Here we are. This is a report from the first day of the festival weekend this year. As always there was a lot of great music and the great fun. Meeting with friends and interesting conversations with both: artists and visitors. When the music buzzes around and the heart rate goes up the magic happens. Jazz junkie like myself can stay alive as long as the sounds keep feeding back. And with a good hype one gets the good vibe, follow the write up below to find out more.
The Main Stage
An opening Set to strike!
Julia Hülsmann Quartet & Anna-Lena Schnabel
Julia Hülsmann piano
Tom Arthurs trumpet, flugelhorn
Marc Muellbauer double bass
Heinrich Köbberling drums
Anna-Lena Schnabel alto saxophone
One can always expect integrity from Julia. This well established Berlin based pianist and composer always has something interesting to share and her bands often bring a challenge to the listener, despite the fact that all the expected style and substance is there. This set introduces her latest project and brings attention to her Quartet collaboration with the new rising star of the saxophone yet here in Germany: Anna Lena Schnabel. This set contained mostly Julia’s own compositions but the trumpeter Tom Arthurs as well as young débutante delivered one each too. Respectively entitled Komorebi and Burnout.
This experienced squad have played for a long time together so there is already and existing connection between the leader and the brass section. What was new and striking is a connection between the two brass instruments. Integrity of the whole band is spot on here and no more needs to be said.
Schnabel’s vitality and natural joy of playing is simply viral and with already that well matured technique it represents itself as quite a dynamic cocktail. No doubt that they are really getting on well together with Tom. Their Duets are most prominent parts of the project for a couple of reasons. First is that they are influencing and challenging each other and one can hear that clearly. It is call-and-response in it’s pure meaning. Just like in an interesting conversation where both individuals stay involved and alert due to the vitality of the conversation, intellectual or emotional involvement.This is what is taking place here. Second due to how close they are tonally.
From jazz history we already know that the trumpet and sax in a band isn’t always an easy neighbourhood. Schnabel is a good listener and her sax comes tonally almost in perfect unison with Tom’s trumpet tone. He is not playing sharp or forcing the instrument to the edge. He has a gentle and mellow tone. Always stays in melody. He is also very focused on the sound as it stays in a space. Notes are played with attention and their reverbs remain alive and blend into delayed melody.
That alone makes both choruses and laments played by both youngsters the most distinguished and outstanding parts.
Julia is a gentle leader. She supplies the plot and encourages the other members to bring the best to the party rather than making particular demands. But she remains the leader in clear meaning. She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. Call it maturity.
The rhythm section here works wonders. All is really well articulated, the woody tone of Muellbauer’s bass. Heinrich Kobberling, his older colleague catches it up on the fly. His drumming nicely weaves a rhythmic tissue around the mile-stones the bass-man left. All so smooth and unforced that one have to focus on that to be able to start to distinguish those things.
To sum it up then. Wonderful project indeed bringing audience attention to both the new and young, but “dangerous” musical personalities with their very own distinguished voices. We are yet to hear the best out of them.
The Second One to Charm!
Mette Henriette Ensemble
Mette Henriette saxophone
Henrik Nørstebø trombone
Lavik Larsen trumpet
Johan Lindvall piano
Andreas Rokseth bandoneon
Odd Hannisdal violin
Karin Hellqvist violin
Bendik Foss viola
Gregor Riddell cello
Per Zanussi double bass, saw
Dag Erik Knedal Andersen drums
Mette’s début for an ECM record earlier this year took me by storm and I wrote about it here at the time. No wonder then that I was waiting for this set to happen impatiently, especially since it was for the first time here presented to the audience in its ensemble arrangement. I like this recording a lot and I was curious how young leader like her will handle that on the stage. So from the extended sound-check to and during concert I was all eyes and ears.
First of all I must say that she clearly has a sense of direction and keeps things under control. She communicates well and developed her own body language even to direct the project. No orchestral gestures had been seen to my surprise and a set had a alchemical, light touch of almost anti-gravity. Certainly this music is so minimal and intimate that everything matters there. Every sound. Even the after-image of the sound. Not to mention silence which takes an important role in the expressiveness on show here.
Norway is a different country. With that feeling of open space, sounds firmly anchored in their universe and a lot of lifespan for thinking there is no surprise that project like that came right from the North. It demands a very specific personality to actually hear those sounds which are only living in the time cocoons between the MAIN sounds.
Lets put it that way. If life is a trip on the train with what we can see through the window being an experience, then we can call a bike trip a focused thinking process. Get back on your feet for a common old walk with its ability to look close and you get there when Mette exists. Here time gets into slow motion. Fast processes are re- thought and re-analysed again. Once you see the new core of the time and its new pattern you are starting to understand and enjoy.
Words remain words and they do communicate as expected, but the language is subtly different. Mette’s vocabulary is all about extended articulation. In that regard she developed her own vision for phrasing life. It grows on very, very close communication. Let’s call it micro-communication. The musicians’ ability to gain and learn from the silence. Ability, I believe always alive and being present in music but demanding special concentration to get to the surface. It doesn’t happen too often.
And this is exactly what this concert was. It was the mystery of silence. The space where the sounds and the silence are equal and exist in the same dimension. More of that they explains each other’s sense of being. Just like that. There is no sense in silence alone with no sound. And with no break the sounds are nothing else than highways of constant noise.
It takes time to understand. Some probably will never fuly comprehend it. And that’s OK. Hence I was observing quite mixed feelings among the audience discussing the gig during the break and next act to come. The majority liked it however and that confirms that she proceeded to develop a new level of communication. But let me repeat myself again – it takes time to understand, but the effort is worth it.
The Third to Fall in Love!
Wadada Leo Smith’s Great Lakes Quartet
Wadada Leo Smith trumpet
Jonathon Haffner alto saxophone, clarinet
John Lindberg double bass
Marcus Gilmore drums
Wadada needs no introduction. This legendary AACM pillar and the frequent collaborator of the most challenging and innovative musical personalities during last five decades makes him a living legend and trumpet giant, full stop. His latest project GLQ started in 2014 and this is the first time I have had the pleasure to hear it. I heard WLS on stage maybe twice before, with many years between. It was always not only a pleasure but a deeply spiritual experience.
He is not just a musician to me. He is a Shaman. A medicine man. His music cures and you can feel it inside both your body and soul. It hardly ever happens that someone plays his music in a way that is so honest and open, like an unconstrained invitation to love. It is such a strong touch that it makes you at first feel very exposed and vulnerable until you actually begin to understand that there is no harm waiting for you and you become completely relaxed. Once this happens you are in heaven! There is no world around any more, no race, no targets to reach. Just pure enjoyment.
It is always so fascinating to see the way that he leads. One can’t imagine more a open and collaborative platform than this. It takes the great personality to be able to cut out your ego completely and leave nothing else there than a clean plot to seed the musical landscape. You breathe with that, and you feel the warmth on your face like a sunrise.
Music-wise it wasn’t typical Wadada sound. A merging of personalities there has created some new constellation, however staying in our well known universe. John Lindberg’s warm and woody tones are immediately recognisable. His is a true mastery of articulation and his long Arco solo during the set was nothing less than sensational. I would pay the ticket price just to hear that alone.
Jonathon Haffner was hanging around with Tzadik and the Knighting Factory boys long enough to forge his own path, but combine well. He fitted into the blend just right and was able to light his own star, glowing equally brightly.
But the real sensation to me was the drummer, Marcus Gilmore. I know him from other recordings only but here on this set he was something extremely spacial. Such a galloping dynamic control on par with a silky gentle touch in the same time seemed to be almost unreal. Watching him drumming was like daydreaming. The beauty of the movement alone was fascinating to watch. Adding the sound to that become simply mind and soul blowing! That is a drummer every leader would love to have behind him. So that’s the band Wadada put together. He’s got his own way of doing things and it works magically. How? Don’t ask me. Ask Wadada. But you might get not such a straight answer.
As he said before he left the stage: “ I am Wadada, whatever that means. W-A-D-A-D-A.
It takes six letters to say and I like it ! “
some extracts from the festival program
The Side stage
Oddarrang Olavi Louhivuori drums, composition
Ilmari Pohjola trombone
Osmo Ikonen cello
Lasse Sakara guitar
Lasse Lindgren bass
This Finnish quintet of youngsters were new to me. I didn’t check them out, just went straight to the sound check. Guys obviously were up to some serious experiments judging by amount of electronics and sound affects gear laying all over the floor. Once they set and started playing I was less and less sure if this is that much up to my taste. Perhaps after such a wonderful sounds in my head after leaving the main stage, so I only get them a short go, listening from a quiet corner of the festival bar.
As they are coming to the London Jazz Festival soon one can check for himself if he likes to attend. The music itself is not bad, but it is not Jazz to me. It lives somewhere between the rock and electronica influences. It is not fusion either. Not improvised consequently and set on simpler bars with a lot of glitter coming from the use of the multiple effects. Could be entertaining if you relaxed but to me and with the circumstances, it’s a no, thanks. Sorry.
some extracts from the festival program
A Trane, Brooklyn -Berlin Dialogues
Mary Halvorson guitar
Ingrid Laubrock soprano & tenor saxophone
An interesting turn of events had been set in the A Trane Jazz club. Now, when the legendary Quasimodo is not a jazz place any more this is when the pulse of jazz in Berlin bites stronger and stronger. Especially during BJF. This year’s series of events has been called Brooklyn-Berlin Dialogues and we had three of them on the list, day-by-day. The club is really small and 50 souls in makes it crowded! Due to it’s fame from the gigs quality no wonder that it was packed as it always is. I attended sound check only as the main stage was looking like a no-brainer to me on the day.
Those two ladies seemed to play together and know each other well but I am not familiar with the guitarist’s work. I am not so up to date with a current Laubrock’s work either but I traced her long enough during her period in the F-ire Collective to say that I know what to expect from her. She is a fighter. One which can blow your head off and God, does she know how to blow! Therefore what I have seen and heard was a knock- out!
Dialogue to me means that two individuals are talking. There wasn’t any talk there however. Mary went to the background and her voice was a little recessed in this conversation. Sure she created musical sense for Ingrid’s strong presence during this set in the musical meaning but I haven’t heard neither any arguments or counter creativity. Don’t get me wrong it was pleasant to listen to and many could enjoy the program for that simple reason but no challenge occurred to me. Therefore let’s call it collaboration. Two more chances left to check then.