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Live Reviews

European Jazz Jamboree 2009

By Published: November 18, 2009
Tenor/soprano saxohonist Schmidtke's quintet played Shorter's music a tad too tried and true. With trumpet/flugelhorn (Schriefl), piano (Bob Degen), bass (Dieter Manderscheid) and drums (Thomas Cremer), the instrumentation also didn't offer much in the form of surprise either— this instrumentation is closely associated with Shorter. Opening with Shorter's "Fall," Schriefl (on flugelhorn) as the first soloist offered a patient warm tone and delivery over Cremer's brushes, mixing well harmonically with the leader's tenor (particularly their held coordinated concluding note). Switching over to trumpet for "Speak No Evil," Schriefl took some intriguing liberties on the opening head, playing noticeably behind the beat, an experiment that paid off handsomely. When it came time for his actual solo, it was electric in the vein of primo Freddie Hubbard—quick paced, with a searing tone and compositionally exquisite unto itself. However, other than the closing measures, there were few other instances in which the group's interpretations of the Shorter material ventured too far off the beaten path.

Shorter's oft-covered "Pinnochio" featured an unaccompanied Schmidtke on soprano, as opposed to Shorter's tenor on the original (from Miles' Nefertiti). Refreshingly, the solo then led into a hardly recognizable variation of the upbeat theme by horns and rhythm. And finally a total and original departure from the expected while paying proper tribute to the original: trumpeter Schriefl changed gears altogether through the motoring theme, emphasizing breath and hints of notes and tones ala Dörner vs. Miles. While very much still in the tradition of Miles, his performance was far from replication, and served as a welcome venture from the original. The momentum didn't quite carry over, though, for "Ana Maria" (with flugelhorn and soprano) wound up still overtly derivative.

The "Earth is a Drum Suite," dedicated to Don Cherry, featured the Independent Jazz Orchestra under the baton of Jürgen Scheele. Featuring frontline primary soloists Jens Winther (the Danish trumpeter recently turned Berlin resident) and Skidmore, the jazz orchestra consisted of three trumpets, three trombones, a four-person reed section, a string section of four violins and cello, plus rhythm section and percussion.

The opening extended piece frankly could have been the concert itself. Skidmore's ecstatic solos, each the set's highpoints, reached such passionate heights, arguably as intense and succinct as he's ever played in his five decade-plus career. The tribute concept here, however as novel and grandiose in its multi- movements, turned out to be quite misleading or at least misdirected. Cherry's music has never naturally lent itself to such a big band setting for starters (as opposed to the surprising ease Dolphy's music lent itself to the previously mentioned Eberhard reeds and brass quartet). His music is much more organic, regardless of setting. That said percussionist Dudu Tucci did an admirable job, at times, trying to maintain some level of earthiness utilizing congas, shekere, talking drum and a kit of small instrument effects. Another awkward element to this "tribute," it should be noted, was the selection of trumpeter. Given Winther's a proven technician and now a Berlin "local," he has, however, been more often than not associated with Miles not Cherry and for good reason. Winther simply doesn't represent the style that is/was Cherry's, one of the forerunners and pioneers of what later would be labeled "World Music." Cherry was beyond technique, something less tangible and something Skidmore certainly offered in solos that either preceded or followed Winther's (another advantage the tenor man had over the trumpeter was the established rapport developed the previous week with the band's bassist and drummer in trio context—see above review).

The second piece, lengthy but not as long, sounded as if condensed it could have been tacked on as yet another movement to the first composition. Both Winther and Skidmore soloed, as did conga player Tucci, whose monstrous and time-consuming feature, interspersed and complimented by ensemble fanfare, was the piece's centerpiece. However, it was Skidmore again who made much of the preamble almost worth the wait as he shook notes furiously from his horn in Coltrane fashion with a type of virtuosity and soulfulness the rest of the performances sorely missed. For a change of pace, the almost three-minute coda, a balladic statement, the adagio movement if you will, may have been more effective had it capped the first piece as the night's closer. Not to deny the unquestionably strong big band arrangements and execution but there unarguably was something missing since Cherry's name but not spirit in music was attached to this performance.

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