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Enjoy Jazz 2016

John Kelman By

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2016 Enjoy Jazz Festival
Heidelberg, Mannheim & Ludwigshafen, Germany
October 24-November 1, 2016

Returning to Heidelberg and the Enjoy Jazz Festival after a three-year absence is still more than a bit like returning to a second home. Not just the same hotel (the ever-charming Hollander Hof, along the Neckar River by an old footbridge), which has not only managed to retain most of its staff from 2009-13, but still remembers and assigns the same hotel room each and every year (a lovely room facing the river and the bridge). And while the Enjoy Jazz staff has experienced a large turnover in staff, it's commitment to delivering the broadest, most attractive program possible across this year's six-week run, along with its treatment of invited guests, remains as superb as ever.

The festival's core premise remains intact. Yes, most festivals which program multiple concerts each evening may be a good way to squeeze in a lot of music over a short timeframe, but with many festival goers already moving on to the next show as soon as the last one is over, there's rarely the opportunity to really reflect upon—and truly appreciate—the show just seen...or, truthfully, to enjoy it as much as it might have been, had it been a standalone event. And so, when festival director Rainer Kern put the festival together 18 years ago, its main philosophy was, rather than running for a shorter period and squeezing a lot of shows into that time, to only program one show per night, and run for a far longer period—as much as eight weeks, though this year's edition ran for just under six.

By not streaming multiple shows on the same night, Enjoy Jazz's core premise also allows—rather than putting the shows into nearby venues (so festival-goers can easily and quickly move from one show to the next)—the festival to take advantage of the numerous venues that exist in the greater region that includes Heidelberg, Mannheim and Ludwigshafen, with venues ranging from small bars where shoehorning 100 people in is a challenge, to larger concert venues that can accommodate as many as 3,500 people.

The result is a festival largely designed for the region's residents, as even choosing to attend the festival for a week means only seeing, at most, seven shows, rendering it generally less regularly visited by international media. Still, Enjoy Jazz does receive international coverage, in particular at All About Jazz, where it has been regularly reviewed since 2009, when the festival's four-day festival-within-a-festival event celebrating ECM Records' 40th Anniversary may have been the initial draw...but after covering eleven days that year, which also included a two-day Punkt Festival in Mannheim, the festival became a regular destination until 2014, when ill health put the kibosh on returning to the event for two years, making this year's return visit—the first since 2013—a most welcome and appreciated opportunity.

Other than being a shorter run than past years, the 2016 Enjoy Jazz Festival was as exceptional and, yes, enjoyable as it has been since that first visit in 2009, though the same challenge existed as with every year: when to go, since the festival runs for five-to-six weeks and the programming is so consistently good? The only yardstick that can be used to decide is to choose a timeframe that contains performances by: (a) familiar artists; (b) known artists either never before seen with a particular lineup; and (c) artists who may be unknown but who look intriguing on paper.

In this case, the chance to hear the quartet responsible for ECM's most appealing Amores Pasados (2015), label mate/pianist Julia Hulsmann (this year's SWR-Jazzpreis award recipient), bassist Dave Holland's latest project, Aziza (Dare2, 2016), saxophonist/flautist Charles Lloyd's current quartet and Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer's recording and touring group of the past couple years were all good reasons to select the week chosen. Add a chance to revisit one of the region's more popular players, Thomas Siffling, in a completely different, more electrified and groove-heavy context than that heard in his duo with guitarist Claus Boesser Ferrari a few years back, and keyboardist John Kameel Farah—a previously unfamiliar name but, after his exceptional solo performance in a Heidelberg church, one that will now be followed closely—and it made for a terrific week of music.

Amores Pasados
Heiliggeistkirche Heidelberg
Heidelberg, Germany
October 24, 2016

Named after its 2015 ECM Records debut, Amores Pasados—featuring tenor John Potter (Hilliard Ensemble, The Dowland Project) alongside Trio Mediaeval soprano and Hardanger fiddler Anna Maria Friman and lutenists Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman—this contemporary chamber quartet managed to be both born of antiquity and, at the same time, thoroughly contemporary.

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