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Berlin Jazzfest 2017

Henning Bolte By

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The last festival day opened with the traditional, fully sold-out concert at (Kaiser-Wilhelm-)Memorial Church at Kurfürstendamm, place of last year's terror attack (19 December) at the Christmas market around the church. Kit Downs opening with his organ phantasies built a richly layered, moving soundscape with regular dark, whispering undercurrents. He built unseizable tension that gradually ascended to a brightening point, giving space to the seven vocalists of the Trondheim Voices. Contrary to what could have been concluded from the program text, it was no collaborative thing like last year's concert.

The seven vocalists of Trondheim Voices differ from other vocal groups in various ways. They improvise collectively in real-time creation, don't work in fixed positions on stage, but move in different configurations (circles, rows) through the performance space and use a special electronic device that allows every vocalist to loop and shape their vocal sounds related to the other voices, and let their sound migrate through space as well as to control light. The evocated sounds are live regulated by the group's eighth member, sound design maestro Asle Karstad. In Berlin they presented their music dressed in a futuristic abstraction of traditional costume dresses, an outfit newly designed by Henrik Vibskov, the Danish designer/musician who also worked with Björk. The unity of technology, art and tradition, and the special Trondheim signature/trademark can be clearly recognized here.

To relate freely to six other free individual voices and proceed in an open as well coordinated collaboration is quite a challenge, every time. The Trondheim Voices work with and on the rich qualities of the human voice, gradually distil lines from it and give shape to emerging contours. In their captivating performance that lasted 25 minutes, they proceeded, step by step, to clear outcomes. They kept tension and pleasure of involved listening to finally arrive at a natural catharsis.

The first concert of the evening program was of anopen improvisational caliber similar to that of the Trondheim Voices. Artist in residence Tyshawn Sorey did a conduction in the spirit of the legendary inventor of that approach, Lawrence 'Butch' Morris, with a 20-piece-gathering of musicians from the Berlin scene(s). In a conduction a musical piece is created with a real-time performance as a result of indications/directives used by a conducting musician and musicians' responses with their instruments. The musicians contribute from within space and direction the conduction cues opens or demands.

The conducting musician wishes to create a full-fledged piece of music in/through the performance. (S)he can only achieve that through the creative flow of the responding musicians. Which doors/ways are opened and which stay closed or undiscovered? These are crucial elements in conductions. It was a good decision of Tyshawn Sorey to make this part of his residency program and bring it to the main stage.

The audience of the packed hall appreciated his conduction. It visibly enjoyed the dynamics, turns, textures and transitions, the open and wondrous process-side. Conduction put a lot of issues on the table in a highly attractive, stimulating way. A closer inspection and evaluation of its parts and aspects would be interesting, but goes beyond this review.

There could not have been a greater contrast between this and the two units that followed: a quintet and a 16-piece-orchestra, especially the contrast with the highly polished renditions of Monk pieces by John Beasley's MONK'estra extended by a few European musicians as Johannes Lauer, Joris Roelofs and Till Bronner a.o.. That unit was surely not the most evident and thrilling choice.

Last year the festival concluded with the bright, splendid apotheosis of Eve Risser's White Desert Orchestra throwing open all windows to new bustling stuff coming from a younger generation. This year the doors were shut discretely. It is in the character of Richard Williams to leave it with generosity and trust to his successor(s). From now on the aegis of Nadin Deventer will take its course.

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