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ELBJazz Festival 2013: Hamburg, Germany, May 24-25, 2013

ELBJazz Festival 2013: Hamburg, Germany, May 24-25, 2013
John Kelman By

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ELBJazz Festival
Hamburg, Germany
May 24-25, 2013
Attending a multitude of festivals each year, there's always the challenge of finding the hook—the thing that makes a festival different from any other. When it comes to Hamburg's ELBJazz Festival, now only in its fourth year, it's easy. A harbor town on the Elbe River, located just 70 miles from the North Sea and with over 10 million containers passing through its port each year, the idea of holding a festival that doesn't just take advantage of its proximity to a harbor front but, instead, utilizes that harbor front by putting performance venues outside in the shipyards where ships are being built—as well as in a fish market that is used as an auction point for incoming catches from the North Sea—is the kind of unique concept that has made it a go-to destination for jazz fans, and attracted upwards of 15,000 people across its two-day run.

The brainchild of Tina Heine, ELBJazz couldn't be a success on the strength of location alone, but with a program that truly provided something for everyone—from left-of-center acts like guitarist Mary Halvorson, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach to more accessible acts like singer/pianist Jamie Cullum, saxophonist Joshua Redman and Caravan Palace—ELBJazz has, in just four short years, made a name for itself on the international jazz festivals scene.

Arriving to an unusually cold and rainy Hamburg two days before the festival, there was also an opportunity to attend the 2013 Echo Jazz Awards: a televised, glitzy award ceremony that, under the ECHO umbrella, which also has annual shows for pop and classical music (ECHO Jazz being in its fourth year this year, just like ELBJazz), it was certainly done in style. There was a red carpet where the jazz stars arrived for photographs and a couple of intrepid fans who had pictures of literally every artist arriving in an alphabetized file folder, running up to them as they went to enter the building to get them signed. It's hard to know how much a signed photo of Joshua Redman will command on the market, but watch out for it on eBay; who knows?

Performances by Cullum, Redman, German group [em] and others made it barely tolerable for the press, which was not given seating in the hall, but rather a tent outside the Fischauktionshalle, where a small (no more than 32") widescreen television and speakers allowed journalists to watch the event in the comfort of 8 degrees Celsius (and dropping) temperatures, as well as the chance to take a photo of the award winners, who came to the tent after receiving their awards. Well, at least it was dry, as outside the rain was coming down, which it did for all but one of this five-day stay. Journalists were invited inside to the after-party, where it was possible to meet German winners like pianist Florian Weber, pianist Michael Wollny (of [em]) and guitarist Giovanni Weiss, as well as Americans including saxophonist Kenny Garrett and Benin-born/US-based guitarist Lionel Loueke.

With ACT winning the Label of the Year award, there was a noticeable absence of artists from Germany's ECM Records on the list; while the award-winners for Echo Jazz 2013 were certainly deserving—one, in particular, being violinist Adam Baldych—it seemed odd that the 44 year-old label was completely unrepresented. And perhaps that was one of the signs that the award show was, while advertised as completely open—where artists can submit their work for consideration by a jury—it certainly appeared heavily weighted in certain areas, with others almost totally absent. And if it was difficult to follow the program—which was (understandably) almost entirely in German—it was still, somehow, a ceremony that may well be a great thing in its recognition of jazz as an art form as deserving of this kind of attention as any other, but could stand to be a little less posh and a little more raw and edgy.

Throughout the three days of the ELBJazz Festival, it was a wonderful treat to be taken around the city, courtesy of the city, to not just see the typical tourist sites, but to get a real feel for everything from urban living in the heart of Hamburg and the history of its port industry to a look at one of its most impressive, opulent churches, the huge lake in the middle of the city—created centuries ago by damming the Elbe River and now a lovely, body of water, surrounded by lush greenery and flowers, perfect for jogging, walking your dog, or just looking around and appreciating some of the city's most impressive (and expensive) mansions, many of them former consulates but now private homes. All the more impressive is the fact that this lake is so large that the entire country of Monaco could fit into it.

Chapter Index
Hamburg, a Harbor City in Transition
ELBJazz: An Introduction
ELBJazz Day 1: Joshua Redman/Jason Lindner/Jakob Bro
ELBJazz Day 2: Trilok Gurtu/Nils Petter Molvær/Jan Bang Punkt Live Remix

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