Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli takes a melodic approach
There’s one big benefit to doing interviews by Skype: sometimes the visuals can tell you as much about a performer as the conversation. And in the case of Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli, he’s constantly in motion. If he’s not tilting his head, birdlike, to one side as he ponders a question, he’s waving his hands in the air to illustrate a point. Then there’s that exuberant grin: a sure sign that he’s a man who enjoys himself, even during something as taxing and mundane as an interview in what’s likely his third or fourth language.
Animation, intelligence, and humour: these are excellent attributes for a percussionist, and Niggli’s going to need them all during the three concerts, with three different bands, that he’ll deliver during this weekend’s TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
The Hexen Trio, with local pianist Paul Plimley and British bassist Barry Guy, is devoted to no-holds-barred improvisation of the speedy and muscular variety. “With this trio,” says Niggli from Uster, Switzerland, “the preparation is to be as empty as possible—and to be as ready as possible. And for me that’s the most beautiful way of playing music: to just go on-stage and play and discover new things.”
Guy and Niggli will also appear, along with baroque violinist Maya Homburger, in another, unnamed trio that takes a more reflective approach—one that uses intricate written scores as well as graphic notation and free playing. And then there’s Black Lotos, Niggli’s duo with Shanghai-trained guzheng and sanxian player Xu Fengxia, which is all about exploring unusual and often very beautiful tonal landscapes. “There, I work really on tuned and melodic playing,” the drummer explains. “I’m very into playing very melodically. I’m not so much interested in the rhythm-keeping thing—which I do, for sure, also.
“As an improviser, which is really my main field, it’s sometimes more inspiring to play not with jazz-rooted people,” he adds. “But sometimes we have to learn to play open. At the beginning, Fengxia and I were really playing songs, and then it was not so interesting to me. But after some concerts, we found a really common sense of communicating, and we started inventing new pieces.”
As for the Hexen Trio, Niggli notes that it has some rather supernatural—and literary—antecedents. “The story behind that name comes from a Shakespeare play, Macbeth. Maybe you know it? At the beginning you have three witches, and hexen means ‘witches’ [in German]. After our first trio gig, in Vancouver two years ago, I asked the boys, ‘When shall we three meet again?’ And from then on the band was called the Hexen Trio.
“It’s a crazy band,” he adds, laughing. “It’s definitely a crazy, wild band.”
Black Lotos plays the Roundhouse Performance Centre at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday (June 30). Maya Homburger, Barry Guy, and Lucas Niggli perform at the same venue at 3:15 p.m. on the same day. The Hexen Trio plays Ironworks at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday (July 1). All performances are part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.