.