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Enjoy Jazz 2019

Henning Bolte By

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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.

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Jazz Near Mannheim
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