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Burghausen Jazz Festival 2013

Burghausen Jazz Festival 2013

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Burghausen Jazz Festival
Burghausen, Germany
March 12-17, 2013
Located almost exactly halfway along the border of the province of Bavaria (located in Germany's southeast) and Austria, the town of Burghausen might seem an odd place for a jazz festival, especially one now celebrating its 44th year. But this town of just 18,000 people, located literally a stone's throw (or a quick bridge walk) away from Austria, has long been a wealthy town, thanks to the Wacker chemical company. But just as is true with oil-rich Norway, having money in no way ensures that it will be used to support the arts; thankfully, Burghausen isn't just a town rich in material goods; it's also a town with a cultural heart.

You only need walk down the town's "Street of Fame," where bronze placards embedded in the cobblestones reflect Burghausen's longstanding commitment to jazz, with inductees past and present including trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianists Teddy Wilson and Chick Corea, and this year's recipient, singer Cassandra Wilson. Clearly this is a town with a special love of jazz and it isn't afraid to show it.

What is, perhaps, surprising is that the Burghausen Jazz Festival (or, as most called it, B-Jazz) actually brings in more of its audience from outside the town than it does its locals. According to Andreas Bentlage, who handles public relations, marketing and artist liaison, "Last year we did a survey, and the result was that most of our audience comes from other towns; we had people from England, Switzerland and France; although most do come from Germany or German-speaking countries."

This year's program is heavily dominated by American artists—in addition to Wilson, artists included guitarist John Scofield and his Organic Trio; rising star singer Gregory Porter; funk-meister Larry Graham and his longstanding Graham Central Station; and the Jazz Master All Stars, a truly all-star septet with trumpeter Jon Faddis, saxophonists Nathan Davis and Benny Golson, pianist George Cables and bassist Abraham Laboriel. But that's not an intentional philosophic choice. "The concept of our festival is to have no concept," says Bentlage. "The American orientation this year is just how it worked out, quite randomly. Each member of our programming group is a fan of other bands or has a list of bands they'd like to come here, so we condense that list, check availability, fees, etc. In the beginning the list of bands is large, it becomes smaller and smaller, and suddenly we have a program."

Still, the idea of a town of 18,000 supporting a jazz festival when most towns that size in North America are lucky to have a movie theater speaks to the town's distinct nature. "B-Jazz was founded at a time when there were fewer cultural venues," says Bentlage. "Burghausen is a rich city, with a large chemical industry that pays a lot of taxes, and so the city supports what we do here, by providing funding, and correlating with that industry, we have many people here with academic backgrounds and higher level educations, so the result is a greater interest in jazz.

"It's a festival of continuity," Bentlage continues. "There's been no break in its 44 years. It was founded almost randomly; there was a jazz movie being shown in the old part of town, and two men thought, 'OK, let's do something with jazz in this city,' and it has grown from a shorter festival in a small venue to a week-long event in Wackerhalle [which seats 1,276 people]. The city contributes the most money, but it's not enough; half of our costs are covered by ticket sales, and the rest comes from the city and some private sponsorship, like the local bank. We also have a lot of things given by Wacker— like the venue [Wackerhalle], electricity, heating, firemen, parking spaces...we don't have to pay for any of this, so we also get a lot of soft dollar support."

Beyond providing a great program to its attendees—this year also including pianist Aki Takase's New Blues Project, , the Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra, saxophonist Klaus Doldinger's Passport and many others—B-Jazz sees itself as having a responsibility to cultivate jazz studies for a younger demographic and provide opportunities for up-and-coming musicians to get some real exposure. In addition to a closing day devoted to younger jazz artists, a contest is held the night before the festival's official opening concert, and five young groups compete for the opening slot the following night, which this year meant performing to a full house who'd paid to see Cassandra Wilson.

"The competition is in its fifth year," says Bentlage. "The groups apply with an anonymous CD, meaning we get it in the office and assign it a number, so that the jury receives the music without knowing who it is. Applicants cannot be older than thirty and there must be at least three members in the group, so no solo artists or duos. People can apply from anywhere; we get applications from as far away as the USA and New Zealand—today, the jazz scene is so multinational, and young people are networking increasingly around the world. The bands are given travel support and a certain amount of money for accommodations; they can choose how to get here, whether it's by train, plane or car.

"We get somewhere between 50 and 100 applicants," Bentlage continues. "The winner gets 5,000 euros in cash and an additional 10,000 euros, to be used for creative development—touring, making a CD, promotion, equipment, whatever, as long as it is used for creative development. the money comes from the city of Burghausen. We enjoy doing it because we may be small, but we're hungry for the whole world to come here."

This year's winner, Matīss Čudars Quartet, not only turned out to be a great choice that wowed the audience who'd come to hear Wilson—no mean feat, given the Latvian guitarist was absolutely nothing like Wilson's eminently accessible jazz and blues- drenched music—but it was also remarkable in that it was a unanimous choice from the panel of judges, and a decision made literally in seconds after the five groups performed—all excellent bands, according to Bentlage, but clearly Čudars had something special that was clear from the first moments of his performance.

The festival is also connected to a jazz school in the town, and during the week of B- Jazz the members of the Jazz Master All Stars, organized by trumpeter Claus Reichstaller, delivers a series of master classes to the academy's young attendees, with one lucky participant winning a chance, this year, to perform a onstage with the All Stars when the septet opened the Scofield double bill. "For more than 35 years, we've had a kind of jazz school here," says Bentlage, "and we thought it would be good to have an academic complement, so we asked Claus [Reichstaller]—he's the head of the Jazz Institute in the Munich University. We decided to found the jazz academy last year, here in Burghausen. We have three classes per year: a winter academy; the master class during our jazz week; and a summer academy that's open to other kinds of music as well as jazz."

Burghausen is a beautiful town, and home to the oldest—and, at over a kilometer in length, the largest—castle in Germany, situated on a hill overseeing the old part of town and dating back to the 13th or 14th century. In the evening, with the castle lit up, it's a truly stunning site. And with cobblestone pathways throughout the old town, restaurants serving up local cuisine, and a friendly atmosphere that makes it an inviting and enjoyable place in which to be, it's no surprise that attendance is strong and that it draws people from farther afield.

"I want to invite all the people in the world to visit Burghausen," concludes Bentlage. "It's a beautiful city, we have a great atmosphere and it's a great place to visit. We love what we do, and I think the fans and the musicians feel this. We try to do the best we can for the musicians, so that they can just concentrate on giving the best show they can. If we can do this, then we know the audience will enjoy it."

Chapter Index

March 13: Matīss Čudars Quartet / Cassandra Wilson

March 14: Jazz Masters All Stars / John Scofield Organic Trio

March 15: Larry Graham and Graham Central Station

March 16: Klaus Doldinger's Passport / Gregory Porter

March 17: Next Generation Day / Festival Wrap-Up

March 13: Matīss Čudars Quartet / Cassandra Wilson

It was hard to know who was having more fun being at Wackerhalle on the first official night of B-Jazz—the packed house there to hear singer Cassandra Wilson, or Matīss Čudars. When the Latvian guitarist took to the stage with the members of his quartet— alto saxophonist Toms Rudzinskis, double bassist Lennart Heyndels and drummer Niels Engel—the huge round of applause clearly took him aback, but if the group was nervous performing in front of such a large audience, it didn't show one bit.

Performing music from the group's recently released debut, Melancholia (Self Produced, 2012), Čudars, in particular, proved himself someone worth watching. Thoroughly engaged and engaging, the guitarist's masterful command of his instrument belied his youthful age (22), playing with the kind of maturity and tasteful restraint rare in someone so young, though he was absolutely capable of cutting loose when the music demanded. Clearly ambitious, the guitarist has already spent time at the renowned Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at The Banff Centre in beautiful Banff, Canada, situated in the eastern end of the Rocky Mountains—the annual three-week workshop whose artistic director is trumpeter Dave Douglas—and is wrapping up four years studying in Amsterdam, where he met the members of his multinational quartet.

Heyndels and Engel formed a particularly formidable rhythm team, capable of handling the demands of Čudars' writing—while richly melodic, often knottily constructed, with unexpected stops and starts, metric shifts and demanding dynamics. Both also proved themselves to be strong soloists, in particular Heyndels, whose occasional opportunities demonstrated firm yet pliant touch and tone, and an ability to navigate Čudars' changes with confidence and ease.

If there was a weak link in the group—and it was a relatively small one—it was Rudzinskis, though it was more about tone than what he was actually playing; as capable as his band mates, his sound was a tad on the thin side, and with so much robust music happening all around him, it sometimes got swallowed up. But if he can address his tone, Rudzinskis may well be someone as worthwhile to watch as the rest of the group.

While it was clearly a collective when it came to playing, this was clearly Čudars' group, both musically and visually. With a youthful enthusiasm that was never excessive, Čudars was the kind of player who commanded attention onstage; clearly having the time of his life in front of such a large audience, he made the absolute most of it, and while he seemed, at times, to be somewhat awed by the experience, when it came time to introduce the music and the band, he was confident and direct with the audience. A modernist writer whose music possesses hints of everything from guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and drummer Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band to groups like James Farm, Čudars was clearly a great pick by the B-Jazz panel of judges, and if his performance was anything to go by, then his CD will be worth checking out and he'll be worth watching; truly a young artist with a promising future.

The last time encountering Cassandra Wilson, it was a less-than-satisfying experience. Her 2009 performance at the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Ludwigshafen, Germany, suggested that her days as a groundbreaking artist were behind her, as she seemed to be resting more on her laurels than giving it out to her audience.

The good news is that with her B-Jazz appearance, that Ludwigshafen show may have been an anomaly...or, perhaps, that she needs to be more astute in her choice of band members. The group in Ludwigshafen was marred by an unnecessarily busy percussionist and a guitarist who took excessively long solos, perhaps because Wilson seemed more interested in floating around the stage than singing. All that changed in Burghausen. A tight quartet led by musical director and guitarist Brandon Ross, the group also featured a compelling soloist in violinist Charlie Burnham (who also played a little mandolin and harmonica) and a rhythm section that, grooving effortlessly and with inimitable depth, featured longtime collaborator, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and drummer John Davis—none of whom, by the way, were in the Ludwigshafen band.

It didn't start out to be a very good day for Wilson; arriving later than planned the evening before, her luggage didn't make it to Burghausen until an hour before showtime, forcing festival staff to help her find suitable clothing in town (which she did). Still, there were no signs of stress or upset when, first the band, and then the singer took to the stage, performing music from Wilson's latest album, Another Country (EOne, 2012), but dipping farther back into her catalog to touch on songs from Silver Pony (Blue Note, 2010) and one of her breakthrough recordings, New Moon Daughter (Blue Note, 1995), from which she delivered a significantly rearranged version of "Harvest Moon," after giving the audience the opportunity to choose either singer/songwriter Neil Young's tune or, from Belly of the Sun (Blue Note, 2002), the Jimmy Webb classic "Witchita Lineman."

What made Wilson's performance so much better than her Ludwigshafen show was that the singer seemed completely engaged with her band; and Burnham provided more than a few set-defining frisson moments on violin, using a wah wah pedal to great effect to give it a near-vocal timbre. With a warmer tone than usual for the instrument, he was the perfect complement to Ross, who alternated between a nylon-string guitar and steel-string frame guitar, as capable at finger-style picking of Another Country's title track as he was a more visceral, blues-centric approach on the rootsy "Saddle Up My Pony." Wilson played a little guitar too, appropriately using a red Fender Stratocaster for minor-keyed blues, "Red Guitar," though she said, at the end of the song, that it was a borrowed guitar: "It's a nice guitar, but I play a Telecaster,' she joked.

Even in Ludwigshafen, the quality of Wilson's voice was never an issue; it's just that her performance felt more like a "show" than a group of players getting together for a set of music that ranged from the Mississippi Delta to the Caribbean. Here, her rich-toned voice was as good as it's ever been, and her interpretive skills equally strong. Wilson's aversion to over-singing has always been a strength; when she does deliver the occasional bit of near-scat, it's all the stronger because it's not a huge part of her delivery.

Wilson engaged with the audience on a very personal level as well, saying how particularly nice it was to be back in Bavaria, as her first record label (JMT) was from the provincial capital, Munich. When she returned for a well-deserved encore, she'd made a comment, earlier in the set, about having to leave early the next morning, but that she needed to find a good German beer, so when one of the stage staff came out with the obligatory bouquet of flowers, another joined him with a glass of beer. Wilson took a deep sip, raised her eyes to the sky and was clearly happy. As, it was equally clear, was her audience.

March 14: Jazz Masters All Stars / John Scofield Organic Trio

With the master class still taking place at Burghausen's music school, the invited faculty for those classes gave their own master class in mainstream jazz to another packed house at Wackerhalle on Thursday, March 14.

Coming out of the gate swinging, courtesy of bassist Abraham Laboriel—a man in constant motion and having lost none of his youthful energy, despite having put on a few pounds and a lot of gray hairs over the years—and drummer Dennis Mackrel. De facto leader Claus Reichstaller was a potent force on trumpet and flugelhorn, but it was Jon Faddis who just about blew the roof off the hall with searing lines that reached up into the stratosphere, where few trumpeters are capable of going.

But Faddis wasn't all just about range; during a Latin-esque look at Clare Fischer's "Morning," he delivered a solo of near-vocal quality, an approach he used later in the set when, in an a cappella moment, he began to truly articulate like a voice with one hand on the trumpet, the other making motions that matched what he was saying through his instrument. Plenty of musicians talk about letting the music speak for themselves, but Faddis brought a whole new meaning to the idea.

With Benny Golson's soft tenor tone beautifully complemented by Nathan Davis' harder- edged tenor and soaring soprano, the two-trumpet, two-sax lineup was supported perfectly by pianist George Cables, who got plenty of solo opportunities as well. A highlight of the set came when Golson—looking like a man of 50 rather than 84—took the mike, saying, "I've a friend from New York who sends his greetings. He's a bit strange, though; his name is 'Killer Joe,'" from which the band kicked off an ambling version of one of Golson's most well-known compositions. When Golson wasn't playing, he was either cradling his horn or standing there with a big smile—always a big smile—on his face, snapping his fingers and just digging on what was going on around him. There are those who say music keeps you young, and with Mackrel the baby of the band at 51 and the rest of the band in their sixties or beyond, the Jazz Master All Stars sure made a case for it.

Laboriel was a constant stream of visual energy; always a particularly muscular player on electric bass, but more about touch than volume, his solos invariably built to fever pitch, at times engaging the audience, at other times driving Mackrel to follow his rhythmic stops and starts.

Overall, it was a set heavy on swing and straight-ahead balladry, the kind of amicable cutting contest that, back in the day, helped aspiring jazz musicians cut their teeth and get their chops. Andreas Untereiner, a young trumpeter from the week's master class, was selected to sit in with the group on an incendiary closer, Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca," and proved that, while it's not happening nearly enough, the art of mentoring is still happening in some places, and certainly in Burghausen, with B-Jazz and its now two year-old Jazz Master classes.

Guitarist John Scofield, like so many other musicians of his generation, has often got so many projects going on that there are some which never get documented. With his next album a reunion of the Überjam band responsible for Überjam (Verve, 2002) and Up All Night (Verve, 2003), it looks like his Organic Trio, with organist Larry Goldings and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, is unlikely to get recorded (at least, anytime soon) and that's a shame, if its Burghausen performance was anything to go by.

Opening with a fast, swinging blues by saxophonist Joe Henderson, it's clear that the trio, about halfway through a 22-date European tour, was already firing on all cylinders. Goldings has been an occasional collaborator with Scofield since the guitarist's 1993 recording with saxophonist Eddie Harris, Hand Jive (Blue Note), but a lot's happened for him since then, including spending the last few years on the road with James Taylor, for whom he's the singer/songwriter's musical director. His stylistic breadth is the perfect complement for Scofield, whose career has taken so many twists and turns—from "concept" records like the New Orleans-centric Piety Street (EmArcy, 2009) and more specifically jazz-centric This Meets That (EmArcy, 2007), to his large ensemble reunion with composer/arranger Vince Mendoza on 54 (EmArcy, 2010) and a most unusual ballad album A Moment's Peace (EmArcy, 2011)—that it's become almost impossible to keep track.

But the one thing upon which can always be counted is Scofield; he may shift gears regularly, but his singular voice is unmistakable, regardless of context, whether or not he employs a series of guitar effects boxes...or even if he changes guitars, as he has for this tour. When he last played at the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival with the Piety Street Band, he surprised a lot of guitarists by playing a white Fender Stratocaster almost as often as his trusty old Ibanez hollowbody electric. Here, in Burghausen, it was another white guitar, but this time a Fender Telecaster, and if this show was anything to go by, he should stick with it. Running through an equally trusty Vox AC-30 amplifier (in this case, actually his own amplifier, one he keeps in Europe, and a real rarity at a time when travel costs force most guitarists to play through amps provided by the event—hopefully the make and model they want, but oftentimes not), the added twang and grit, especially in the low end of the instrument, really suited Scofield's approach, whether he adopted a warmer, cleaner tone or dirtier, more overdriven sound.

The seven-song set ranged from choice covers, like Ray Charles' "Cryin' Time," first heard on the guitarist's That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles (Verve, 2005), to Scofield originals like "Slinky" and a new song being played for the first time that evening, "Green Pajamas." There's a reason why Scofield continues to call on Goldings—most recently on record with Scofield and drummer Jack DeJohnette in the Trio Beyond tribute to drummer Tony Williams, Saudades (ECM, 2006). Beyond being the right word for an exceptional player whose command of the Hammond B-3's broad tonal range is matched by his inimitable footwork on the pedals and modernistic approach to harmony that allows him, like Scofield, to take the music out with terrific tension, only to bring it back in at just the right time.

Hutchinson was the ideal rhythmic foil, as comfortable with a lazy, behind-the-beat backbeat as he was swinging hard or playing with delicate elegance on a balladic encore of Patty Page's hit, "The Tennessee Waltz." Ears open, he made this trio unequivocally an equilateral triangle where directional shifts could come from anyone, even though Scofield was the clear leader.

A main set-closing piece of funk gave Scofield the opportunity to push his blues-laden playing into Jimi Hendrix territory, with a riff-based piece that felt like something the iconic rock guitarist would have played with his Band of Gypsys, but with Scofield throwing in everything from reverse-attack lines to wah wah and gritty harmonics, Hendrix simply didn't possess the linguistic breadth (or, perhaps, more fairly: he didn't have the opportunity to develop one, passing away so young in 1970), and Scofield's ability to be both visceral and cerebral simultaneously made this show one of his best in recent memory.

March 15: Larry Graham and Graham Central Station

After a powerful and loud opening set from Big Sam's Funky Nation, the Wackerhalle stage was reset, with steps leading up to it, for Larry Graham and Graham Central Station. Graham was the bassist in Sly & The Family Stone in its heyday of groundbreaking appearances at Woodstock and albums like Stand! (Epic, 1969) and Dance to the Music (Epic, 1968), and considered the inventor of the funky slapping and popping technique he calls "thumping and plucking." Leaving Sly in the early '70s, he began his own group, Graham Central Station, which has managed to survive, albeit with considerable personnel changes, ever since.

Graham is promoting a new record, Raise Up (Moosicus, 2012), but surprisingly, he played very little from the album at his B-Jazz performance...not that anyone seemed to care, as the band hit the stage, with his female singer Ashling Cole (nicknamed "Biscuit") riling the audience up for Graham, who came through to the stage from the rear of the house, thumping and plucking all the while. Hitting the stage with a sextet that included, along with Cole, two keyboardists (David Council and James McKinney), guitarist Wilton Rabb and drummer Brian Braziel, Graham—turning 67 later this year—revealed absolutely no signs of slowing as he kept the energy up throughout the entire set at the pace of a twenty year-old, moving around the stage with choreographed moves and plenty of just plain burning energy.

If there was any complaint to be had, it was that, aside from Graham, whose deep baritone remains intact, the rest of the band members were good but merely average singers. Cole, in particular, had a rather shrill voice, and while the entire show, like Big Sam's, was loud, when she got a solo spot singing the Ann Peebles staple made famous by Tina Turner, "I Can't Stand the Rain," she may have hit every note, but it was the quality of her voice that, sadly, didn't really cut it—or, perhaps more accurately, cut through too much. And her schtick—moving around the stage, pointing at various members of the band and mugging for the crowd—ultimately became tiresome, while her dance moves felt stiff and unnatural, especially compared to Graham.

There was, perhaps, too much preponderance on groove and less on song—in particular it would have been great to hear Graham's kick-ass take on Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," from the new record. But none of this mattered to the crowd and that, in the final analysis, for a show like this, is the determiner of success. With much of the crowd on its feet from the start of the set, Graham brought the set to an even faster boil towards the end when he delivered a Sly & The Family Stone medley that ultimately brought a couple dozen people—including a couple of unsuspecting (and unwilling, but to no avail) journalists, who did their best to make it to the back of the crowd, only to be rewarded with some ear-shattering bass when Graham kicked in his fuzz box for "I Want to Take You Higher"—onto the stage to bring the set to a real party close.

Instrumentally, the group did what it needed to do: some searing solos from Rabb, McKinney and Council, rare but powerful spots from Braziel, who managed to keep the relentless pace throughout the set without ever lagging. But it was Graham's show, and along with one costume change (and, when removing the white coat of his first suit, revealing a sequin-studded vest), a bundle of energy and a way to engage the audience (at one point, even inviting some young musicians from the crowd to come up and play with the band—one organist, one guitarist and one bassist being especially good), it may not be a show that would stand up to repeat listens, but at the end of the day it was just plain fun...and, perhaps, that's all it was really meant to be.

March 16: Klaus Doldinger's Passport / Gregory Porter

While the festival promotes its Saturday night as the mainstream night, that's not exactly how the first act would be described. Since forming the group in the early 1970s, German saxophonist Klaus Doldinger has kept Passport a going concern, long after other successful fusion groups have disbanded and faded into the fabric of history.

Maybe it's because Passport's always been on the more accessible side of the fusion equation, strong on melody, groove and, on occasion, some harder-edged grit, that's allowed Doldinger the luxury of keeping it alive for more than 40 years. Of course there are none of the original personnel, save Doldinger himself, in Passport 2013, but the saxophonist has brought together a percussion-heavy septet—with percussionists Ernst Ströer and Biboukl Darouiche, drummer Christian Lettner, keyboardist Michael Horneck, bassist Patrick Scales and, originally from Australia, guitarist Peter O'Mara—that was as retro as it needed to be and as contemporary as it wanted to be.

Scales, who also co-leads a band with his brother, guitarist Martin Scales, has been with Passport for nearly twenty years—something of a record, but one matched by O'Mara, who moved to Munich in 1981 and since becoming a fixture on the German jazz scene. Both were in fine form at B-Jazz: Scales, a bubbling groove-meister and, during his solo spot during "Bellydance," one with a surprisingly broad command of his instrument; O'Mara largely favoring a densely overdriven, whammy bar-centric but harmonically sophisticated approach that made him the most exciting soloist of the show, overall, demonstrating that he's more than just a fusion player during his solo on "Malesh," where he quoted, amongst other things, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia." Horneck, too, turned in some fine solos, largely focused on a retro-Rhodes tone, but occasionally dipping into middle eastern tonalities. Lettner had the perhaps unenviable task of keeping the pulse moving while surrounded by a wealth of hand percussion which, for the most part, worked in concert but occasionally became a little overcrowded. But that's often the risk and, for the most part, Doldinger's clear arrangements ensured a group equally streamlined and clean.

As was Doldinger's saxophone playing. Not exactly a virtuoso, he played to his strengths and built solos predicated on melody and intensity of tone rather than furious displays of technical virtuosity. The music dipped back into Doldinger's 40 year-plus Passport repertoire, but also featured music from the group's most recent disc, Inner Blue (Warner Germany, 2011), in particular the hard-and-heavy "Mangroove." Throughout the set, Doldinger engaged the audience in a relaxed fashion, with plenty of stories and hopes to see Passport turn 50 in a little less than a decade. That he continues to work this band, which tours internationally, on a regular basis, is all the more remarkable for the nearly 77 year-old saxophonist, since his work for film and television has long since ensured a healthy income. Clearly Passport still means a lot to him and, judging from the audience's reaction, it means a lot to them too.

On the ascendancy the past couple years, first with his debut, Water (Motéma, 2010) and now with the Grammy-nominated Be Good (Motéma, 2012), singer Gregory Porter proved an interesting case of a singer who looks to be outgrowing his band. Using the same group that first came together at a small club in Brooklyn, New York, where the Los Angeles-born singer now lives, it's hard to deny the value of friendship and camaraderie in a group. Still, a singer is only as good as the band backing him/her up, and in Porter's case, he has grown so rapidly over the last couple years—touring over 200 dates per year and traveling around the globe—that while his performance at B-Jazz was nothing short of exceptional for his contribution, it was difficult not to imagine how he'd have sounded, had he a group at the same level.

Not that any of his group were particularly bad—though saxophonist Yosuke Sato could learn a thing or three about the use of space, as every solo was a constant flurry of notes and unrelenting motion across his alto's register, something not helped when Jon Faddis joined the group for a few songs and turned then into a friendly cutting contest that drove Sato to even busier (and more shrill) heights. The group was tight, no doubt about it, hitting all the marks, and supporting Porter capably and with feeling. But there was the sense, especially in songs like Porter's incendiary "1960 What?"—about the early 1960s Detroit city fires that the singer delivered with the kind of commitment that almost felt as though he'd been there—where it became clear that no matter how terrific Porter was (and he was terrific), he'd have been even more so with a band capable of a little more finesse, and a little more subtlety; sometimes its approach was just too obvious.

Irrespective of the band's shortcomings, Porter really is the new male voice in jazz, his rich, dark baritone as capable of Jon Hendricks-style scat it was more soulful delivery. On a version of cornetist Nat Adderley's "Work Song," Porter embedded another blues that gave the tune, about working in prison chain gangs, even greater gravitas. And while Porter's early days in theater have made him a seasoned performer, none of his movements, affects or actions onstage felt any less natural than the way he sang. Even his "Real Good Hands," written in response to an old girlfriend's parents' asking about his intentions, felt as honest and heartfelt as it must have when he wrote it; and it's not hard to buy into Porter really being the picture of a man "slowly coming into view," who feels that his girlfriend's father really is "the picture of the man / That I someday want to be."

Faddis was a masterful guest onstage, though even with him there were times where a little more restraint would have helped. Still, his technique is impeccable, his facility and reach one that few can parallel today. But the show truly belonged to Porter—who, after the show, was awarded the Impala Prize by Membran Media's Götz Bühler, for sales of over 40,000 units in Europe. Clearly Porter's star is on a major ascendancy, and staying on the road is translating into sales rare for even the most established jazz artists. But he's also on a cusp of even greater things, and as hard as it may be for him to first acknowledge and then act upon, his own talent has simply eclipsed that of his band. Porter has already demonstrated the capacity to become one of jazz's truly great singers; now, for the next step, he needs a band capable of putting him there.

March 17: Next Generation Day / Festival Wrap- Up

The final day of B-Jazz is devoted to a series that, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, provides an opportunity for four up-and-coming bands to play at either the 600-seat Stadtsaal or in the club atmosphere of the Jazzkeller, where pianist Kirk Lightsey's Trio led the late night jam sessions throughout the week.

But more than merely an opportunity to perform live, Next Generation is also a collaboration between Germany's Jazzthing magazine and Double Moon record label, with five groups selected each year to record and release a CD. The only prerequisites are that the group must be relatively young (thirty or under), and must not have released an album previously. Four groups are chosen to perform at B-Jazz; three at a late afternoon concert at Stadtsaal—this year, the east-meets-west trio Ek Safar, vibraphonist Sonja Huber's Quartet and singer Nils-Christopher Vögler, going under just the name Nils-Christopher—and, closing out the festival with a 9:00pm performance at the Jazzkellar, the Offshore quintet.

While time did not allow catching all four acts, the first two of the day were certainly promising. Ek Safar brings together German pianist Nicolas Schulze and clarinetist Heiner Stilz with Indian tablaist Soumitra Paul. The result—a combination of individual compositions by each of the band members, some collaborative writing and a couple of traditional Indian ragas rearranged by the group—couldn't help but bear some resemblance, texturally, to early-to-mid-period Oregon, though the music itself was nothing like the music made when guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner, reed multi- instrumentalist Paul McCandless and bassist Glen Moore were still playing with percussionist Collin Walcott and, later, Trilok Gurtu. Considerably sparer, Ek Safar's performance was heavy on lyrical content, with Paul managing to provide plenty of forward motion and bottom end near-bass, allowing Schulze, and Stilz, in particular, to hover and soar over top. Schulze occasionally reached inside the piano box to create some more percussive textures, but most often played conventionally with the keys, a surprisingly restrained and ultimately tasteful player who also laid some solid groundwork for Stilz in a set that drew heavily on its debut recording, One Journey (Double Moon, 2012)

It was a relatively quiet and tranquil set that had the occasional climactic moment, but was a nice and easy way to slip into the afternoon's schedule and lead to a more upbeat set from Swiss vibraphonist Sonja Huber's Quartet.

Huber's group has already changed considerably from the quartet that recorded its debut, William's Garden (Double Moon, 2012), in Switzerland in May, 2011. Gone were bassist Martin Wyss and drummer Daniel Bolli, replaced by Patrick Sommer and Valeria Zangger, respectively, for a set that took considerable inspiration from vibraphonist Gary Burton's quartet with guitarist Pat Metheny, though it's still early days for Huber and her group, and while the writing was engaging and the playing solid, the band could have paid a little more attention to dynamics, which were relatively flat throughout the hour-long set, making for a set that could have been great, but was simply good, instead.

That said, there's plenty of promise. Huber's use of violin bows on the vibes created wonderful resonant textures, in particular on the opening "De Chilini Prinz," and her four-mallet technique, while clearly still a work-in-progress, was impressive enough. Guitarist Matthias Siegrist, the only holdover from the recording, was also impressive as a rare guitarist of his generation not to sound like he was coming directly from the Kurt Rosenwinkel school. Both Huber and Siegrist were comfortable winding their way through the changes provided by the vibraphonist's compositions, anchored solidly by Sommer and Zangger, though it was only towards the end of the set, when the young drummer took a solo, that she began to demonstrate some much- needed fire. With writing that ranged from unerringly melodic to knottily idiosyncratic, the quartet demonstrated real potential—promise that may well be delivered upon if the quartet can work on playing with a broader dynamic range.

A noon-hour press conference earlier the same day, revealed the successes and challenges of running a world-class jazz festival in such a small town.

The good news is that the B-Jazz 2013, with more than 7,000 paying guests and over 8,000 attendees total, has broken even—the festival's goal, as it's not looking to turn a profit. With a great many people coming to the festival from places other than Burghausen, it also meant more revenue pouring into the town (and the Austrian town on the other side of the river) for hotels, restaurants and shopping.

Still, as the town's mayor explained, funding is becoming increasingly difficult. The city needs to fund a great many things, including other forms of art and sports, and while a larger center like Munich has a lot of money to go around, even a rich town like Burghausen, with Wacker a major employer, is limited. Still, with B-Jazz's 50th Anniversary six years away, the mayor was very clear that, though there may be challenges, they will make it.

While other places in the province of Bavaria get significant regional, provincial and federal funding, Burghausen gets very little; a good example being another festival cited that received 1.5 million euros over a three-year period, compared to Burghausen's allotment of just 4,000 euros from Bavaria and 6,000 euros from the region. In a way, B- Jazz's success has been to its detriment. The feeling is that if the festival can do this well, it doesn't need any additional funding; that this happens because so many of its staff are volunteers and there are no highly paid festival directors or presenters should be rewarded and not ignored. As Andreas Bentlage suggested, earlier on in the festival, B-Jazz is a labor of love for all involved, and it's that very vibe that makes it such an appealing place to visit and catch a week of world-class jazz.

But for its future, there are indeed challenges, including funding the music academy and Jazz Masters classes that take place during the week of B-Jazz. But the mayor was adamant about keeping the first-night competition, which resulted in guitarist Matīss Čudars winning his opening slot on B-Jazz's first official night and a substantial financial award.

Cassandra Wilson's name inevitably came up many times during the conference, as her appearance in Burghausen was fraught with more problems than are worth mentioning. Anger towards her was so strong in a couple instances that it was suggested her "Street of Fame" placard be removed; a voice of reason did, however, suggest that, while everyone was bitching about all the hassles surrounding her performance, they were all forgetting one thing: when she hit the stage, Wilson absolutely delivered a superb show, with a terrific band, and was so engaged, convivial and cordial with the audience that they'd never have known of all the problems that took place before and after the show. It's certainly not likely that B-Jazz will be re-inviting Wilson anytime soon, but that does not detract from the fact that she absolutely delivered when it came to what mattered most: satisfying her audience.

There are also discussions afoot of a new festival that will focus on younger artists and east-west collaborations—the kinds of things that make it easier to obtain funding from the European Union, which is simply not interested in funding American artists. It's a great idea, but only time will tell whether it's an idea that actually gets off the ground.

Meanwhile, that B-Jazz runs on such a relative shoestring—50,000 euros from the city, another 30,000 euros in soft dollar support from Wacker (primarily the 1,276-seat Wackerhalle and all that entails), and 50% of its revenue from ticket sales (reasonable, in the 50 euros range for the big names that, in effect, give audiences two bands for the price of one) shouldn't penalize the festival, when it comes to possible finding sources looking at what the town is doing. Instead, it should be noted as the accomplishment that it is and rewarded with some additional assistance.

Whether or not that will happen has yet to be seen, but with the commitment of the town and B-Jazz's staff of dedicated, hardworking people—from presenters to publicity, from stage hands to sound engineers, and from drivers to artist liaisons—will ensure that the festival continues, and while it reaches its 45th anniversary next year, there's absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that 2019 is going to be a very special year, when B-Jazz turns 50.

Photo Credit

All Photos: John Kelman


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