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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.

Scofield's abilities are, by this time, unquestionable—his career built upon an approach that combines a broader jazz vernacular with guitar sounds more typically associated with blues, soul and rock. In his early days it was simply his ability to bend a note with the complete credibility of a seasoned bluesman, combined with a very specific ability to create tension and release by moving "out" harmonically, only to rein things back in at the absolutely perfect moment. As the years have passed, Scofield has also gradually become more and more conversant with technology, bringing looping, reverse-attack, pitch shifting and more into his arsenal of sounds, in addition to a recently discovered love for Fender guitars, first adding a Stratocaster to his trusty Ibanez Artist on albums like his New Orleans-drenched Piety Street (EmArcy, 2009), but recently switching exclusively to a Telecaster for the Organic Trio tour which brought him to the Burghausen Jazz Festival earlier this year.

For his Ludwigshafen performance at dasHaus, he was again using only a Telecaster, but this time a different one that, combined with a Vox AC30 amplifier that was his own rather than rented (the norm for traveling guitarists, but Scofied keeps his own amp in Europe for bus tours), possessed as a lot more grit and grease. His ability to solo at length and increasingly employ effects with seamless ease made this Überjam Band performance far more exciting than his 2003 set at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival.

But it wasn't just Scofield who lit a nuclear bomb under the group at dasHaus. Bortnick, armed with a guitar, effects and Macbook, demonstrated exactly how a strong rhythm guitarist can make or break a band, and was clearly no less skilled. As the band worked its way through material largely culled from Überjam Deux but also looking back a decade to fiery up-tempo tunes like "Snap, Crackle, Pop," from Überjam and, from the same record, gentler tunes like Bortnick's "Tomorrow Land"—a second encore after it was clear that the sold-out house was not going to let Scofield get away with just a single encore. The group also pulled out Überjam's "Ideofunk," with Bortnick whistling the singable melody—and, to Scofield's surprise, the audience beginning to whistle the tune, too.

Symbiotic partnerships are rare, and while Scofield has a few others in his cadre of collaborators, Bortnick is clearly one who doesn't just serve a purpose, but is as important to the sound of the Überjam Band as Scofield, combining electronics and programmed beats with a right hand that's got to be muscular to allow him to execute some of the persistent, fast-paced rhythm playing he maintained throughout the set.

Bassist Andy Hess wasn't on the first Überjam record, but showed up on Up All Night and became a regular band member on the road as well; a one-time member of the southern jam band Gov't Mule, his rock-steady anchor can also be heard on albums like Michael Landau's very fine Organic Instrumentals (Tone Center, 2012), and on records by The Golden Palominos, David Byrne, singer/songwriter Shawn Colvin...and even Britney Spears, on her megahit debut, ...Baby, One More Time (Jive, 1999). While he rarely soloed—mainly during the band's first encore, but more about that in a moment—he locked in tightly with both Bortnick and drummer Louis Cato, irrespective of groove.

Cato replaced original Überjam drummer Adam Deitch—also appearing on four of Überjam Deux's twelve tracks—and while he looked like he was barely out of his teens, the truth is that he's already racked up a remarkable set of accomplishments, recording and/or touring with everyone from Stevie Wonder and Marcus Miller to John Legend and Bilal. Born in Portugal but living in the United States from an early age, he's a talented multi- instrumentalist, playing bass and a variety of brass instruments; he's also a terrific singer and, despite a set of inflamed tonsils that had him on a whack of antibiotics, Cato managed to pull out a funkified (and highly appropriate) version of "I Don't Need No Doctor," from Scofield's That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays The Music of Ray Charles (Verve, 2005), the group's first encore and solo feature for Hess.

While it's not uncommon for artists to thank their audiences for a warm reception, the over-the-top enthusiasm of the dasHaus crowd in Ludwigshafen caused Scofield to remark, when he came onstage for the second encore, that this was a night the band would not soon forget. In this case, he was clearly not just saying the words, nor was he the only one; he clearly meant what he said, as the guitarist and his Überjam Band delivered an exhilarating show that, in return, the packed Ludwigshafen venue will no doubt remember for a long time to come as well.

November 8, Alte Feuerwache Mannheim: Hugh Masekela / Larry Willis

When he played at the 2012 Cape Town Jazz Festival in Cape Town, South Africa, Hugh Masekela was with a large group that included three backup singers, allowing the trumpeter/singer to deliver his Mama Africa tribute to African legend and one-time spouse, Miriam Makeba—Afrobeat music that represents but one of his multifaceted interests. For his performance at the Alte Feuerwache in Mannheim, he reunited with longtime musical partner, American pianist Larry Willis, for an evening that was as engaging for his between-song stories and reflections as it was the actual music the duo performed.

The music was largely culled from the duo's recent four-CD box, Friends (House of Masekela, 2012), consisting of one group disc and three of the intimate duos that have become something of a signature for the two since they began playing together 53 years ago in New York City. Masekela described their meeting, after an elegantly funky take of Herbie Hancock's classic "Cantaloupe Island," as the "cross- section of two young boys from two of the worst ghettos in the world—Alexandra, Johannesburg and Harlem," the two first meeting at the Manhattan School of Music in 1960.

Masekela went on to describe the evening to come as "A cross-section of everything we've enjoyed over the last 53 years. Two people we loved were Billie Holiday—if you didn't have a handkerchief you needed a kleenex—and Clifford Brown," and with that the two went into a touching version of "Easy Living" that featured Masekela's rough but tender voice and, unexpectedly, WIllis singing some lovely backup harmonies. The trumpeter's introduction to Fats Waller's "Until The Real Thing Comes Along" came with another humorous introduction: "Fats Waller...some of his songs were very big lies, like 'Ain't Misbehavin.'' He was a good-times man who wrote some of the most beautiful songs and some of the naughtiest songs, but he'll alway be remembered for joy he brought us."

The rest of the set followed a similar format, with Masekela introducing the songs by giving a short jazz history class on everyone from Louis Armstrong ("If it weren't for Louis Armstrong we wouldn't be here tonight," describing him as "the happiest person I've ever met") to Charlie Parker, saying "He wrote very difficult songs," going on to scat one of them a cappella before continuing to say, "We really struggled with them, but then he wrote some songs for those he knew couldn't play so well," as the duo launched into a version of "Billie's Bounce."

Masekela joked about his partner onstage, saying "I can't get rid of him; he calls me at 3am to play something on the piano. It's an R&B song written by Tom Bell for The Stylistics, 'You Make Me Feel Brand New.' A lot of babies were born on the heels of that song."

Masekela also talked about his own early aspirations to be a bebop player, and how everyone told him to "put some township in your music." He recalled how he'd met Miles Davis, who said (speaking in Davis' gruff whisper), "If you take that shit you do at home and mix it with the shit we do here...shit!" He also talked about being "hijacked into singing" by African legend Miriam Makeba, told, when they were in their well-known romance, that "I won't marry you if you don't sing," as he and Willis delivered a version of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" that received a particularly huge ovation.

It was a lovely evening, with Masekela the charismatic frontman and Willis the equally important but taciturn partner who did almost all his speaking through his piano, bar a few background vocals. Both demonstrated an effortless mastery, with Masekela, in addition to switching between trumpet and flugelhorn, also bringing out a few bits of hand percussion to give some extra drive to Willis when he was soloing.

Performances don't have to be particularly striking, exciting or energetic to be memorable; some rely, instead, on warmth and intimacy. Masekela and Willis had both in spades, and their 2013 Enjoy Jazz performance was another that will not soon be forgotten.

November 10, Alte Feuerwache Mannheim: Nik Bärtsch's Ronin Rhythm Clan

Swiss pianist Nik Bärtsch is one of the few artists that Enjoy Jazz Festival Director Rainer Kern invites back almost every year. And why not? He's an artist who has carved out a very specific musical niche, one that combines hypnotic elements of minimalism with some straight-up funk grooves, something that's been called "Zen funk" and "ritual groove music." His longstanding Ronin group has gone through some significant changes in the past couple years, with original bassist Bjørn Meyer leaving to focus more time on his own projects (in addition to Tunisian oudist Anouar Brahem, who will be at the festival with his Astounding Eyes of Rita group later in the festival), and, not long after that, losing percussionist Andi Pupato, leaving the group that, while together for considerably more years, began achieving greater international recognition for a series of ECM recordings that began with 2006's Stoa and can be heard, most recently, on 2012's Live, which featured Meyer's replacement, Thomy Jordi, on the two-CD set's closing track.

While that track made clear that, while Ronin would be changed, it would be in good hands with Jordi, it couldn't possibly prepare anyone for Bärtsch's 2013 Enjoy Jazz performance at the Alte Feuerwache. Labelled "Nik Bärtsch's Ronin Rhythm Clan," it was a significantly expanded version of Ronin, with remaining members Sha (bass clarinet) and Kasper Rast (drums) augmented by guitarist Manuel Troller and a three- piece horn section consisting of saxophonist/flautist Fabian Capaldi, trumpter/flugelhornist Martial in-Albon and trombonist Michael Flury. If the expectation was that this would be an amped up, more muscular version of Ronin, those feelings couldn't have been more wrong...and more right.

The addition of a horn section provided Bärtsch considerably more tonal colors with which to work, while a guitarist added a combination of melodic bolstering and rhythmic chordal support as the as-ever black-robed pianist delivered a performance that built on motivic ideas both thematic and rhythmic with the rare patience he's long demonstrated. There's no immediate gratification at a Ronin (or Ronin Rhythm Clan) concert; the payoff comes over longer periods of time, as Bärtsch's music evolves slowly—though, with this expanded edition, there were some sharper than usual transitions that brought strong responses from the sold-out house.

It was great to see Bärtsch using a Fender Rhodes along with his usual grand piano; he'd not used one on record since Stoa—and that includes the two albums preceding Live, Holon (2008) and Llyrìa (2010)—and the added texture at the pianist's end was most welcome, as it seemed that it was often reserved for improvisational flurries within his rigorous compositional constructs that blended dense colors with plenty of space.

If anything, the addition of a horn section drew more attention to Sha, whose extended techniques, in particular his percussive popping, have never sounded better. He also acted as a second cue point for the members of the group after Bärtsch, who often signaled a change with nothing more than the exclamation of a "whoa!" or a a "hip!" Sha's cues were more visual, but it was clear just how fundamental he is to the sound of Ronin; even if his playing was often sparse, his improvisational contributions, like those of Bärtsch, tightly integrated within the compositional constructs of the pianist's "Moduls."

Rast, too, continued to prove an essential part of the Ronin sound, whether delivering relentless grooves, sharply punctuated stops and starts, or delicate but crystal clear cymbal work. This is music that demands the most pristine sound, both in the studio (which is why ECM has become such a great fit) and in concert, and it's no surprise that Bärtsch travels with his own sound engineer; it would be impossible, in the often short confines of a soundcheck, for an engineer—no matter how good he or she is—to grasp the group's sonic requirements, which transferred to stage with the same transparency of layers that it does, with ECM label head/producer Manfred Eicher's help, in the studio.

But the biggest surprise of the performance was Jordi. His single-track performance on Live was simply insufficient to reveal just how strong a bassist he is. While it would be unfair to compare Jordi with Meyer in terms of one being better than the other, as they are clearly both exceptionally fine electric bassists, one point of comparison surely was that Jordi demonstrated the capability of a more down-and-dirty bassist, with his tone ranging from warm and delicate to growling and visceral, in particular when Ronin Rhythm Clan was firing on all cylinders, as it did in the lengthy final piece of the evening. There's no doubt that the now-streamlined four- piece Ronin will be a very different beast indeed, not just because of the loss of Pupato but because of the addition of Jordi, a bassist who brought a far more grounded approach to the heavier, funkier aspects of the performance.

If Muscle Shoals were to move to Switzerland after a brief stopover in New York to hang with Steve Reich, they might come to something like Ronin Rhythm Clan. But what they'd be missing is Bärtsch, whose disciplined approach to developing what seemed, at the outset, to be a singular concept has, in fact, turned into a broader sound world with, as this 2013 Enjoy Jazz performance proved, truly limitless potential.

November 12, Stadthalle, Heidelberg: ACS: Geri Allen / Terri Lyne Carrington / Esperanza Spalding

When last seen at the 2013 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, ACS—pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding—were part of a three-band evening celebrating Wayne Shorter's 80th birthday that also featured Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano's Sound Prints quintet, along with the legendary saxophonist/composer himself, in performance with his longstanding quartet featuring Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade. Sound Prints, formed a year earlier, is a group inspired by Shorter's music; ACS' modus operandi, on the other hand, was to deliver a number of Shorter compositions—including some written with the fusion supergroup Weather Report—but as would be expected from a trio of musicians this individual, the interpretations were deeply personal and sometimes so heavily transformed that it was often well into a composition before it was clear exactly which Shorter tune the trio was playing.

Detached from the five-city Shorter celebration of the summer, it was impossible to know exactly what ACS would be up to; the only thing that was a certainty was that, with Allen gradually emerging as a pianist of significance, with the ability to move between abstract ideations and more clear lyricism at the drop of a hat, it was going to be something better than good. Spalding may be famous for her own recordings and 2011 Grammy Award win, beating out (of all people) Justin Bieber as Best New Artist and unfairly under fire from some of the jazz police, who suggested she only won because she was young and cute—both true, both irrelevant— with each passing year, she is proving herself to be a fine bassist and vocalist deserving of any accolades that come her way. Carrington has been around almost as long as Allen (about ten years younger than the pianist), but has established herself as a strong conceptualist and leader, in particular over the past couple years with albums including The Mosaic Project (Concord, 2011) and this year's re-imagining of Duke Ellington's classic trio recording with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue (Concord), in addition to being a powerful drummer and protégé of the late Tony Williams.

If there was any problem with ACS' show at the opulent Stadthalle in Heidelberg, it was in a mix that placed the clearly powerful Carrington far too forward, at times completely overshadowing Spalding and even, at times, Allen. In a hall the size of Stadthalle, blame the sound engineer; it's a big enough room that even if Carrington was a loud drummer, it should have been possible to balance things out in the mix that went out to the roughly 700 people in attendance. It marred the evening, making it one that should have been great but, because of the imbalance, was simply (and unfortunately) only good.

Not that this was the fault of the musicians. The focus remained on Shorter, performing many of the same tunes that they'd covered in Montréal, including a particularly impressive reworking of the title track to Weather Report's Mysterious Traveller (Columbia, 1974), along with a medley of "Masqualero" and "Fall" where the transition only became apparent when Spalding delivered the latter song's recognizable theme con arco. The trio also performed a version of Shorter's "Nefertiti" that was almost completely unrecognizable, as well as a more immediately recognizable take on "Virgo"; made completely their own, Shorter would, no doubt, be proud.

But while Shorter was the primary focus of the evening, ACS also included other material, including the opening Eric Dolphy tune that ultimately segued into "Mysterious Traveller" and concluded with Nat "King" Cole's "The End of a Beautiful Friendship (and Just the Beginning of Love,)" which Carrington announced as appropriate for the evening, before noticing a couple of red lights out in the audience and, in a firm but reasonable fashion, asking that they be turned off before they continued, the group not realizing its performance was being documented.

Each of ACS' members took the microphone for an introduction throughout the 100- minute set, but it was when Spalding stepped up to her microphone, not to introduce a song, but to sing a piece introduced by Allen as "Unconditional Love," but not as a tune she'd written, that her evolution became even clearer. The tune first appeared on The Mosaic Project, ACS first coming together on this one track; and while her performance on the album was good, her delivery in Heidelberg was far more impressive, as she demonstrated the ability to navigate huge intervallic leaps with absolute precision, and sing complex, rapid-fire phrases with tremendous precision. When the song was over, it was Spalding who, introducing the next song, but first mentioning Allen's humility and that the song was, indeed, the pianist's.

As much as she's evolving as a singer, Spalding is also coming along as an instrumentalist. She was already impressive nearly a decade ago, upon first encountering her at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal jam sessions, where she was, at the time, playing in Joe Lovano's Us Five quintet but, at the jam, was simply swinging her ass off behind whoever was soloing. Years later, she's even more capable of collaborating on a completely equal level with older, more seasoned players like Allen and Carrington, not only grabbing a pulse and owning it, but waxing abstract when the moment called for it—and with the majority of the set dedicated to the music of Wayne Shorter, calling for it often.

First emerging as part of Steve Coleman's M-Base collective, Allen has, in the ensuing years, demonstrated remarkable breadth and depth on projects ranging from 2004's The Life of a Song (Telarc), a tremendous trio record with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, to her most recent Grand River Crossings: Motor City and Motown Inspirations (Motéma, 2013), the third in a trilogy of solo recordings for the label, in this case featuring a couple of guest performances by Marcus Belgrave and David Murray. All this, in-between participating on albums by artists ranging from Charles Lloyd on Jumping the Creek (ECM, 2005) and Wallace Roney, on albums including Prototype (HighNote, 2004), to Tineke Postma's The Traveller (Challenge, 2009) and David Weiss, whose own tribute, Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter (Moéma, 2013), easily stands alongside some of the best Shorter tributes, including Dave Douglas' Stargazer (Arabesque, 1997). Here in Heidelberg, she delivered a standout performance throughout, easily topping her already exceptional work in Montréal a few months earlier.

While a better mix would certainly have made this a better concert, the strength, commitment and collective simpatico shared between Allen, Carrington and Spalding still managed to transcend such unfortunate technical matters. The only question, after this performance, is: when will ACS record?

November 13, Kantine Mannheimer Morgen, Mannheim: Sandi Kuhn

The cafeteria of a newspaper office may seem like an unusual place to hold a concert, but it turned out to be a surprisingly intimate and good-sounding venue for Alexander "Sandi" Kuhn, a young German saxophonist who was this year's recipient of the Jazzpreisträger des Landes Baden-Württemberg, an annual prize from the state of Baden-Württemberg, one of Germany's 16 states and the one in which the three locales for Enjoy Jazz—Heidelberg, Mannheim and Ludwigshafen—all reside. Mannheimer Morgen is the region's most popular daily newspaper, and so when a location was required for Kuhn's award concert, the paper volunteered its cafeteria and opening foyer for both the concert and an after-show party of drinks and pretzels (locals insisting that the pretzel was first created in Mannheim, though it's a suggestion that seems, upon further discussion and investigation, to be something up for debate).

The annual prize provides a stipend of 15,000 Euros but is, according to Kuhn after the show, more valuable for the prestige it brings and the doors it opens. A panel of ten judges nominate up-and-coming artists and, after some deliberation, arrive at a winner. Without knowing who else was in the running, the only conclusion that can be made is that Kuhn was the best of the bunch; irrespective, he certainly proved to be both a fine saxophonist and engaging writer.

Living in Stuttgart, the saxophonist, now in his early thirties, studied at both the renowned Berklee College of Music and Aaron Copland School of Music in the United States, in addition to the University of Music and Performing Arts in Stuttgart, releasing The Ambiguity of Light (JazznArts, 2013) in January of this year, the follow- up to his 2011 Personality Records debut, Being Different. The only personnel carryovers from Being Different are bassist Jens Loh and drummer Axel Pape, two fine musicians who, like Kuhn, certainly deserve broader recognition. They're also the only two members of Kuhn's band on Ambiguity to appear at his 2013 Enjoy Jazz performance; while the album features singer Song Yi Jeon, guitarist Sybereen van Munster and vibraphonist Julius Heise, for his festival show he was accompanied, instead, by Hubert Nuss— a well-known pianist whose albums on the Pirouet imprint, including Feed the Birds (2005) and The Book of Colours (2010), have garnered him attention beyond the borders of his native country—and Köln-based vocalist Stephanie Neigel,

The replacement of guitar and vibraphone with piano meant a significant textural change to Kuhn's set, largely culled from Ambiguity though he did deliver a significantly re-imagined and re-harmonized version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's enduring "Girl from Ipanema" (in this case, sung by Neigel, "The Boy from Ipanema") that was, perhaps, the set's only misstep, though it did feature a strong solo from Kuhn that almost made up for it.

Truthfully, Kuhn should have stuck to his own writing, which proved to be both accessible and filled with enough harmonic and rhythmic interest to keep both the audience and band members engaged throughout the 80-minute set. Everyone stood out at different times, but perhaps the biggest surprise was Loh, who not only anchored the music alongside Pape, but delivered occasional solos oozing with imagination; his feature on "Long Time, No See" was particularly impressive, his quiet vocalization clearly a conduit from his head to his hands. He also opened the following tune with an a cappella introduction, beginning with a single harmonic pedal tone, around which he built his melodies, gradually moving to chordal work that was equally motivic but even more impressive.

Neigel had a few pitch issues that were most noticeable when she was doubling Kuhn's lines (in fairness, perhaps a monitor problem), but largely she proved, as a vocalist being used as an additional instrumental voice—other than "Boy from Ipanema," she sang wordlessly—to be a fine addition to the band, and a couple of solo features demonstrated even greater potential. Clearly coming from the Norma Winstone tradition, her solos were as intriguing as those from the rest of the group, as she navigated broad intervals and seamlessly changed the timbre of her voice, using vibrato as an effect rather than an excuse for poor intonation.

Pape rarely soloed, but demonstrated an inventive approach to maintaining the pulse throughout the set. And when he did solo, rather than aim for the obvious of building a solo from more minimal beginnings to a thundering, virtuosic ending, he focused, instead, on both twisting and turning the time and using space so well that there were times when he stopped playing for so long that it almost became uncomfortable, creating a delicate sense of tension and release that was as dramatic as any pyrotechnics might have been.

Nuss was a thoughtful accompanist and an even more impressive soloist, in particular later in the set when everyone seemed to have warmed up considerably, and especially on the gospel-informed "Sustainable Happiness" which trumped the album version if only because piano is a far more appropriate instrument for a tune of this nature, but also because Nuss delivered a slo that built slowly, inevitably to a climax—at one point quoting Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue"—so powerful that he received one of the most enthusiastic responses from the roughly 120 people who came to the Mannheimer Morgen cafeteria for the performance.

Kuhn borrowed liberally from the obvious sources for a young tenor saxophonist—in particulaer Michael Brecker by way of Chris Potter—but his own voice has clearly emerged, as he demonstrated Donny McCaslin-like altissimo control during his solo on "Leaving," a Latinesque number slightly reminiscent of Chick Corea's "Sea Journey," but with a 5/4 groove carried effortlessly by Loh and Pape. He also built a solo on "Sustainable Happiness" that reached such climactic heights that the audience, once again, demonstrated particularly strong appreciation.

Kuhn's writing, especially with the use of a female voice delivering wordless vocals, was clearly informed by Canadian expat trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, particularly in the way he often created contrapuntal lines that wound in, around and, finally, together in unison. He shared Wheeler's penchant for slight melancholy, though the more upbeat vibe of "Sustainable Happiness" is something the trumpeter would never have written.

It may have been an unusual place for a concert, but at the end of the day it turned out to be ideal; the sound was great, the music even better and the performances at a level, both in maturity and attention to space, far beyond the age of this young saxophonist. Alexander "Sandi" Kuhn may be relatively new to the scene, but there's little doubt that if a little luck comes his way, more will be heard from this talented young saxophonist, composer and bandleader.

November 14, Karlstorbahnhof, Heidelberg: Third Reel

With the passing of drummer Paul Motian in 2011, it seemed that his longstanding trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano was at an end...and it was. But with the debut of Third Reel (ECM, 2013), it seemed that, intentional or no, the torch had been passed to a trio of young players from Italy and Switzerland. While there's little denying that Motian's trio was the inspiration for this trio, consisting of saxophonist/clarinetist Nicolas Masson, guitarist Roberto Pianca and Emanuele Maniscalco, the album also made clear that these three players were adding their own personalities to this preexisting concept/context.

Something that was even more evident in the trio's Heidelberg performance at Karlstorbahnhof. While the crowd was smaller than this trio deserved, it was certainly enthusiastic, and the group's two sets turned out to be one of the highlights of the past nine days.

What was, perhaps, the most striking element of Third Reel's performance was the role of drummer Maniscalco. While he demonstrated much of the textural proclivities of the late Motian, he also revealed, throughout the evening, a slightly different modus operandi to Motian's flagship trio. While Masson created thoughtful melodies that often intertwined with Pianca's heavily reverberated and delayed chordal work—not unlike Frisell, based on a lot of sustaining notes that allowed him to layer gentle melodies simultaneously—Maniscalco played far more time than was obvious on the recording. The idea of a drummer holding down time—albeit in the freest possible way— while his two partners play rubato over top—created a slightly more grounded sound, despite Maniscalco largely playing quietly and resorting to the use of rim shots and hands to broaden his own textural possibilities.

When Pianca kicked in an overdrive box, the volume ramped up considerably, and yet was never oppressively loud; instead it was more about contrast, as the majority of the set was soft and sometimes so quiet that it felt almost necessary to lean forward to actually hear it.

Virtuosity, at least overt, was not a cornerstone of the trio's record, and while some groups tend to change live, becoming more excited, excitable and busy, Third Reel managed to retain the same restraint and patience of its record, resulting in some truly beautiful moments, juxtaposed with occasionally angular passages that were, nevertheless, somehow rounded by Pianca's imaginative sonic clouds. The combination of these three fine players, with Masson their spokesperson and, it would appear, de facto leader, was impressive enough to engender hopes that Third Reel's ECM debut will not be a one-time affair; clearly already evolving since that recording, it will be fascinating to see where this talented trio goes next.


When deciding what week to attend at the seven-week Enjoy Jazz Festival, it's all about combining the opportunity to catch familiar faces—though sometimes in new contexts, as was the case with Nik Bärsch and his Ronin Rhythm Clan—the chance to be exposed to unfamiliar names like Sandi Kuhn, and the chance to see things that rarely, if ever, get the opportunity to come Stateside, let alone to Canada. Having attended the festival regularly since 2009, based on the shows seen this year, the 2013 edition may well be its best since that first year, when it participated in a celebration of ECM Records' 40th year with a three-day event that was one of the rare times that Enjoy Jazz packed a multitude of shows into a single day.

With the Hollander Hof Hotel (located on the Neckar River right at the juncture of a centuries old footbridge) also a wonderful and consistent base since 2009—and with a truly warm and welcoming staff that makes it feel, each year, like returning to a second home—it's hard to resist any opportunity to return to the region for Enjoy Jazz. With Rainer Kern, whose truly open-minded programming means there's always something for everyone—usually more—and a festival staff that, not unlike Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, makes this annual trek over the Atlantic to the south of Germany always worthwhile and somehow feeling familial— this 15th Edition of Enjoy Jazz was a clear indicator of both continued success and potential for future growth.

Photo Credit
John Kelman


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