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Enjoy Jazz 2019

Enjoy Jazz 2019

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Alte Feuerwache and other venues
Enjoy Jazz And More
Mannheim, Heidelberg, Ludwigshafen, Germany
October 27—November 1, 15-16, 2019

Enjoy Jazz And More this year lead me through two sections of its seven-week concert-series in October/November, with a great diversity of concerts ranging from seasoned German clarinet master Rolf Kuhn to advanced electronic wizardry and the archaic magics of Greek-New Zealand-Italian configuration Rewa to Bigband Jazz, to the wide inner landscapes and floating epic interzones of eminent Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou.

Offerings, range and routes

During the fall Enjoy Jazz is a major well-established event running through the industrial metropolitan Rhine-Neckar-region (2, 4 million inhabitants) in southwestern Germany. It stretches over a period of seven weeks in October and November with one and sometimes two or even three concerts daily. It entails a complex network of local and regional cooperation. Each concert is special and can be enjoyed and celebrated in its own right. This set-up clearly entails a different way of making choices and experiencing music, which has consequences for the programming, too. Generally speaking, the festival is characterized by a splendid diversity of coexisting facets of directions in jazz and neighboring kinds of music. Enjoy Jazz rests on a coalition of people from different societal areas that not only share a strong conviction that creativity, arts and culture are key factors for the productivity, stability and innovative potential of society but also distinguish themselves by their readiness to act on it.

This year's edition offered a rich, flexible diversity with a couple of special focusses and red threads. Jan Bang acted as artist in residence with four concerts. There was the 50-years ECM-focus with an exposition and seven concerts: the Carla Bley Trio as opening concert of the festival and concerts by the Yonathan Avishai Trio, Marcin Wasilewski Trio, Maciej Obara Quartet, the group of Peter Bruun, the drummer of Django Bates Trio, pianist Tord Gustavsen and the final concert of the festival with the ensemble of Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou. There was a Polish focus, a Heidelberg—Montpellier collaboration and a bold and refreshing initiative of Mannheim musician Alexandra Lehmler to set up units with musicians from different European countries, in this case a unit composed of musicians from Sweden, Italy, France and Germany to play together in this and hopefully more festivals—correspondance européene: deeds to words! The musicians and groups presented came from a widespread number of regions in Europe and from overseas: there were musicians from Greece, Romania, Turkey, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Poland, Denmark, Norway, UK, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, US, Cuba, Columbia, Brazil and of course Germany.

Deep and joyful starting point

To start my attendance at Enjoy Jazz with Rolf Kühn was a deliberate choice and an eagerly awaited occasion to see this living legend in full flight. A nonagenarian now, Rolf Kühn is one of the few deeply dedicated and affectionate jazz clarinetists of the older generation sticking to (t)his single instrument through his entire long career. He IS his instrument, which could be sensed strongly in his concert at Alte Feuerwache (former station of the fire brigade) in Mannheim. What made it so precious was his deep identification and joy with his instrument's colors and the rhythmical sophistication and intensity of his playing.

This goes together with his sense of drama and humor, his ability to build up suspense, and his qualities as a bandleader. That he played pieces that highlighted the strengths of the clarinet, from balladeering to Ellingtonian junglesque runs, and a rendition of Billy Strayhorn's "Take the A Trane" at neck-breaking tempo in the encore goes by itself. And, of course, there was a well-dosed underlying sentimental mood finely permeating all the joyful music played.

Kühn's robust quartet comprised well-known Colombian percussionist Tupac Mantilla and two Hamburg musicians, bassist Lisa Wulff and pianist Boris Netsvetaev. Mantilla showed an amazing capacity to integrate hand drumming and classical jazz drum set with rapid switches and fluent transitions between both. He also excelled in body percussion in duet with Kühn's clarinet. Wulf delivered lyrical finesse from her earthy tone and Netsvetaev made it all richly flowing. Kühn played for almost 90 minutes of full pleasure for the audience and himself. It's one of the characteristics of Enjoy Jazz to make this happen in a festive fashion.

Rolf Kühn, this extraordinary clarinetist and older brother of pianist Joachim Kühn, from a Leipzig family of circus artists grew into jazz shortly after WW2 under tutelage of pianist Jutta Hipp from the same city. Hipp left soon to New York to record for Blue Note. Rolf Kühn followed soon after to The Big Apple. Staying there for a couple of years he, among others, played with Benny Goodman and Billie Holiday, recorded with ((Jimmy Garrison}} and Elvin Jones, John Coltrane's rhythm section. In later years, a close musical relationship grew between both of the Kühn brothers and Ornette Coleman. While both Kühn brothers took different routes in life and music, they are still seen as a special unity in spirit and presence (there is a recent German 90-minutes documentary on the brothers by Stephan Lamb "Brüder Kühn—Zwei Musiker spielen sich frei (The Kühn Brothers—two musicians play themselves free)"—for the full-length version go here. Especially their keen sense to get (into) it, their presence and focused attention to the moment is characteristic for both of them, regardless of all differences: two unique artists with a unique life story. Joachim Kühn played a week earlier in a special duo with Archie Shepp at the Königsaal at the Heidelberg Castle.

Traveling through the realms of electronic shape shifting

Electronics is presently a wide area with a vast variety of approaches and manifestations ranging from serious new forms to abundant playgrounds. A concert without electronics will be hard to find and the number of cables, pedals, switchboards, knobs, controllers, laptops etc. is still increasing. Sounds can be manipulated, extended, distorted, loudened in multiple dimensions. Dark Star Safari and All Too Human were only two of a larger number of units heavily grounded on and in electronics. Both came from different ends and worked in different directions.

The Dark Star Safari concert was the end of a series of four concerts by/with Jan Bang as artist in residence. The series began with a live-remix of the Trondheim Voices, and continued with a concert featuring members of Ensemble Modern, one of Germany's leading contemporary music ensembles (see review here), and then a concert of a new combination of three with guitarist Eivind Aarset and drummer Anders Engen (see review here).

Dark Star Safari is a new egalitarian unit initiated by Berlin drummer Samuel Rohrer with song-driven music that emerged from extractions and reuses of recorded free improvisation. In a stepwise collaborative process, the four musicians (drummer Samuel Rohrer, sampler man Jan Bang, electric guitarist Eivind Aarset, and electronic engineman and here also keyboardist Erik Honoré) filtered, shaped and refined song-forms from it, into which were breathed life by Jan Bang's vocals and Honoré's lyrics. The stage is now for the songs learning to walk and to grow from their potential. So, we saw four feuerwache Safaristas on hot fire giving shape to the different characters of the songs. On the beating flow of the drums, they dived into a diversity of electronic frequencies coming from loops and live manipulations of sound. From deep space they masterfully conjured intermingling, emerging, expanding, shadowing, tumbling, shrinking and escaping sound waves touching to, and opening up, the orbits of the subconscious. This was the side that immediately captured and electrified the audience.

It appeared that the surprising vocal core of the pieces was received differently—from pleasureful reception, to slow immersion and surrender, to clear rejection. It took some time thus to get into the whence and whither, the oracular, menetekel character of Jan Bang's singing within shadows of memory, clouds of dreaming and silhouettes of foreboding. The most direct and powerful manifestation of this was in "Child of Folly," a masterpiece of a song with its far echoes of "Kashmir"-rock-riffs. It will be from here that the song side of DSS will be propelled, enforced and imprinted with its own character and indentation.

Quite a different affair was All Too Human of Danish drummer Peter Bruun, French electric guitarrero Marc Ducret, Danish trumpeter Kasper Tranberg and Simon Toldam on assorted vintage electr(on)ic keyboards. It came surreally tilted, was groovin' out high and cascading wildly from bleeping ants, trembling electric eels, whispering moose, lightning dragon teeth and yelling butter. It developed as continuing interplay of de-levering and straightening out with Ducretistic twangs -an enlightened escape from the burden of the Sisyphus paradox. It was reminiscent of so much experienced music from the past and resembled nothing. In short, it was a fully unsolvable musical puzzle solved with entertaining bravura. Through the interstices, a distant echo of the Kinks' "Death of a Clown" resounded. Next time, with disappearing tricks and tightrope act please!

Tonspur Lobster fishing

The night the Bujazzo Big Band concert took place, the Alte Feuerwache venue was remarkably packed with an excited and eagerly awaiting crowd. During the show it became even clearer how much the audience liked this kind of work.

Bujazzo? It stands for Bundesjugendjazzorchester, Germany's Federal Youth Jazz Orchestra—one of the lengthy composite words possible in German such as Neckardampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftsvorstandsvorsitzender, a nice puzzle to sort out. The Federal Youth Jazz Orchestra is a German national young talent hotbed of the German Music Council. For a long period (1987-2006) it functioned under the direction of famous German brass-man Peter Herbolzheimer (trombone) (1935 (Bucharest)-2010 (Cologne)) and is now in hands of saxophonist Nils Klein (1978), teacher at the Cologne conservatory. The orchestra is open for young talent under 24 years old and membership is for two years. It offers a varied musical and business coaching program. German top musicians such as pianist Michael Wollny, pianist Julia Hulsmann and trumpeter Till Bronner all went through that school.

The current program of the ensemble presented is a program on the occasion of 100 years Bauhaus, the groundbreaking art school and stylistic revolution in architecture, visual arts and performing arts residing in the city of Weimar. The distinguished teachers who worked there included Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Oskar Schlemmer, to name but a few.

The interdisciplinary project of the Bujazzo Big Band worked on assorted silent movie work, documentaries, advertising spots, early forms of cartoon movies, fabricated by pioneering Bauhaus school members as László Moholy-Nagy, Walter Ruttmann and Lotte Reiniger. Established musicians and composers were commissioned to write music for the Big Band and the vocalists of the Bujazzo to play live to the screening of this old film material. The film material has been archived by the George Eastman Museum in Rochester (USA) and has been made available for this project:

Trombonist Ansgar Striepens: "Excelsior" (Walter Ruttmann), "Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens" (Lotte Reiniger), "Das Geheimnis der Marquise" (Lotte Reiniger), vibraphonist Christopher Dell: "Lichtspiel" (László Moholy-Nagy), reed-man Gebhard Ullmann: "Berliner Stillleben" (László Moholy-Nagy), Bill Dobbins: "Marseille Vieux Port" (László Moholy-Nagy), pianist Julia Hülsmann: "Großstadt-Zigeuner" (László Moholy-Nagy) and saxophonist Niels Klein: "Lobster" (László Moholy-Nagy)

The heterogeneous cinematic material chosen was quite a challenge to set to original and supportive music. It resulted in quite a diversity of approaches, stylistic adaptations and special twists and turns. One of the best, highly functional and original, was the director's idea to let the subtitles of a documentary about lobster fishing (by László Moholy-Nagy) be sung by the vocalists of the ensemble. It created the closest entanglement between motion pictures and live music and represented a good example of form-function congruency (the 'form follows function' principle of Bauhaus). Moholy-Nagy worked with light-and-shadow structures of scrunched paper in his short film "Lichtspiele." Christopher Dell then delivered his score for "Lichtspiele" on scrunched paper, which caused distortion and deformation of the notes of his score as a stimulation for the performer. Bill Dobbins composed swinging music stylistically close to the time and scenery of the "Marseille Vieux Port" documentary (Laszlo Moholy-Nagy). It was clearly this inventive variety, which spurred on the audience's enthusiasm. There is clearly a high appreciation of Big Band Jazz by the audience, which is reflected in the festival program through the years (see also my report of 2018). Appreciation and enthusiasm were not diminished by the far from ideal way of screening the motion pictures together with such a large number of musicians on the Feuerwache-stage. It turned out quite a challenge to fine-tune big or even massive sound to vintage motion pictures.

Tonal distances, bridges, interzones and archaic magics

Three concerts are captured by these keywords of the header: the concert of British trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, the concert of the Greek-New Zealand-Italian trio Rewa comprising Tania Giannouli, Rob Thorne and Michele Rabbia and the final festive concert of this year's Enjoy Jazz at Mannheim Nationaltheater by the ensemble of Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou in the presence of ECM luminary Manfred Eicher. There were a few things in common and much more differing characteristics concerning musical language, improvisational intensity and intercultural approach.

Young trumpeter Yazz Ahmed strives to develop and realize her very own up-to-date electr(on)ic fusion version of present rhythmical and electronic concepts with Arabic influx, especially from Bahrain indigenous music. After childhood years in Bahrain, she returned with her English mother to London where she started her music making and, after some time, was to discover and explore the musical culture of her childhood. As an instrumentalist she is especially strong on flugelhorn. Her horn has an extra valve to sharpen or flatten tones. She developed her very own way to slide elegantly into, along and out of quarter-tone dimensions. Generally spoken she strives for souplesse and a modern up-to-date layered and flowing sound image, which she shapes by using clever recording techniques and electronic tools. She gradually has shaped a highly distinguished sound profile as her trademark, emphasized by the red thread of the synesthetic amplifying, fancy album cover design of Bristol-based illustrator Sophie Bass for her last two albums La Saboteuse and Polyhymnia (Ropeadope). Ahmed's discovery of the music of oudist Rabih Abou-Khalil (with a role for Kenny Wheeler in it) had its effects here on the graphic side too.

With such a richly layered and spacey recording, live playing then is a different thing, a special challenge. In Heidelberg (Karlstorbahnhof), a relatively small hall, she played a stripped down and much more direct version of her music in a line-up with Ralph Wylde on vibraphone, Dave Mannington on electric bass guitar and veteran Martin France on drums. It became a quite speedy affair in the beginning with a dominant hard electric bass sound and quite dense and loud drumming of Martin France. Later on, gradually a bit more space entered the music giving leeway to Ahmed's wonderful fluegelhorn playing where the music had some beguiling moments. Overall it was a less sophisticated but audience friendly 'rocking' approach that had enough to offer but became quite uniform and never went on real high flights.

Greek-New Zealand-Italian configuration Rewa, performing in Das Haus in Ludwigshafen, followed a different path. There were also horns—from bones and shells -and electronics, a lot of unusual percussion and a grand piano often played in its interior. And there were three musicians gathering in an open meeting, pianist Tania Giannouli from Athens, Rob Thorne from Wellington and Michele Rabbia from Paris. That concert was not a live version of a written piece of music neatly produced and recorded to induce a cosmic atmosphere and aura. It was completely improvised on the spot, created in real time in an animated ritual space to listen into and to discover, detect and find sounds of vibrating, ringing, moving, spellbound significance and generative, unfolding potential. The musicians were no high priests or adorable heroes. They were magicians waking dormant and unnoticed forces, conjuring, vivifying, imbuing, amplifying, pervading, brightening and so on. Considering music as sonic organization of time, in this case sounds found their way, organized as though it were themselves in control through the musicians as medium. For the audience in Das Haus it obviously was an unusual and astounding, fascinating happening and extraordinary experience. You could literally hear the listening and the breathing. You could sense the astonishment and curiosity of the audience and feel the spell and the catharsis when the music was over. Nothingness was not nothingness anymore. An unknown door of sounds and senses had been opened by the musicians and there was left a little secret of what enabled them to create such high degree of momentum and what allowed them to awake sounds to such wonderous life. It was free music in the sense that sounds could speak for themselves in the coordinate system of performing musicians and listeners in the audience.

Pianist and composer Tania Giannouli and Rob Thorne, who plays ancient Maori instruments, indicated as nga taongo puoro, are label mates of New Zealand label Rattle, a division of Victoria University Press in Wellington. They met two years ago in Athens and went for an improvising meeting in the studio. There they explored and fathomed intuitively common grounds of their respective musical and cultural heritage and biography. The result was the album Rewa. Rob Thorne was chosen for a showcase at last year's Womex and he regularly works with classical musicians and ensembles in his homeland and in Europe. Tania Giannouli is a composer who leads her own quintet and a new trio of piano, ud and trumpet that debuted at last year's Berlin Jazzfest.

Percussionist Michele Rabbia, originating from Torino and residing in Paris, is a well-proven percussionist in Europe of high acclaim and a cornerstone of the French as well as the Italian scene. He is a regular of the Norwegian Punkt Festival. His latest album is a collaboration with Norwegian guitar ace Eivind Aarset and Italian eminent trombonist Gianluca Petrella and was released on the ECM label. As with a couple of other remarking configurations Enjoy Jazz was the first to present the music of Rewa to the festival's dedicated audience. For him Ludwigshafen was his first time to work in this configuration.

For this year's final concert, the festival went big by inviting renowned Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou with her 17-piece ensemble to play the 1200 seat big hall of Nationaltheater Mannheim. That concert was also the apotheosis of the 50 years ECM track of the festival starting with the Carla Bley Trio as opening concert and over the seven weeks a lot more such as Yonathan Avishai Trio, Marcin Wasilewski Trio, Maciej Obara Quartet, pianist Tord Gustavsen and also drummer Peter Bruun of the Django Bates Trio. It was a statement, and festival director Rainer Kern and Matthias Brandt of the board of trustees, both in their unmistakable intimate and casual way, took the occasion to shed some light on spiritus rector extraordinaire Manfred Eicher, present at the concert. They also dwelt on the continuity of their vivid collaboration on the southern axis Heidelberg—München—a less long but strong affair for mutual benefit.

The music of Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou left a mark in the soul of many listeners from the mid-eighties on, first of all many cinephiles watching the extraordinary cinematic works of Greek director Theo Angelopoulos (1935-2012). Personally, I'll never forget the experience from 30 years ago when I heard an ensemble of Karaindrou playing Angelopoulos themes such as "Scream" and "Farewell" together with a new heartbreaking Jan Garbarek. The same applies to Karaindou's deep collaboration with violinist Kim Kashkashian.

Karaindrou's music is an all containing, absorptive kind of music shaped into an irresistible flow with fragile moments of stand-still, widening stasis and surrender to the continuing undercurrent rhythmic motion. It evokes a melancholia that seems almost timeless were there not that rhythmic flow in a vibrating space, and the alternation of nearness and remoteness. Karaindrou wakened this wondrous epical flow with her ensemble in the big concert hall of the Mannheim Nationaltheater, which immersed the audience even more.

Karaindrou has a great gift to musically create intense interzones of experience that mediate listeners' associations, moods and moving pictures. How does the passing of time sound, how does the loss of a loved one sound, how does the radiation of light sound, an unfulfillable desire or the wind of war? Karaindrou's music enables the listener to envision states and surrender to experience those at various intensities through the music. The music provides a shelter in the storm, enables to immerse in and empathize with heavy situations and go through related moods. The music offers solace, can reload confidence and hope, with which her orchestra impressively imbued the central piece of the concert, "The Waltz of Hope," a piece originally composed for the movie "The Bomb—A Love Story" by Iranian actor/cineaste Payman Maadi. Karaindrou's music is not strictly film music—as already said, it creates a mediating interzone that as a whole intensifies the access to the pictures in motion.

To make it work like that, a deeper, underlying correspondence in experiencing, feeling and seeing things is needed. It was because of that correspondence that Payman Maadi asked Karaindrou if she would like to write music. The same applies to exiled Palestinian author Wajdi Mouawad (from Canada) for his play "Tous Des Oiseaux." A Greek, a Palestinian, an Iranian! The experience of being torn by violence, civil war, expulsion, oppression, exile they share; but, also a high artistic sensibility and a high standard of artistic expression, that durable, sheltering and volatile melancholia between a laugh and tears -not lachrymose, but rather barren or dramatized.

The concert was not only offering consolation. Through its moods and the feelings, it reminded us of the core of the humane in the present battle noise and ugly shrill shouting (schrilles Geschrei) on the stage of current daily life. Lingering somewhere between the archaic and the cosmic, this music slightly chafed against the zeitgeist. It thus became an ending wavering between unrest and consolation. And what about the past that brought us and is still bringing us this kind of music... A recurse to the time of five decades ago with far reaching interventive action, change and new organization at stake, could cause double astonishment, almost disbelief and should trigger some thoughtful re-valuation from where we come and where we really are at the moment.

Photo credit: Henning Bolte

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