| Part 2
This is the second part of an article that looks back and reflects on experiences with live music in 2019. This part deals with a musician's legacy (Ornette Coleman) and continues with an examination of artistic developments and dynamics in the jazz field in a festival (Jazzfest Berlin) and related important aspects of festival organization, (European) cooperation and musician mobility I encountered. So, no nicely reduced, handy list but a momentary reflection of some current affairs from various perspectives as a visitor, an inside advisor, a coach/supervisor and organizer -a more in-depth balance of things that happened in 2019.
The first part of this article dealt with highlight list of festival-concerts spread over Europe and a list of 2019 releases compiling my choices for the Europe Jazz Media, as well as a more thorough review of three large scale concert endeavors that took place in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Berlin.
On my route through the festival landscape the music of Ornette Coleman
(1930-2015) was in the spotlight with striking frequency: directly in a program of pianist Joachim Kuhn
with the HR Bigband (Frankfurt) at Berlin Jazzfest and in a program of Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ) at Jazzdor Berlin and Strasbourg and more indirect in a concert of Joshua Redman's Still Dreaming group with Ron Miles
, Scott Colley
and Dave King
as well as the in the concert of the Fullsome X group of Austrian alto saxophonist/flautist Wolfgang Puschnig with guitarist Rick Iannacone
, Jon Sass
on tuba, Asja Valcic
(cello) and Reinhardt Winkler
on drums, both at Jazzfestival Saalfelden.
Joachim Kühn worked intensively with Ornette Coleman. Apart from Geri Allen, Walter Norris
and Cedar Walton
he was the only pianist who worked with him. Kühn recently released a solo album, comprising, for the greater part, a selection from 170 compositions he and Ornette developed in numerous informal home sessions in New York between 1995-2000 (Melodic Ornette Coleman
ACT). On this album you can hear music that is as much very Ornette as it very Joachim. Both have their own wild and raw manner to play around melodies that are thrown in by a forceful swipe. On the album Joachim Kühn -from the very beginning with "Turnaround" (from 1959), maybe Ornette's most known tunetransfers the free entwining interplay of several instrumentalists impressively and powerfully to his own characteristic piano playing, a unique merging of formal strength and wildly pullulating entanglement.
For these pieces the line-up at Berlin Jazzfest was expanded into a quartet with Michel Portal
(bass clarinet), Francois Moutin
(bass) and Joey Baron
(drums) plus a surrounding by the HR radio Big Band with 14 musicians under the conduction of arranger Jim McNeely
. Both were high-grade sound bodies, each sounding great. However, they did not get into an enriching and stimulating togetherness, thus failing to give a real new dimension to Ornette Coleman's music. The sonic space was overfilled, and the Big Band sound was too heavy-handed for Ornette's music. Tension and friction between both bodies of sound didn't work out productively.
This problem also manifested earlier in the first concert of a new Ornette program of the latest instalment of Orchestre National De Jazz (ONJ) under its new director, guitarist Frédéric Maurin
, that took place at Jazzdor Berlin. It was a great line-up and partly strong music but dynamically it was less satisfying. Something was missing (see my All About Jazz review
Would it be possible to find a dynamic edginess in the combination of smaller parts of the ensemble and larger sound walls and mighty confluent sound layers of the Big Band as a whole? It was exactly what happened the next time I saw OJN with the Ornette program at Jazzdor Strasbourg in November. An edgy jamming core group was fired up, highlighted and elevated by 'big sounds' at right moments. Frederic Maurin succeeded in a turnaround, and as a result, an overall fiery piece of music was created due to a changed dramaturgy.
Wolfgang Puschnig's connection to Ornette was bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma from Philadelphia, who played in Ornette's Prime Time group. Both Tacuma and Puschnig can look back on a long period of collaboration. In his concert, Puschnig immediately drew attention through his unique asymmetrical, edgy and funky version of harmolodics. He had to do it without his old partner in crime, master Jamaladeen Tacuma, who couldn't make it. He brought in another ace instead, guitarist Rick Iannacone. Iannacone sounds like no other guitarist. Not having heard him before, I was utterly fascinated. It is stunning how he plays and sounds. His collaboration dates back to the days of Puschnig's project with the Korean Samul Nori ensemble of percussionist Kim Duk Soo. So, it was a solidly grounded and captivating concert.
Joshua Redman's connection was his father Dewey Redman
, an early and long-time collaborator of Ornette. He played on a number of the most typical Ornette albums without Ornette himself playing on it, the albums of the legendary group Old and New Dreams comprising Redman, Don Cherry
, Charlie Haden
and Ed Blackwell
. Joshua Redman has a great gift to play a lot of music as if it is tailored for him. Above all, he has a great talent to breathe life into it with great sensitivity and passion. He recently felt mature enough to envision the "Old and New Dreams" thing together with his fellow musicians Ron Miles (trumpet), Scott Colley (bass) and Dave King (drums). This brought, among others, Don Cherry's fetching piece "Guinea" to the ears and souls of a 2019 audience. Strikingly, both father and son played this music around their fifties. While depth of expression went with a characteristic frayed surface, in the re-envisioned 2019 version the rhythmical intensity went with a more liquid shape of contours. In this way, Redman and his fellow musicians remained close to the original, but with their own dynamics and coloring.
The boldest swipe anno 2019: Berlin
2019 was the second year of Jazzfest Berlin
under artistic director Nadin Deventer. The first edition under her curatorship had been a big bang with a lot of new instalments and much higher dynamics than in the good old-fashioned paradigm (althergebracht) of lining up a number of interesting, substantial and easily broadcast able acts on a picture-frame type of stage. Her predecessor Richard Williams had already provided a hefty injection to the programming that she could build on. Her first edition in 2018 opened the basement below the mainstage, a rotunda that became a free arena for the bold musical transitional chores of Berlin's Kim Collective, thereby commenting on the musical proceedings above them. This way a converging overflow of musical activities was generated vertically and horizontally as a joyful and disturbing coming and going that invited the visitor to navigate their own path through. Her approach triggered the invitation of certain (groups of) musicians fitting the new format and considered to give colorful shape to it. Also, inversely, certain musicians from the wish-list could trigger certain modes of presentation. All over, the 2018 and 2019 editions had about 200 musicians from 15 countries between their respective line-ups.
She introduced a variety of special meeting elements as Melting Pot Berlin, a cooperation with Wroclaw, Ghent and Oslo that presents four young promising musicians from the four cities playing together. Also, from Wroclaw she imported the small-scale neighborhood concerts/Kiezkonzerte, loose line-ups of festival artists playing at a barber shop, private living-rooms or galleries.
This approach, generally speaking, opened the musical proceedings up to new modes of participation, dynamics, influx and interlocking with the city and its jazz scene. That's why the opening in 2018 stood under the invitational motto "House of Jazz." The ensemble of a multitude of moves and installations induced different possibilities of reception and modes of musical collaboration, especially a wider and deeper involvement of the Berlin scene, one of the richest and most abundant in Europe. It also induced a richer gender influx and stronger and clearer female positioning in the program. It all didn't operate on the level of single acts and their labeling as 'adventurous,' 'innovative' or 'border crossing' and 'genre-defying' etc.. It operated on a deeper level of processual reframing with some necessary risk-taking to initiate defossilization and enable profound reshaping. As part of this the public appearance of the festival got an advertisement set up fitting the new approach. The advertising campaign designed by Deventer herself together with her creative graphic team had high trigger impulses with hip and baffling punchlines such as God at the Casino
, When did your heart break?
, Oh Mon Dieu
, Now This Means War
. These were all taken from titles of music pieces of participating musicians -a splendid design, distinctive and casual. This year there were punch lines such as these: We Are Starzz
, A Mother's Work Is Never Done
, Escape Nostalgic Prisons
, Wait for the Echo
There can be no doubt that the Berlin Jazzfest, that once started with a highly new political and artistic set in 1964, was in need of profound change. All festivals are presently forced into that situation and respond to it on different levels/aspects and at different degrees of profoundness. In Berlin it was, and is, a question of necessity, talent, and a dedicated small team working with a comparatively small budget, considering the quality of the program.
The necessity has to do with an aging audience, increasing rejuvenating of the musicians, with musical development, rapid ramification of the music going under the term 'jazz,' and with changes of musical formats. This requires not only new choices of musicians and groups but also (re)contextualizations of performance qualities and modes, especially under the proviso that a festival has to offer not everyday stuff, but extraordinary, uncommon, redefining, and challenging acts. There is also a necessity to redefine the place of jazz as a creative oasis within pop and classical mass culture, not as a sectarian refugium but as a valuable garden of inspiration and joy for a broader quality-audience (emphasis on 'broader,' not 'broad'). The entertaining function is not regarded as contradictory.
This whole process and the projected modes of presentation had to be coordinated with 11 regional public radio stations. Regional public radio stations were involved from the outset of the festivala cooperation that had/has its merits as well as its explosive potentials. A high value major progress in 2019 was the entering of ARTE TV, renowned French-German tv company, in the concert coverage of the festival (see here
). ARTE, for instance, covered the here discussed T(R)OPIC show (see here
). For Braxton's Sonic Genome the festival itself took initiative to do a media coverage by its own video-team (four cameras) that cut sound and pictures in real-time streaming. It was remarkably recorded for a non-jazz-based program on Sound Art by Deutschlandfunk Kultur.
The indicated processes, in advance of and during the running festival in 2018, precipitated an unprecedented bashing campaign raged in Germany against a new generation female artistic director of the Jazzfest Berlin. The whole arsenal of clichés was launched time after time, vehemently and in borderline, sexist manner by older generation male jazz notables, often questionable in personal denigration of the new artistic director, denying her competence and abilities.
Fortunately, there were supporting and acknowledging voices aplenty and the whole thing turned in the media coverage, especially that of the daily newspapers that showed more insight in (and acclaim of) the overall thread running through the program as well as the underlying concept and its effects. They got often tangled up in details sourly. Finally, it turned out to be a great breakthrough to build on the second edition.
It was a solid background for the workout of the second edition but, as we know, the next step after a successful one is quite a challenge. For the second edition in 2019, Deventer did not stand still, but instead continued the laid down line and expanded it with her team.
The most dramatic structural change for the 2019 edition was the physical leveling of the difference in height between the stage and the auditorium in the big hall of the Festspielhaus
. As a consequence, the performance area at three sides was directly surrounded by the audience on the same level: the side of the hall, the rear of the stage and one at the side of the stage. This leveling had an enormous psychological impact on the perception of the performances. It allowed musicians to perform in a circle with close contact to the audience, as in the Late-Night Labs.
The Night Labs were a new element too. Here three different groups came together in new communal performances that surmounted the sum of the parts. Exemplary was the second Night Lab, with musicians from three groups: T(r)opic, São Paulo Underground and CoCo (described and reviewed here as a case of advanced practice). Their performance had been worked out in a two-day residency at the festival.
"The musicians and dancers performed in a lighted large circle, a space inviting the artists to move, feel, see, project and pass on. The whole was visible and could be watched from three sides (like in an amphitheater). Both opened new perspectives and possibilities (in comparison with a pochette/Guckkastenbühne). As the video showed, it became a far more movable, hot burning, glittering happening permeated by poetical moments, reaching from stamping ground to sky high shoots and flashes. It had the signs of 'fresh, hot baked.' This artistically much further reaching transformation needed a close collaboration between musicians and curator to secure the technical preconditions and a free space and trust to develop and realize something like this, a collaboration that exceeds the more conventional programmer-artist cooperation. Both parties need each other to accomplish such advanced practice and results." (Henning Bolte, All About Jazz
Owing to its closeness and (spectacular) choreographed form, it could provide stronger effects for the audience and could come closer to its skin. It opened a wider experience space. When working with those kinds of border-crossing approaches of performance at various levels, not only the musicians and the curator enter new territory but also the audience. It could be observed that a large part of the audience took a much more curious exploratory attitude to these performances while being physically and psychologically more part of the whole. As part of it, it seemed that the audience was more receptive and much more autonomous in deciding how (long) to experience the performances. There was much less turning their backs to the performances and retreat to the bar area to socialize there in against-mood. There was clearer, looser flow, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Another building block and key element of the program was Anthony Braxton's 6-hour Sonic Genome as opening act that took place in the Gropius Bau (see above). The Gropius Bau, dating from 1881, has a tumultuous history but also a long-running tradition of special forms of collaboration with artists (see here). Since 2001 it is part of the same umbrella organization of Berlin festivals as the Jazzfest.
Physically and mentally, Braxton's Sonic Genome was quite a challenge for the audience. For the greater part it accepted the structured, abundant and wildly blossoming musical proceedings, amongst others, due to the radiation of the underlying playfulness of the unstoppable, fearless, fantasizing energies of Anthony Braxton. It also became an adequate follow-up to the curve that Braxton has marked through the history of the festival. The undertaking also charted the Berlin-scene internationally and especially the three ensembles/collectives, namely Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra, Trickster Orchestra and KIM Collective. This extension was a consistent step from the 2018 Exploding Star International Ensemble collaboration lead by Rob Mazurek as forerunner.
And, there was not only elder statesman Anthony Braxton with an engaging and ambitious endeavor. There was also Christian Lillinger
from the epicenter of the Berlin scene with his Open Form For Society opus (OFFS) performed by a high potential 9-piece ensemble (the pianists Cory Smythe
, Kaja Draksler
and Elias Stemeseder
, Christopher Dell
and Roland Neffe
(marimba, vibraphone), Lucy Railton
on cello, Petter Eldh
, and Robert Landfermann
on double bass and e-bass and Lillinger himself composition and drums). Besides the renowned annual Donaueschingen festival for New Music, the Berlin Jazzfest took the chance to offer him a place and present him as a thorough composer and ensemble leader with a pronounced view.
Lillinger built a Berliner bridge between the described Stockhausen-and Braxton approach. OFFS departs from a thoroughly designed and carefully detailed compositional framework that hits upon eight strong real-time creational/instant composing top forces in order to be realized in an open, cyclic in-depth substantiating process of sifting out, striking and nailing essentialities. It is music crossing demarcation lines of jazz, contemporary composed music, music concrete and elements from popular music. No other jazz festival in Germany had dared to present it yet, so Berlin took the pioneering role.
Another quite a challenging throw was the KIM Collective injection entitled The Mass of Hyphaea KIM Collective Fungus Opera as a follow-up to its last year's "Un(ter)ort" endeavour. Deventer gave free hand, carte blanche for musically shaping ('bespielen' in German) the (entire) space of the festival house. The result was as fast as it was slow, as elusive as provocative, as bold as crazy, as cozy as it was blatant (in the spirit of Lewis Carroll).
Fueled by a substantial shot of performance art, the musicians musically occupied and marked the space hyphae-like in a blowout of rapidly alternating dizzy, whirling, baffling, creepy, perplexing actions now and then with a good portion of operachi appeal. It went off without safety net or a narrative framing. It had to be taken as it was. It had a bit of the Hare and Hedgehog Run, the Grimm Brothers' version of the ancient Hare and Tortoise Run. The hare here stands for meaning and understanding, the hedgehog for acting and emotional being affected. It was a courageous step to set it up like this, and subsequently bold of the musicians to jump into the occupying and transforming performance. It evoked strongly a subsequent discussion if it was 'successful,' bursting out along different lines of expectation, ways of intake, degrees of satisfaction and enjoyment.
Bringing all these elements -artistic, financial, organizational and logistical -on stage in a meaningful interlocking totality required corresponding efforts of the small conspiratorial team. It does not stop at taking artistic-programmatic risks, it is the very start of a longer intensive process. A crucial requisite for such a process is mutual belief and trust in a joint venture, as well as sharing of responsibilities, including the adaptation to real circumstances. Part of this also was an extended familiarizing introductory, as well as reflective, discourse program that put the music to intersections of societal struggle and debate.
The involvement of the musicians from the Berlin scene(s) started in 2018 with the Exploding Star Ensemble, Kim Collective's basement arena (Un(ter)ort) in the Festspielhaus, Melting Pot Berlin and individual meetings in club-and house concerts. It continued on a much larger scale in 2019 with the close collaboration and interlocking of Braxton's Tri-Centric Foundation and three Berlin collectives, namely KIM, Trickster Orchestra and Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra, plus a number of individual musicians from Berlin. Berlin Jazzfest not only put the rich Berlin scene internationally prominently on the map, it also fostered the growth of artistic interconnectedness and relationships beyond the festival, something that ought to work out beneficially for the vast diversified scene, too.
A critical note is necessary here. This kind of local-global collaboration is a highly valuable thing but is solid only when it is or turns into a real bidirectional affair in the long run. Despite its high artistic merits, as, for example, in this case, it presently is still heavily single-sided. Indeed, both parties use each other as vehicles, but European musicians are in reversed Atlantic direction without a real chance. The old post-war paradigm is still intact and ruling. It is something that cannot be altered by a single festival alone. However, it has to be critically reflected forasmuch as becoming able to take rational and coordinated action.
Establishing and realizing these elements came forth in a process of caring and sharing, as well as courageous communication, instinct and field sensitivity. Of course, an approach such as this can cause dissent and objections and, of course, raise the question of its cogency. Understandably, there are voices who want to keep things solidly on the old course, more or less. In the media reaction, however, last year's welcoming and supportive trend continued, the sour countering diminished (for media reactions see here). And, it seems, there is still resistance and resentment from parts of the jazz-field in Germany.
The smallest is the finest: Alfred Jarry biking around Groningen
Alfred Jarry, the creator of Ubu Roi (King Ubu) and early bicycle aficionado, never made it to Groningen. 34 years old he died too early in 1917 but left a much longer and stronger mystical trace. His bike passion, reflected in his famous 1902 book of obsessions "Le Surmâle/The Super Male," is the opposite of what biking contains at this festival taking place on a summery Friday night in the city of Groningen (the prologue) and a whole day on the wider countryside, the Reitdiep valley, in an area with a circumference of about 70 km. In 1874, when Jarry was born in Laval, this area formed the natural connection of the city of Groningen with the North Sea (later substituted by a channel).
There is no speed obsession at the Zomer Jazz Fiets Tour/Summer Jazz Bike Tour, this gem of a festival of the Northern flatlands. When looking around in that wide, spacious flat landscape, you notice that 'valley' and 'diep/deep' obviously have a special meaning here. It refers to the deepening of a waterway. The area is one of the oldest cultivated landscapes of The Netherlands and subject to permanent modifications, all of them leaving visible traces. Wind, rain and water, reeds and grassland rule that landscape. Spread through this landscape you find the little villages and hamlets, each of a few hundred or much fewer inhabitants, that serve as basis for the last August-Saturday when the bike tour festival takes place.
The common approach for this kind of event would be to take a few nearby locations to run the festival and get full concerts. ZJFT however does not follow that beaten track. The festival is spread over 30 locations of a circumference of about 70 km in small churches, barns, sheds, instead. Starting from the village of Garnwerd, the audience swarms out via five routes across the flatlands and waterways with an ever-widening horizon to reach the concert locations on the chosen route. On every route you have six, seven or eight concerts, each configuration of musicians playing two sets. So, when you are too late or the concert is full very early, you can wait for the second set or continue your way to the next concert on the route. You can also use transfer points to change route. As wind, rain and water, reeds and grassland rule that landscape, you have to adapt to the climatic circumstances and to the distances, especially when you have the wind against you (which is too often the case in The Netherlands). In case you are bold and don't want to follow mapped-out routes, the Alfred-Jarry variant, you can also go for criss-crossing on your own navigation through the landscape but then you have to bike much harder or be satisfied with less concerts for the most part. I did that on the last edition, which had ideal conditions: at bright warm sunshine and a light breeze I covered 45 km during the afternoon.
Once underway you will always miss a concert and you will see a concert you did not plan to attend. And, you will have to let go a lot of concerts you would have liked to see. 2019 it was 30 concerts over a time span of about eight hours (added by a nightly finishing concert at the general meeting point in Garnwerd).
The programming of this festival is a nice challenging puzzle work. Time, place on the route and adequate match of musicians and characteristics of the location all have to be coordinated strategically. The core thing here is the art of matching musicians and sites such that a good parcours results. In 2019 there were 30 configurations and 30 locations. To organize such things efficiently seems to be a typical Dutch job: organize the spreading, movement and smooth flow of crowds over a flat area with a lot of special arrangements and tolerances (the whole has to be consonant ('stimmig')). The character of the site and the music reinforce each other often in a memorably special way at the Summer Jazz Bike Tour. Among my liveliest memories are the concerts of Hamid Drake
, John Dikeman
and William Parker
at a big barn of the hamlet Krassum, of the Théo Ceccaldi
Trio at the church in Niehove, the duo of Frank Gratkwoski and Sebi Tremontana at the wondrous little Harkema Church near the village Aduard (see slide-show for pictures) and the solo-concert of Claude Tchamitchian
at the tiny church in Feerwerd to mention a few ((see here)
. It is fascinating to see how (carefully) artistic director Marcel Roelofs is searching for musicians for a special site or how he weighs sites for a special musician.
I know outdoor festivals using great landscape sites as Musica Sulle Bocche on Sardinia or Saalfelden Jazz Festival, or the urban landscapes such as Copenhagen Jazz Festival, that spreads over the whole city using nice outdoor and indoor sites. The special charm of ZJFT is it's short nychthemeron duration in combination with my own physical outdoor activity in the wide landscape to make concerts happen for me. I know there are a lot more still to explore, such as, for example, Alto Adige in Southern Tyrol.
At the Summer Jazz Bike Tour, the atmosphere is down to earth and relaxed. The music is not happy-go-lucky, dreamy-creamy, itchy-kitchy or puffy-huffy. The music is askew, edgy, exotic, frenetic, trancing, weird, strangely beautiful, sophisticated, crazy or just deep and always with a waggish note of the whole. It is the characteristic signature of artistic director Marcel Roelofs, in line with a good helping of Jarry-spirit. His programming is one of the most personal and humorous I know in The Netherlands, and it is done with high dedication to musicians and scenes. When having experienced the festival, visitors understandably ask for more. Year after year the answer then is: "next year!" Opposite to the prevailing more-and-more trend, this festival keeps its clear identity, freshness and persistent attraction.
Looking back 1: Europe Jazz Media Charts 2019
The monthly Europe Jazz Media Chart
is a choice of new releases by a Pan-European group of jazz critics (EJM) for leading European jazz magazines and websites. It is no best-of list in the strict sense. It is a recommendation of interesting releases on a European scale, announced monthly on the website of the European Jazz Network. Here is an overview of my choices for 2019 (no choice was made in June)
List of choices for 2019 Myra Melford
's Snowy EgretThe other side of Air
(Firehouse 12 Records) (US)Alexander Hawkins
ron Into The Wind. Piano solo
(Intakt Records) (UK)Simon Toldam
(ILK) (DK)Anne Mette Iversen
Ternion QuartetInvincible Nimbus
(Brooklyn Underground Records) (DK/GER)Aki Takase
Japanic Thema Prima
(BMC) (GeR)Gabriel Ferrandini
(Clean Feed) (PO)
Kiki MandersUniverse In A Shoebox
(ZenneZ Records) (GER)
(BMC) (Ger/F)Petter Eldh
(We Jazz Records) (Ger/Fi)
The choices are spread all over Europe and the US, which is due to the pan-European orientation of my work.
Looking back 2: the holy grail of sounds -five decades ECM
2019 was an ECM year in terms of celebrating and looking back on a five-decades history, full of stories of extraordinary recording (and concerts) -five decades, the span of an adult life. Jan Erik Kongshaug
, key figure of the early recordings in the legendary studio in Oslo died this yeara kindred spirit and partner in crime from an open, exciting pioneering time.
The early days were such a different experience from present times where the audience has grown into and onto the magics of ECM's aura and art to a high degree. Its spiritus rector is still there, apparently tireless. One of most impressive and unique aspects of the ECM story is the ultimate consistency, continuity and constancy of his and the company's work through those many years: always the same and never the same! ECM was not eroded, pitted, dismantled or swallowed by the zeitgeist(er) as happened to most of the rest. It escaped a lot of the repeatedly alleged necessities and saved the very core of its own approach and identity, even though it had to pay a price for it. This went along with a highly economical and practical work ethic in the production of its recordings (recording in 1 or 2 days). These are inseparable aspects of a whole leading back to the original idea and concept of a creative auctorial unity of sound quality, imaginative narratives, significance of visual instilment, and projective openness. One of the crucial elements of the ECM appearance was its deep framing by means of clear geometrics among others (for the concept of 'framing' see John Cage, but also sociologists such as Georg Simmel and Erving Goffman). It is interesting to see how imitations of ECM-covers/fake ECM-covers fail to hit the point. Mostly it goes wrong in the division and organization of the surface and the font. What looks reduced and simple, isn't so simple to achieve. It is the ratio of reduced and open that counts.
In its heyday, ECM did something that met the deeper phantasies and wishes of a group of generational companions. ECM-albums were the ones to feed those. Its striking as well as enigmatic lp-covers formed the breeding ground for projection and willing acceptance of a continuing discovery of thrilling new territory. For quite a while one thing was for sure: the 'next ECM album' would reveal as a surprise, a thrilling enterprise and experience. The next step was always on followers' minds, highly anticipated and often speculated upon. There was a strong complicity of producer and dedicated followers.
ECM created an ever-growing thrilling net of high potential combinations of musicians. Eicher went further than most producers in those times: he organized and generated creational facts relying on his own curiosity, intuition and beliefs. The albums were an externalization of it to identify with, to follow, or to reject on a foil of communality. It also constituted a model of exploration and discovery that could be imitated or varied.
A constitutive factor of Manfred Eicher's working mode was the sequencing of recorded tracks to arrive at a telling album. One effect (among a lot of others) many) of this was and still is: it left strong mental traces such that even today I have a clear mental image and idea about a lot of albums. These are often more than just precious parts of my memory. It could happen that some felt/feel as though they were speaking from my own inner self. Listeners' own curiosity, in alliance with a clear design and clear unity shining through, complemented and reinforced each other. It was almost automatically a school and culture of listening too.
In this position/role Eicher was utterly determined, kept his cards close to his chest and always stood in for and insisted upon his own production approach and spirit. From that approach a radiating aura resulted that contributed to the working sphere in the recording studio. As part of this approach of exploration and discovery, Eicher also was (and still is) in permanent state of exploring and detecting musical manifestations of deeper unifying traits from other cultures. As such he always was an eager collector, too, someone who opened less known or unknown routes, colors to travel, absorb and transform.
For me personally, ECM came right in time to feed my hunger for bold new music, to inspire and fire my imagination, to dream forward into new unheard combinations of thrillingly beautiful music. It is quite tempting to come up with ECM albums connected to the aforementioned facets. It would, however, go to much beyond the scope of this article and still has to be elaborated on its own. My review of the concert of Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou at Nationaltheater Mannheim (Enjoy Jazz) provides an example of this. It shows how different spheres could connect under the ECM roof, lead into formation of new surprising expression and emerge as a fascinating and gripping experience. It was a special sensation to get from the cinema of Greek director Theo Angelopoulos into the music of Eleni Karaindrou, with the voice of Jan Garbarek and actor Bruno Ganz. Traces have to be laid to make such magical things happen and that is what came and comes forth from that 'circulating around.' Only a few allow themselves to do so and have the intuition, passion and strength to stay on track with their antennas.
Looking back and ahead 1: the year of ...
Every time I start to make a list of excellence I get stuck quite quickly. First, there are a lot of excellent musicians in the field and then clear criteria are needed as in the case of applications, awards etc.. In the later case it is necessary to have a basis for discussion and decision making as an interactive process. Second, there Is excellence based on different capabilities. Certain good musicians succeed in being prominently in the picture over a long time while other good musicians do not. Musicians of the first category work hard to achieve and maintain such a position but there is also suction effects. It would even be possible to make a list of artists that caused and still cause huge suction effects (for various reasons). Giving such a list without discussing background and the dynamics of the booking business wouldn't be a good thing. It is not mentioned here to devaluate artists in a strong slipstream. It's mentioned in order to be/get aware of it.
There were a lot of reappearing and frequently shining musicians and groups of younger generations as well as older generations in 2019 (see lists above) -for various reasons and from different views. In the first list below, I restrict myself to movers and shakers of the younger generation (under 50). It's a list of musicians that cover a considerable range in their playing, musicians that not only push the envelope but that have a special sense for necessary and urgent next artistic steps and reveal to be able to set those steps in a highly productive and appealing way. It is also a list of musicians that revealed to be able to organize public exposure, acclaim and visibility of new musical forms themselves. In short: driving forces.
Alexander Hawkins (p)Amir El Saffar (tr, santoor, voc)Bert Cools (g, electr)Christian Lillinger (dr)Eve Risser (p, fl)Fulco Ottervanger (p)Gard Nilssen (dr) Gordon Grdina (g, oud)Kris Davis (p)Julien Desprez (g)Maja Ratkje (electr, voc, keyb, vln, comp)Mary Halvorson (g)Petter Eldh (b)Ruben Machtelinckxs (g, banjo) Shabaka Hutchings (reeds)Theo Ceccaldi (vln)
This list is complemented by a list of outstanding younger musicians, outstanding for various reasons. It's a list that could easily be extended on this same level.
Antonin Tri-Hoang (reeds)Daniel Erdmann (sax)Elias Stemeseder (p, electr)Jamie Branch (tr)Hilde Marie Holsen (tr, electr)Jakob Bro (g)Kaja Draksler (p)Lukas König (dr) Max Andrzejewski (dr)Mette Rasmussen (sax)-Mia Dyberg (sax)Peter Bruun (dr) -Pedro Melo Alves (dr)Samuel Blaser (tromb)Sofia Jernberg (voc) -Susana Santos Silva (tr)
Closing the name lists is Musician of an Extra Category from the Younger Generation:
Thomas Morgan (b)
Characterization and discussion of developments/trends these musicians represent have to be reserved for an extra article.
I could continue with 50+ musicians' excellence and young upcoming talent but restrict myself to these three boxes here. Outstanding musicians of the older generation and young up-and coming talent can be found among the festival highlights.
Looking back and ahead 2: North to South to North -some discrepancies
Europe is an entity, a geographical, cultural and sociopolitical reality, a myth and a bunch of issues to endure or to be solved. Considered from a musical point of view, the melting-pot dynamics of unification in the European countries are quite different from a community of states as the United States of America, the music called 'jazz' originated from. The European diversity in historical perspective has been dealt with in a recent exhaustive historical overview ventured by the European Jazz Network and edited by well-known Italian jazz historian Francesco Martinelli with 45 contributors from almost every European country: F. Martinelli (ed.), The History of European Jazz: The Music, Musicians and Audience in Context. Equinox Publ. (2018).
Presently there is a lot of exchange dynamics at various levels and to various degrees. Certain festivals/venues in Poland (Jazztopad), Germany (Jazzahead! Bremen, Jazzfest Berlin, Moersfestival, Enjoy Jazz, Jazzfestival Münster, Münsterland Festival), The Netherlands (Summer Jazz Bike Tour), Slovenia (Jazz Festival Ljubljana), Ireland (12 Points), Italy (Alto Adige), France (Jazzdor), Portugal (Jazz im Goethegarten) regularly focus on that and have built a tradition with it. The ultimate situation would be one of a lively mutual exchange on a somewhat equal footing. The reality however is one with more or less harsh discrepancies.
Attending festivals in Southern and Eastern Europe show that a lot of groups and musicians from Northern and Central Europe are invited/presented. Attending festival in Northern or Western parts of Europe doesn't show the reverse, which indicates one-way traffic. Even showcase-events in southern European countries made only a minor difference here: only festivals already used to present musicians and groups from Southern and Eastern European countries picked it up. Behind this lie different economic, cultural and sociopolitical realities and related differences in the mentality that is leading actions and interactions. Many Southern and Eastern countries have (great) festivals but no (solid) funding and facilitating structure for their own musicians.
As a consequence, these musicians have a double handicap in the European "market" competition. They have no/poor means to present themselves on the market(-place), they can't sell themselves at funding-supported prices and they face high protective barriers in policy and mentality. It is a situation of undersupply vs oversupply and a consequence of the ruling export perspective of funding policy. Real exchange however, triggers and requires different perceptions and different perspectives of collaboration and of spending funding means -in case there is an infrastructure with substantial funding. The other side of the coin is a weak or non-existing infrastructure with substantial, reliable funding for musicians in certain Southern and Eastern European countries. Access to "the market" for musicians from those countries was in the past in most cases only possible through migration to places primarily in Central Europe (and to a certain degree to Denmark) or to New York. Interesting in this regard is that the indicated discrepancies and obstacles seem to be less blatant in the free improvising scene, which is a smaller and more autonomous scene with a high degree of international network(ing) and musical exchange. Funding, if available, is more easily shared for common benefit it seems.
These insights were deepened and expanded by collaboration with musicians who had to work under these deprived conditions. Coaching and supervising them in the process of getting concerts at venues and festivals in Central, Western and Northern Europe provided realistic and valuable insights for both parties. A more detailed account of (infra)structural conditions, approaches and strategies on both sides will be given in a later article.
Against this background corresponding viewpoints and common insights between my action research and Jazzahead! as well as resultant need of action emerged. Jazzahead! then offered to launch an initiative to enable musicians from Greece and Portugal to present themselves at the fair as a European key event for networking and getting access to "the market." Through coordinating this initiative of an umbrella stand for Greek and Portuguese musicians, which will be continued in 2020, I gained more disillusioning, realistic and useful insight into unruly realities and its defiant conditions.