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2013 Enjoy Jazz Festival

2013 Enjoy Jazz Festival
John Kelman By

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Enjoy Jazz 2013
Heidelberg/Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, Germany
November 6-14, 2013

It's always a treat to return to Heidelberg for Enjoy Jazz. As a very intended contrast to most jazz festivals, that compress a lot of music into a very short time, Enjoy Jazz's founding premise, when it was first conceived 15 years ago by Festival Director Rainer Kern, was to program only one show a night, but make the festival run for 6-7 weeks, so that the amount of music actually programmed turns out the same.

It's been a winning formula, as Enjoy Jazz has grown into one of the country's largest and most respected of its kind. For six-and-a-half weeks in 2013, jazz fans from the Heidelberg/Mannheim/Ludwigshafen region (all venues no more than 20- 25 minutes drive from each other) have access to a broad cross-section of music, ranging from established artists like Joshua Redman, Uri Caine, Carla Bley and John Scofield to up-and-comers Marius Neset, Arun Ghosh, Michael Wollny and Third Reel. There's a mix of American artists, ranging from Brad Mehldau and the FLY trio, featuring the pianist's rhythm section of Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard along with saxophonist Mark Turner, to Peter Evans and Chris Potter, while artists from around the world are represented by everyone from Norway's Jaga Jazzist and Nils Petter Molvaer to Tunisia's Anouar Brahem, Switzerland's Nik Bärtsch and South African legend Hugh Masekela, reunited with his duo partner of over 50 years, pianist Larry Willis.

But beyond the opportunity to catch some of today's best artists in the context of one show per night, which allows for a much better opportunity to absorb the music rather than running off to the next show, after which the first show can sometimes seem a distant memory, Enjoy Jazz is, for its second year running, also making inroads into jazz education with another two-day symposium, curated by German sociologist and musicologist, Dr. Christian Broecking. How Jazz Became Art and Attack(ed): A Transatlantic Dialogue brought together a group of academics and other professionals to discuss everything from photographer Arne Reimer's series and, recently, published book—American Jazz Heroes—with the subtitle How German Journalism Pays Tribute to American Culture, to Götz Bühler's flip side of the same idea, European Jazz Legends, both series originally running (European Jazz Legends still running, in fact) in the German Jazzthing magazine. Berndt Ostendorf, professor emeritus of North American Cultural History at the Amerika Institut, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, spoke of growing up in the fifties and the birth of American Studies in Europe, while Canadian-born/American-resident Kurt Ellenberger (currently spending eight months in Germany) spoke of the challenges and opportunities of the digital age, and Sociology Professor at University of California Santa Cruz Herman S. Gray delivered a lecture, Jazz and Value, Jazz as Value.

When a jazz festival begins to incorporate daytime educational programming to become more than just a festival (though that can, admittedly, often be plenty good enough, as has always been the case with Enjoy Jazz), it speaks to a growing sense of responsibility for ensuring that the history of the music is carried forward. Important discussions such as these are essential as a public forum for attendees looking to expand their horizons and understanding of a music that, while acknowledged as rooted in American culture, has slowly, over the past six decades, become a truly global concern, with every culture bringing something of its own into the mix to keep the music alive and growing. It was significant, in Bühler's speech, when he posted a single, simple but very compelling sentence on the projection screen: "There is no such thing as European Jazz." His follow-up, which explained that each country in Europe brings something different to the evolution of jazz, was a point that should be taken seriously by those who constantly refer to "European Jazz," as if music from a collection of countries can be distilled down into a single identifiable entity. It's difficult enough, these days, to empirically define "British Jazz," "Norwegian Jazz" or "American Jazz," for that matter; and so discussions that start off using the term "European Jazz" are already in trouble.

But it's these kinds of discussions that are absolutely necessary to break down the barriers that divide a music that has always been inclusionary by nature. And between the discussions at the symposium and Enjoy Jazz's programming, it's clear that Kern and his small but extremely efficient and hospitable staff are completely aware that, rather than building walls, jazz needs to bring them down, to allow the influx of cross- cultural musical concerns into the music.


November 6, Halle02, Heidelberg: Jaga Jazzist

After last seeing Norway's impossible-to-categorize Jaga Jazzist at Oslo's Rockefeller in September, 2012, where the group was performing with Britain's Britten Sinfonia—recorded and later released as Live With the Britten Sinfonia (Ninja Tune, 2013)—it was a treat to catch the band on its own and see what—if any—impact the experience of working with a chamber orchestra had made on the nine-piece group.

The pairing—the idea of Jaga Jazzist and British radio host/journalist/curator Fiona Talkington, whose Conexions Series was, at the time, in its first season (there was a second one this year), its founding premise to bring together Norwegian and British musicians—was so successful that there have been offers of other gigs with other orchestras. Beyond that, Jaga has clearly incorporated some of the changes that working with a chamber orchestra effected on the group's music, largely written by multi-instrumentalist Lars Horntveth, one of the three siblings—also including drummer Martin and tubaist/flautist/percussionist/vocalist Line—that formed the initial core of a group that, hard to believe, given their relative youth, will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014.

While there is some new material in the works, Jaga's Enjoy Jazz performance was not dissimilar to the set lists used when the group came to North American in 2012 for a tour that made a stop at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, engendering such incredible audience response that even Jaga was taken by surprise. But while many of the same tunes found their way into the Enjoy Jazz set at the funky halle02 in Heidelberg—the Phillip Glass/Steve Reich-informed "Toccata," "Bananfluer Overalt" and "Music! Dance! Drama!," all from Jaga's last studio album, 2010's One-Armed Bandit (Ninja Tune), along with tracks from earlier recordings like "Oslo Skyline" (here renamed, by group spokesperson Martin Horntveth, as "Heidelberg Skyline"), from What We Must (Ninja Tune, 2005)—there were clear signs that working with Britten had altered arrangements, even for the reduced, back to normal nonet.

The title track to One-Armed Bandit for example, while not including the full "Overture" found on Live With the Britten Sinfonia, did included the two- chord ostinato intro, which served as a solo spot for trombonist Erik Johannessen—a leader and educator in his own right, and whose own Inkblots/em (Gigafon, 2012), was a not-so-surprisingly fine solo outing. There was, in fact, more soloing from Jaga this time around than there was in Montréal; trumpeter Mathias Eick—also an emergent leader whose most recent recording for ECM, 2011's Skala, demonstrated considerable conceptual growth as a bandleader, composer and performer—has often been featured at some length, and here he delivered a solo, during the Miles Davis/Gil Evans-informed "Bananfluer Overalt," that surpassed even his exceptional turn on Live With the Britten Sinfonia, featuring some particularly impressive circular breathing.

Most surprising, however, was Lars Horntveth's length saxophone solo during the set; a multi-instrumentalist comfortable on everything from saxophones and clarinets to guitars, lap steel, vibraphone and keyboards, his role has, more often than not, been that of irrepressible texturalist, providing color and tone, melody and chordal depth. Clearly, however, he is becoming more confident as a soloist as well, and if his feature in Heidelberg is any indication, there's even better yet to come. And if there's any proof needed of his development as a composer, the nine-piece version of "Prungen"— originally debuted with Britten Sinfonia, but here interpreted with layers of synths replacing strings and horns—was perhaps even better than the orchestral version and, perhaps, a signpost of things to come when the group begins to perform new music soon for which it will soon begin to rehearse.

Meanwhile, bassist Even Ormestad, guitarist Marcus Forsgren, keyboardist Øystein Moen, Eick (playing everything from double bass and keyboardist to vibraphone when he wasn't with his trumpet) and, in particular, multi-instrumentalist Andreas Mjøs were key players in delivering Lars Horntveth's complex charts, which skirted the edges of jazz and progressive rock without ever really being either, instead sounding like something that can only be described as: Jaga Jazzist. Beyond being its spokesperson, Martin Horntveth remained the thundering pulse of the group, a tireless drummer who combined the power of John Bonham with the finessed virtuosity (and similar power) of Mahavishnu Orchestra-era Billy Cobham (albeit with a much smaller kit). Together, this nine-piece mini-orchestra (and Jaga really is an orchestra, with so many of its members multi-instrumentalists who allowed the music to be far more expansive than even a normal nonet would make possible) delivered a potent set to an unexpectedly smaller than hoped-for audience.

It may have been a smaller audience than Jaga normally draws, but what it lacked in size it made up for in sheer enthusiasm. It's often said that European audiences react more powerfully than North Americans (though Montréal crowds will give anyone a run for their money), and the small but viscerally responsive Heidelberg audience made clear that Jaga Jazzist can come back anytime. Martin Horntveth, after the show, remarked how the group had played Heidelberg before, but at the Kulturhaus Karlsorbahnhof, and that it felt much more comfortable at halle02—a venue being used by Enjoy Jazz for the first time this year, but certainly one it should continue to use in the future.


November 7, dasHaus, Ludwigshafen: John Scofield Überjam Band

With the release of Überjam Deux (EmArcy, 2013), guitarist John Scofield reunited his Überjam Band of the early part of the new millennium, which released two albums- -2002's Überjam and the following year's Up All Night (both on Verve). Überjam was, in many ways, the culmination of Scofield's foray into the jam band territory he first explored with his superb Medeski Martin & Wood collaboration, A Go Go (Verve, 1998). That Scofield continues to work periodically with MMW (as Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood), touring and releasing occasional albums including 2006's Out Louder and 2011's live In Case the World Changes Its Mind (both on Indirecto) only means that his interest in what has broadly become known as jam band music continues, and in more than one context. MSMW shares a predilection for groove with Scofield's Überjam Band, but from a rhythmic perspective it's Überjam's Avi Bortnick who really sets things apart.

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