European Jazz Jamboree 2009
Pianist Ulrich Gumpert's Workshop Band octet offered a young and fresh version of the longtime East German aggregate that once featured the leader with such contemporaries as trombonist Connie Bauer and drummer Gunter "Baby" Sommer. Here with Ben Abarbanel-Wolff (tenor), Martin Klingeberg (trumpet), Christof Thewes (trombone), Christian Weidner (alto sax), Henrik Walsdorff (baritone/tenor sax), Jan Roder (bass) and Michael Griener (drummer), the group's main obstacle was not necessarily the music but the distinct personalities customary to Mingus' own ensembles. Thewes' pronounced interjections on the baritone sax-led set opener ("Moanin'") revealed he was up to the task of providing Mingus' gospel and blues instrumental vocalizations, and certainly showed himself to be one in a very long line of traditionally excellent German trombonistsfrom Albert Mangelssdorf to Nils Wogram, and then of course there's the Mingus trombone tradition (e.g. Jimmy Knepper, Willie Dennis). Weidner's Booker Ervin-like wails on alto (versus Ervin's typical tenor) also drew inspiration from the group's water source. "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" displayed lots of group dynamics following Walsdorff's unaccompanied opening tenor solo, which transformed into a duo with bassist Roder, then into the full octet "choir' in fine Mingus tradition, returning to a tenor solo backed by rhythm, into a bass/drums duo then piano trio. Gumpert, however, seemed pensive, his playing showing a slight restraint, atypical of such Mingus pianists as Jaki Byard. The group's two-tenor attack on "Fables of Faubus" swirled in and out of the handful of busily contributing horns, an ensemble attack perhaps serving as the band's greatest asset, unenviable as the task might be to match such distinct voices that graced Mingus' ensembles. For instance, Weidner was no match for Mingus' alto alums: Dolphy, John Handy, Jackie McLean, et. al. So rather than to place the focus on individual soloing, when the collective improvisations in the European tradition (Globe Unity Orchestra, Willem Breuker Kollektief, etc.) can overshadow isolated soloiststhe music soared to greater heights with simultaneous soloing and collective improvising. Thus the rare moments of free for all were welcomed by listener as much as player, as was ideally heard on the set's closer"MDM," featuring Mingus-like multi-textural cacophony at its finest.
Arguably the festival's most successful tribute was alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard's POTSA LOTSA (the group named after an obscure Dolphy composition titled "Number EightPotsa Lotsa" from the seminal At The Five Spot
) at the Oval Room. In a chamber music aesthetic, she showcased a sampling of nearly two dozen Dolphy tunes arranged for a unique quartet of alto (Eberhard), tenor (Patrick Braun), trumpet (Nicolaus Neuber) and trombone (Gerhard Gschlossl). Offering an enlightening listen to the composer's singular works, the double reed/double brass group thrived in this setting, only their fourth- ever live performance. Giving this tribute additional significance as ultimately a tribute to Dolphy the composer versus player, Eberhard didn't make much in the way of any noticeable efforts replicating Dolphy's playing style (rarely did she even reflect a direct Dolphy stamp on her own playing), nor did she try to incorporate two other instruments closely associated with Dolphyone of which she has been known to playflute and bass clarinet. The group successfully melded Dolphy's jazz with an overt classical facet, offering a refreshing listen to such intricate compositions as "Burning Spear," "Out There"(an alto/trombone feature, with Gschlossl ferociously spitting out walking bass lines), "The Prophet" (an excellent if not obvious selection with its inherent compositional beauty lending itself to the classical chamber ensemble interpretation and textural two, three and four part harmonies of various instrument combinations), "Serene"(featuring more demanding Dolphy lines that understandably found Eberhard actually gasping for breath before squeezing out the piece's final note after consecutively demanding and lengthy lines), the obligatory "Out to Lunch" (Gschlossl interweaving short jabs and long tones with Neuber while the two saxophonists provided a line underneath before the reeds took centerstage, frenetically bleeting, blowing, popping, then leading back into the strolling head as an empathetic as-ever foursome) and "Straight Up and Down/Hat & Beard" (given an intriguing bolero undertone). An already highly anticipated 2010 Jazzwerkstatt CD release is on the way, so be on the lookout for this one!