| Part 2
Every year the 'Best-of' game is underway again. But, "best of what?" is the immediate question. It's almost impossible for fishes of prey to hunt in a huge herring swarm, or for birds of prey to hunt in those huge budgerigar swarms. 'The best' is a choice from the subset of music that for various reasons frequented the focus of the list-maker(s) in the past year, no more and no less. Until recently lists were also termed 'My Favorite Albums,' which is a much fairer affair. Despite the doubtful claims, it's nice to observe convergence and diversion of lists and get stimulated to listen to not yet proven or known albums.
This article contains a list of live concerts, mainly highlights of festivals spread over Europe and a list of 2019 releases compiling my choices for the Europe Jazz Media Charts and a loose list of musicians/groups that in my ears/eyes make a significant mark. The article also deals with a couple of special items, three large scale concert endeavors that took place in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Berlin, and it deals with some important aspects of festival organization, (European) cooperation and musician mobility I was involved in and confronted with. The article is written from different experiential perspectives: as program advisor (of Jazzfest Berlin), as organizer (of the Portuguese-Greek umbrella stand at Jazzhead!), as advisor/coach of musicians or as visiting writer. So, a bit more than a nicely reduced, handy list: a reflection of some current affairs, a more in-depth balance of things that happened in 2019.
Personal festival highlights/favorites 2019
The selection of the first list here comes solely from live music, from concerts at festivals or series I attended in 2019. The selection is a choice from 19 stops in 9 European countries: The Netherlands (6x), Germany (5x), Norway (3x), France (3x) as well as Belgium, Greece, Poland, Slovenia and Austria. The route went along 19 different places: Amsterdam -AthensGent BremenTrondheimAmsterdam -BerlinLjubljanaRotterdam's-Graveland OsloSaalfeldenGroningen KristiansandAmsterdamMannheim/LudwigshafenBerlin ParisStrasbourgMannheimWroclawParis comprising 19 Festivals and two stand-alone concerts.
Some of these festivals are quite compact, covering an extended weekend. Others cover a longer stretch of time between two to seven weeks. Seven festivals could be attended and reviewed as a whole. Others, mainly due to their duration, were covered only partially. As a consequence, certain musicians/groups with excellent and stunning performances fall by the wayside. Owing to circumstances, the choice of the festivals is subjective, but I think there is sizable diversity of the kind of festivals and the selected concerts. Here then is a list of the festivals with my personal highlights (with links to my All About Jazz reviews
on these performances):
Amsterdam, Flamenco Biennale
: Amir El-Saffar
Athens, Stegi Onassis Cultural Centre
: L'ensEmble-Ensemble (Marie Kvien Brunvoll/George Dumitriù/Eve Risser
Gent, Belgian Jazz Meeting: Lynn Cassiers
' Imaginary Band, Donder
Bremen, Jazzahead!: Gard Nilssen
's Acoustic Unit, Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble
(L.U.M.E), Olga Amelchenko
Quartet, Ozma, Janning Trumann
Trondheim, Trondheim JazzExpo
: Natalie Sandtorv,
, Bjørn Marius Hegge
Trio, Mette Rasmussen
Trondheim, Trondheim Jazzfest
: Sylvie Courvoisier
Amsterdam, Holland Festival, Karlheinz Stockhausen "Aus Licht"
Berlin, Jazzdor Berlin
: Naïssam Jalal
Quest of the Invisible, CLAUDIA SOLAL
, Unbroken (Jan Bang
/Guillaume Roi/Vincent Courtois
Ljubljana, Ljubljana Jazz Festival
: Gyan Riley
, Igor Lumpert
's Chromatic Vortex, Kaja Draksler
Rotterdam, North Sea Round Town
: Bert Cools
, l'Ensemble ensEmble (Marie Kvien Brunvoll / George Dumitriù / Eve Risser / Toma Gouband/Kim Myhr), Alex Simu
/ George Dumitriu/Matthias Konrad
's-Graveland, Wonderfeel: Tania Giannouli
Trio, Keiko Shichijo
Oslo, Oslo Jazz Festival
: Maja S.K. Ratkje
, Jan Bang/Eivind Aarset/Anders Engen, Bilayer (Hilde Marie Holsen
/ Magnus Bygge)
Groningen, Summer Jazz Bike Tour: Louis Moholo-Moholo
5 Blokes, Tania Giannouli Trio, De Beren Gieren
, KUHN FU
vs. John Dikeman
Saalfelden, Jazzfestival Saalfelden
: Julien Desprez
, Lukas König
, Théo Ceccaldi
, Wolfgang Puschnig
Kristiansand, Punkt Festival
: Thurston Moore
, live-remix by Pål-Kåres Electroshop, Ståle Storløkken
solo organ, Yuka Fujii "Like Planets" (music: Mark Wastell
, David Sylvian
Amsterdam, 12 Points Festival
: Trio Heinz Herbert
, No Tongues, Filippo Vignato
Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, Enjoy Jazz And More
: Rewa (Tania Giannouli/Rob Thorne/Michele Rabbia), Rolf Kuhn
Quartet, Dark Star Safari (Samuel Rohrer
/Jan Bang/Eivind Aarset/Erik Honore
Strasbourg, Jazzdor: Orchestre National de Jazz dir. by Frédéric Maurin
, Jamie Branch, Miles Okazaki
Berlin, Berlin Jazzfest: T(r)opic/São Paulo/Underground, Eve Risser
, Sinikka Langeland
Sauna Cathedral (Maja Ratkje, Trygve Seim
, Eivind Lønning
, Mats Eilertsen
, Markku Ounaskari
), Marc Ribot
feat. Nick Dunston
, Jay Rodriguez
, Chad Taylor
Wroclaw, Jazztopad: Vincent Courtois/Daniel Erdmann
/ Robin Fincker
w/Lutoslawski String Quartet, Tony Wilson
Longhand Trio, Sundogs (Samuel Hall
, Zbigniew Kozera
Paris, Les Rencontres AJC/Jazz Migration
: Nefertiti Jazz Project
, YOU, Kepler, NoSax NoClar, Erlend Apneseth
Extra mention for the doubtless best musical fun of the year: MeoW
: Jim Black
, Cansu Tanrikulu
, Liz Kosack
, Dan Peter Sundland
); Kuhn Fu vs. John Dikeman
Strikingly, a couple of musicians excel through multiple appearances and apparently are in higher demand presently:
Eve Risser (Athens, Rotterdam, Berlin), Jan Bang (Berlin, Kristiansand, Oslo, Mannheim), Susana Santos Silva (Saalfelden, Berlin, Paris, Strasbourg), Frederic Maurin = the newest installment of Orchestre National de Jazz (Berlin, Paris, Strasbourg), Kim Myhr (Rotterdam, Oslo, Kristiansand), Tania Giannouli ('s-Graveland, Groningen, Ludwigshafen), Tomeka Reid (Saalfelden, Berlin, Wroclaw), Jamie Branch (Strasbourg, Berlin, Saalfelden), Julien Desprez (Berlin, Saalfelden), The Kühnbrüder/The Kühn Brothers (Mannheim/Berlin), Maja Ratkje (Oslo, Berlin), Mette Rasmussen (Saalfelden, Berlin), Sylvie Courvoisier (Trondheim, Saalfelden), Naissam Yalal (Bremen, Berlin), Natalie Sandtorv (Trondheim, Berlin), Pedro Melo Alves (Bremen, Ljubljana), Michele Rabbia (Ludwigshafen, Berlin).
It might be interesting to compare this outcome with a selection from a different sample of festivals. Possible overlap would give some valid indication.
Extended performances: Rotterdam-Amsterdam-Berlin
Three of the festivals I attended distinguished themselves by large scale concert endeavors, long duration musical performances at special locations and times: Rotterdam's North Sea Round Town festival presented an eight-hour long night concert, "Dawn: A Trilogy of Sound," Holland Festival in Amsterdam presented a cross-sectional selection of Karlheinz Stockhausen's 29-hour magnus opus, the opera cycle "Licht," in three subsequent concerts of five hours, and Berlin Jazzfest opened with a six-hour concert of Anthony Braxton
's "Sonic Genome." Another marathon that I attended, John Zorn
's "Bagatelles" estafette, has been reviewed earlier at All About Jazz
Rotterdam: Dawn Trilogy
The Rotterdam "Dawn Trilogy" took place at the 31st floor, more than 100 meters above ground, of a typical office building on the Wilhelmina Pier, the largest in The Netherlands and designed by Rem Koolhaas, with a grand 360 degree panoramic view on the Meuse river and the 802-meter long iconic cable-stayed Erasmus Bridge with its 139-meter high pylon. The concert started at midnight and went in three parts: WHITE MOON (2 hrs); BLUE HOUR (4 hrs); GOLDEN LIGHT (2 hrs). WHITE MOON was performed solo by Belgian guitarist Bert Cools from Antwerp. The four-hour middle part BLUE HOUR was performed by multinational unit L'Ensemble Ensemble comprising French pianist/flautist Eve Risser, Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr, Norwegian vocalist Mari Kvien-Brunvoll, Romanian violinist George Dumitriu and French percussionist Toma Gouband, the same configuration I saw earlier at the Onassis Stegi venue in Athens. The final early morning part was performed by a trio of Romanian clarinetist Alex Simu, German trombonist Matthias Konrad and, again, Romanian violinist/guitarist George Dumitriu on the basis of Alex Simu's score for the Dutch movie "Beyond Sleep" (after the novel by Willem Frederik Hermans). It was an exceptional occasion to experience the urban ambiance in a different way by watching it from inside out at such an exquisite location. Musicians and audience were privileged inhabitants of the vacant 31th floor with its surround view for that night.
The Trilogy was an affair of little tunes emerging from far away and disappearing behind distant horizons, of playful particles wondrously floating and amalgamating in free improvisation, permeating and transforming the space of the 31st floor, enchanting and expanding the senses of the audience in an hours-long continuous stream. The improvised music generated significant sonic gestures and moments, which worked as a soundtrack for the surrounding real urban life at the gates of dawn. The building served as a relay between the ongoing music, the inner world of the audience members, and the sensations from the exterior, the urban activities and the shifting nighta real dream. The shifting light of the night sky and the gleaming and flickering urban lights tinged the experience of the music and the music intensified the experience of the night sky. The decision to attend was a decision to step out of one's own ordinary daily routine, not knowing if you will fall asleep, stay in a waking dream, enter a trance, or drop out after a while.
For the improvising musicians it was a great challenge to generate something that remained creative all through and fitted in the common time-light-attention focus of fellow musicians and the audience. For me as a watching listener it felt very lively, inspiring and beguiled the senses. So well designed, set up and organized by Raluca Baicu and Michelle Wilderom, it was less a spectacle than the following two long-stretch musical performances, but it was the closest to the creative process and was the most meditative one.
The month-long Holland Festival in Amsterdam, the largest multidisciplinary festival in The Netherlands, presented a 15-hours cross-sectional version of the opera cycle "Licht" of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), a once in a life-time event. Until now the seven parts of the 29-hours cycle have only been realized as parts through the time (from 1981 to 2012) and never as a totality. Five years ago, Holland Festival decided to produce a selection called "Aus Licht" in collaboration with the two musical and dramaturgical advisors Kathinka Pasveer and Suzanne Stephens-Janning, stage director Pierre Audi, Urs Schönebaum (sets and lights) and the Royal Festival of The Hague.
Spread over three days each with a five-hours performance including the notorious helicopter string quartet, it was realized by 480 directly involved contributors (artists, artistic team, production team) in the gas holder of a defunct Amsterdam gas plant (Westergasfabriek), a round building of more than 2500 m2 with a 15-meter high dome. It took four years of preparation and three years of 450 rehearsals. With this undertaking, the Holland Festival continued a line it had set earlier with extraordinary events around composers such as Mauricio Kagel, John Cage and Luigi Nono.
This richly endowed long version revealed itself as an ear-and eye opener for younger generations and as a quite gratifying and pleasant one for older generations. It is an opus that displays and unfolds a cosmological and spiritual whole. Like genesis it is built up in episodes from day to day through the seven days of the week. Stockhausen, who worked about 25 years on "Aus Licht" transformed the concept 'opera' in a far-reaching way thereby creating a consistent and unique new form that received a fascinating dynamic multimedia outfitting with a masterful scenography / choreography using the complete gas holder space. It was an overwhelming whole of sounds and scents, colors and visuals, all designed by Stockhausen himself and in concreto shape being realized by a great team.
The instrumentalist wearing fanciful costumes not only played "on stage" but moved through the entire gas holder space according to a sophisticated choreography. That also entailed that musicians played the greater part of the music by heart. This way the instruments and instrumentalists were dramatic characters themselves. The movements and fluid overlayering and crossfading projections of the musicians/dancers/actors alternating between two stages was a consequence of the way the music unfolded and expanded. Actually, it spread out like light waves. Experiencing this on different levels in that intensity was very special and unique. The instrumental, vocal and electronic music inheres a clear unity and a strong underlying musicality. An utterly intriguing affair was the Invisible Choirs, the parts with electronic music. Stockhausen has created a form of electronic sounds still second to none. This undertaking offered a great opportunity to get deeper into it in a magical context.
There were, no doubt, some weaker parts or personally not appreciated parts. The The pretentious ceremonial "World Parliament" in its theatrical naiveté, for example, was wasted on me, and from time to time it tended to be too meaning-ridden and meaning-loaded (bedeutungsschwanger) for my taste. Sometimes the high note trumpets became a bit too much for me personally, as well. In short, there were less convincing (functional) parts, a few harassing moments and some unappreciated redundancies. However, in the case of Stockhausen, it can coexist for me.
What makes Stockhausen so preciously impressive is the forceful artistic willpower to create something really new and original from a radical turn away in an ingenious, resourceful search. In the beginning he was a pioneer inspiring pioneers in a pioneering era, later when he worked on "Aus Licht" he was a discovery-driven 'gestalter' of integrative expressive forms of great reach. The monumental 15-hours spectacle with its forcefully radiating coupling of light and should do. It was an important time document. Even while we now live in times, where a universal layout or projection like this seems to be troubled or even no longer possible, it is important to present it as a source of inspiration and a driving force for new creativity and ambition.
While Stockhausen and others developed electronic sounds, we are now catapulted into a world where all this is at hand and available in disturbing abundance and flux of endless diversification on a waning ethical ground and loss of shared values.
On the occasion of this rare monumental performance of "Aus Licht," as often before, Stockhausen's impact on pop music(ians) is mentioned without substantiating it a bit. It mainly seems to serve public relation ends. Without doubt through his thorough approach and enduring attitude of seeking and experimenting he opened new doors for others in an era of wild experimentation and real breakthrough discoveries decades ago. The show of a present-day Stockhausen adept, Darren Cunningham aka Actress, assisted by a chamber choir (Nederlands kamerkoor) turned out as überpretentious and weak. In the concert hall of Amsterdam's Muziekgebouw it fell deadmaybe artist and location were no felicitous choice.
Yes, Stockhausen is on the cover of the legendary Beatles-album Sergeant Pepper's Hearts Club Band. A lot of experimental techniques and effects, such as reverse recording, varispeeding, automatic double tracking and tape loops a.o. were applied in the recording of The Beatles' "Revolver"
and of "Strawberry Fields" a year before the work on Sgt. Pepper.
Maybe, one of the best examples of the influence and the intercommunion in the local musical biotope is the famous Cologne Krautrock band Can, with its members Holger Czukay
and Irmin Schmidt, both of whom had strong ties with Stockhausen. Both also spent a time in jazz circles, but Czukay gave up soon and Liebezeit became bored and fed up. Jazz in those days simply offered no chances for well trained, bold young artists.
"Yes, I met Cage. But I didn't have such a narrow contact with him as I had with Stockhausen. Stockhausen hated collage. I took Stockhausen very seriously. The music that came out of his hands was fantastic. I could see how much he was leading music into the futureespecially in the direction that Can was going. Can hated some of Stockhausen's stuff we condemned it to deathbut I knew he was opening up the door" (Holger Czukay)
The 'teachings' of Stockhausen pertained not only to purely musical issues as the next anecdote of Czukay shows: ""Czukay, you are thinking too much. Don't get me wrongI can see how many questions you are putting to the notes when you write your scores." There had been a composer that he admired who had questioned his own work so much that he eventually became stuck. So, he said to me, "Sometimes you need to just jump over the wall in order to find out where you're going to land." And then, suddenly, in my third year of studying with him he said: "When the bird is able to fly, he leaves his nest." And four weeks later I decided to leave the nest. I remembered what I had learned from Stockhausen and thought, "Ah, yes, I must find a rich wife." [laughs]" The 'rich-wife story dated from a controversial public situation containing a typical Stockhausen turn.
..." the avant-garde man was Stockhausen. I thought: "He is the right person for me!" I studied with him, but in '68 the whole scene completely changed, and I could suddenly see new connections, new approaches. I was a teacher at the time, in a private school for rich girls. Because I thought thatwith my taste in musicI will never be able to survive, so I need to get married! [laughs]. And this is what Stockhausen taught me. Stockhausen was giving a performance ['Gesang der Juenglinge' in Duisburg] and someone in the audience said to him, "You are giving us a shock with your soundsand you do this only so that you can make a lot of money with it." And he said, "No, no. I only do this for musical reasons. I have money. I married a rich wife" [laughs]. And this is why, when I finished studying with him, I moved to Switzerland where all the rich women lived. Rich women and Charlie Chaplin [laughs]." Can was a case of pioneering experimentation. That means, not working with material ready to the last gaiter button, but just finding sound sources by redefining the use of certain tools. Czukay did it with shortwave radios, which was directly inspired by Stockhausen's experimentation at WDR radio studio.
"A shortwave radio is just basically an unpredictable synthesizer. You don't know what it's going to bring from one moment to the next. It surprises you all the time and you have to react spontaneously. The idea came from Stockhausen again. He made a piece called 'Short Wave' ['Kurzwellen']. And I could hear that the musicians were searching for music, for stations or whatever, and he was sitting in the middle of it all and the sounds came into his hands and he made music out of it. He was mixing it liveand composing it live. He had a kind of plan but didn't know what the plan would bring him. With Can, I would mix stuff in with what the rest of the band were playing. Also, we were searching for a singer and we didn't find onewe tested many, but couldn't find anyoneso I thought: "Why not look to the radio for someone instead? The man inside the radio does not hear us, but we hear him... The radio has a VFOan oscillatorwhere you can receive single side-bands, which means just half of the waves and you can decode itit's like a ring modulator. And that's more than enough. The other members of Can were very open to these unpredictable uses of instruments, especially in the early days." Stockhausen worked in those days in a studio of the WDR radio in Cologne to develop his electronic music. By redefining the use of electronic tools to create music with them. When Stockhausen was finished at night, the Can members who had a key too, sneaked in to produce their own wonderful strange sounds (The Canaxis sessions).
So, Stockhausen opened the door and provided some orientation for younger musicians' experimentation. But as Can, they invented their own pathquite different from present day musicians and groups, especially in jazz, using certain elements in diluted form or as ready-mades to shift with. Irmin Schmidt told the anecdote of a blindfold test with Stockhausen. When he was played a selection of experimental German rock tracks, "he dismissed all of them except Can's 1971 track "Aumgn." "When he found out who had made it, he said: 'Well, of course it's goodthese were my students.'" Trumpeter and Fourth-World music inventor Jon Hassell
was another disciple in the Stockhausen circle in those days who was attracted by Stockhausen as well as by students such as Liebezeit's and Czukay's activities.
Berlin Jazzfest opened with the 6-hour long Sonic Genome of Anthony Braxton (1945) at Berlin's Gropius Bau including 60 musicians from Berlin (Andromeda Orchestra, Trickster Orchestra, Kim Collective), the US (Tri-Centric Foundation), Australia (Australian Art Orchestra) and the UK (Alexander Hawkins
) to initiate a cosmos of musical experience. Based on, and fed by, Braxton's vast body of compositional work of about 500 pieces, the undertaking initiated ongoing re-combinations out of 60 musicians along unpredictable routes through the Gropius Bau complex, an agile alternation of delimitation and densifications, of disintegration, resurrection and reintegration (Entgrenzungen VerdichtungenAuseinanderfallen Wiederfinden/Vereinigen) based on trust in compositions, musicians and the strength of the unfolding musical process navigating and steered by Braxton's principles of Ghost Trance Music.
Sonic Genome was quite the opposite of the "Aus Licht" marathon with its almighty creator Stockhausen at the center and at the steer. Braxton's Sonic Genome provides all the basic information for the unfolding and maintenance of an outspreading collaborative musical happening like that in Berlin. While in "Aus Licht" the roles of the instruments and instrumentalists are significantly redefined, in Sonic Genome roles and interactions are even more radically changed. Different from Stockhausen's auctorial approach, Braxton's music arises and unfolds from open templates and proceeds within an open skeleton along loose meta-concepts participating musicians have internalized and use instinctively. Similar to his ZIM music -performed at the end of the festival in a standard size concertthe Sonic Genome spreads as an organic process of forms emerging, dissolving, disappearing, morphing, melting, reoccurring. In the clear words of Belgian guitarist Kobe van Cauwenberghe:
"Ghost Trance Music allows for a diverse group of musicians to join forces (trans-idiomatic) and intuitively connect in an intense musical interplay (multi-hierarchic) looking for, finding and establishing common ground... Anthony Braxton's "Ghost Trance Music" represent a unique body of "open works" that challenges traditional roles of composer, score and performer. In "Ghost Trance Music" Braxton's entire fascinating musical universe comes together. You step into a ritual, guided by a melody without beginning or end, a stream of consciousness that serves as the central track leading you into the unknown. Originally inspired by the Native American practice of the Ghost Dance ritual, where surviving members of Native American tribes would attempt to communicate with their ancestors through transcendental ghost dances, the Ghost Trance Music pieces are specifically designed to function as pathways between Braxton's different musical systems, between notation and improvisation, between past, present and future. It allows for a plurality of musical practices to join forces, transcending traditional genre boundaries. It creates an arena in which Braxton helps curate intuitive experiences for both performers and listeners."
Out of the communal Chicago spirit of the AACM, Braxton as creator/instigatorsimilar to The Art Ensemble of Chicago -moves and operates in between socially categorized standard genres, something that is disturbing for standard jazz-oriented people as well as for standard classical-oriented people. It is interesting to see that Braxton never deserted to the camp of classical composer but held on to heterogeneity and the processes connected to it.
Interestingly enough, Stockhausen's "Aus Licht" and Braxton's "Sonic Genome" both spring from a nucleus. In Stockhausen's case it is the super formula, from which the whole cycle is constructed: melody lines that contained the typifying tones for the main characters Michael, Eve and Lucifer.
There are clear and interesting differences between "Aus Licht" and "Sonic Genome" due to biographical, sociocultural and institutional backgrounds. Stockhausen distilled a transcultural, ideal universal cosmology as almighty coherent creator while in "Sonic Genome" the creation is coming forth from ongoing sociocultural negotiation with shared responsibilities. "Aus Licht" is clearly hierarchical while "Sonic Genome" is multi-hierarchic. "Aus Licht" is based on an impressive individual synthesis while "Sonic Genome" is trans-idiomatic as a continuing process. Both also clearly differ in the scale of concerted action and budget. While of different dimension and approach, both "Aus Licht" and "Sonic Genome," both are important exemplary transformations of musical performance modes and both are amazing achievements, each in its own right.