Enjoy Jazz Festival, Days 1-3: November 8-10, 2010
Enjoy Jazz Festival
November 8-13, 2010
The pitfall of covering a number of festivals back-to-back is there's always the chance that a flight will be delayed, which means a missed train, which means arriving late at the next stop, and rather than having the opportunity to check in and settle into the new city before hitting the first performance, it's straight to the show, with barely the chance for a bite to eat.
Still, it's always a pleasure to return to Enjoy Jazz. Last year the festival celebrated the German ECM label's 40th anniversary with a four-day celebration that went against the festival's usual philosophy. Enjoy Jazz is called Enjoy Jazz because Festival Director Rainer Kern's idea for the festival, 12 years agoand discussed in a 2009 interviewwas to go against the normal tendency of short runs with a heavy concentration of shows, where at best, audiences have to absorb more than one show in a night, and, at worst, have to make choices about what they can and can't see. Instead, Enjoy Jazzwith rare exceptions like the ECM festival and a one-day Punkt Festivalfeatures only one performance each day, using different venues in the Mannheim/Heidelberg/Ludwigshafen area. Unlike many festivals, the venues may not be within walking distance of each other, but they are within easy driving distanceno more than 20-30 minutestrain, or even bike. With only one performance per night, even those who attend many of the festival's shows have the chance to truly absorb, and truly enjoy each show, in ways that are more difficult when seeing three, four, sometimes even five or six shows per day.
Enjoy Jazz couldn't be in a lovelier location, either. Old Heidelberg, a picturesque town with cobblestone roads, a long, pedestrian-only street with a wealth of intriguing shops, and an old castle looking over the Neckar River, where a centuries-old footbridge connects two sides of town; Mannheim, a more modern location on the Rhine but, with the impressive Mannheim Castle as the focal point from which the city spreads out, there's history to be found, as well; Ludwigshafen, a town with a number of significant businesses, including BASF, is a less visually impressive place, but one with some very fine venues.
In fact, it's the sense of history, walking around old Heidelberg, that's the most pervasive impression. Centuries old buildings reside side-by-side with more contemporary structures, but they somehow seem to work together. And with the fall colors on the trees in the surrounding hills, it's a gorgeous place to stay, and to write, for a week of shows ranging from saxophonist Hakon Kornstad and the Ango-Norwegian improvising group, Food, to progressive rock guitarist Adrian Belew and his Power Trio, and two sides of Cuban music from pianists Chucho Valdes and Harold López-Nussa.
Day 1: Håkon Kornstad
For the past several years, while heard occasionally in larger ensembles like violinist Ola Kvernberg's Liarbird project at Molde Jazz 2010, and in duet with artists like singer Sidsel Endresen, saxophonist Håkon Kornstad has been focusing on solo performance, though not like any other saxophonist on the planet. At his Enjoy Jazz 2010 performance at Café Prag, in Mannheim, Kornstad explained, to a capacity crowd of nearly 150 people, how he was playing in Montréal, Canada a number of years ago, with his first band, Wibutee, at an outdoor stage at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. The soundcheck had gone fine; everything was working and the band was ready, but as they hit the stage, and Kornstad was to play a solo saxophone piece, he looked at his looping machine, and it had gone dark. So, he decided to improvise, and came up with a song called "Sweden," which ultimately surfaced on both the collective Jazzland Community (Jazzland, 2007), and his own Single Engine (Jazzland, 2007), and was a watershed moment in his career. Multiphonics is normally used by free improvisers to create visceral wails and dissonant screeches; Kornstad, however, was doing the seemingly impossible: creating consonant multiphonics, which allowed him to play a melodic song, based on a simple I-IV-I-V progression, but with each an actual (and surprising) diad.
Kornstad performed "Sweden" at Café Prag, but that was only a small part of a nearly 90-minute performance that demonstrated just how much he has grown as a saxophonist, and as a musician who has integrated technology into his sound, so seamlessly that his decade-old looping machine may be relatively limited, but he knows it as intimately as the keys on his horn, meaning it's a similarly organic extension. His follow-up to Single Engine, 2009's Dwell Time (Jazzland), was a solo masterpiece, recorded in a church in Oslo, Norway, entirely alone and without overdubs, programming or editing. Every sound was produced in real time by Kornstad, as he explored music that ranged from the pop-like "Oslo"where his combination of percussive loops, created by tapping the keys on his sax, a foundation line from a bass sax, and tenor voicings, effectively eliminated the need for any accompaniment other than himselfto "En Attendant Le Soleil," where the stark, barren landscapes of Norwegian saxophone legend Jan Garbarek's Dis (ECM, 1977) met minimalism forefather Terry Riley's mantra-like "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band," from the composer's classic A Rainbow in Curved Air (Columbia, 1969).
But that was a couple years ago now, and a lot has happened in Kornstad's music. His facility at creating multiple loops and bringing them in and out at will, to pull real song form out of the ether, has never sounded better or been this advanced, as he created complex layers of sound to fill the small performance space at Café Prag. He expanded the sonic possibilities of his tenor saxophone through various embouchures (making gritty sounds, percussive pops and more), key tapping, blowing through the reed without creating a note to build a sibilant rhythm loop, and using his leg to bend notes and change the timbre of his horn by pushing the bell against it. He used his flutonettea flute with a clarinet mouthpieceas well as just the clarinet mouthpiece alone, as well as introducing a few new sounds to his arsenal: whistling, an mbira (African thumb piano), and even some singing which, in its plaintive wailing, resembled that of Norwegian trumpeter Per Jorgensen, heard last week at Tampere Jazz Happening, in Finland.
What is easily overlooked, amidst Kornstad's astute ability to work with real-time looping, and a variety of instruments both orthodox and unconventional, is that at the foundation lives a tremendous saxophonist. Without him being a fine player, without his looping machinewhose tone ranges from the smokiness of Ben Webster to the cathartic power of Albert Ayler and everything in betweennone of this would be possible. But with a huge set of ears and interests that range from traditional Norwegian music to Middle Eastern tonalities, the repetitiveness of classical minimalism and the vernacular of jazz, Kornstad has created his own language, and his performance at Enjoy Jazz brought all these interests and more to bear.
Café Prag's performance space was an interesting onebehind the building, where there was once a small square formed by three other adjoining houses, owner Adonis Malamos constructed a roof, added a floor and opened up the back of the bar area as a walkway into the performance space. It was very small, and quite austere, but unique and somehow warm, with a minute stage, on which intrepid Norwegian guitarist Stian Westerhus also performed earlier at this year's festival. With 150 people squeezed between that space and the bar itselfwith a video projection screen used to display the performanceit was standing room only, more than a little hot and a lot sweaty, but its distinctive viberaw and imperfectonly added to the risk-taking nature of Kornstad's performance. The saxophonist will be returning to that Oslo church in early 2011, to record a new record that, hopefully, will be out later that year.