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Enjoy Jazz Festival 2014


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Enjoy Jazz Festival
Heidelberg, Mannheim, Ludwigshafen, Germany
October 2 -November 15, 2014

Here are the festival numbers: 80 shows in almost seven weeks on 25 stages, performed by 250 musicians from 35 countries. Beyond the numbers there are many names: quite a few well known, a fair amount of established artists and—in a refreshing proportion-newcomers. True to its motto "festival for jazz and other such things," Enjoy Jazz carried out a gender cross section featuring musicians of the most diverse origins and orientations in a true musical celebration. Jazz was pigmented by ethno, electronics were joined by classic instruments, hip-hop was played along with acid folk, and dark jazz in wide array of instrumental combinations. This year's edition main focus was—no longer a secret—the trio. And, just to add another number, 15 powerful shows have been performed by trios in a generous profusion of convivial musicality and inventiveness. The notes below are not the highlights bearing the reputed names of Jan Garbarek, Gregory Porter, Manu Katche, Tord Gustavsen, and Youn Sun Nah but a more down to earth approach to performances, which today define to large extent the concept of New Music.

Lisa Simone and her trio—Herve Samb, guitar, Reggie Washington, bass, Sonny Troupe, drums -opened the first night of the festival with a sparkling show, combining in fair measures entertainment with dramatism, dance with acting, and song with recitative. The vocalist, who years ago had served on the Rhein Main Air Base, returned for the first time to Germany to perform a single concert in the opulent Convention Center of Heidelberg with pieces from the album All Is Well (Laborie Jazz, 2014). The beautiful orchestration carrying a tradition leading back to gospel, soul, R&B, and Broadway magnified the supple voice dynamics, opening up in the high notes while preserving the full impact of attack and acuity of the low registers.

Simone's charming stage presence was enhanced by the vibrant coloring of her voice, the richness of register, and the accurate emotional fine-tuning. The piece "The Child in Me," a ballad or the missing mother dedicated to Nina Simone, opened with a sensuous rhythmicity on lingering chord glides marked by soft accents, to carry on as a whispered reversed lullaby. The voice moved from the throat to head position to emerge warmer and more powerful like the stony peak of a mountain covered in silky moss. "Autumn Leaves" developed into a voice-guitar dialogue with the clear climbing riffs descending in full resplendent chords.

In "Don't Want You to Go," a song dedicated to Simone's daughter, the smooth phrasing of the voice was joined by the instruments emerging into a finely dosed fusion of mixed metrics and skilfully-timed breaks. The show closed with Leonard Cohen's piece "Susanne" in a funk arrangement with a Caribbean touch, which was easing the melancholy without altering the dramatic impact of the theme.

Sebastian Gramss' project "Thinking of ..." conceived as a tribute to bassist Stefano Scodanibbio, was following a documentary about Charlie Haden, closing thus a day dedicated in its entirety to departed bass players. Sebastian Gramss brought on the stage 12 fellow musicians who performed a vibrant double bass show with the themes emerging out of the dense fabric of rhythmical interaction.

A quartet started the evening performing along the lines of a classical chords-quartet, developing gradually into an abstract improvisation along the lines of the aleatory music tradition. Later on a resonant legato crystalized into a single sonic flux, a unison in high chords, moving into the jazz register and becoming a wistful theme of remembrance.

The band in full count started with a deep vibrato reaching overtone intensity. Gramss' singular instrumental voice rose in zesty interaction with the background, as the harmonic core traveled from right to left, traversing the scene as in a regular Dolby effect.

Later on the 12 instruments conducted by Gramss forged together an intense sound conglomerate with isolated peaks, which were carrying forth the dynamics, covering the rhythmical section with hand percussion on the wood carcass or bow beats on the chords. Melodic nuclei, opening like large white flowers, were attacked by energetic pizzicatos, which disintegrating the sheer sonic fabric into flakes of sound that were sliding back into the basic harmony. The wind through the trees became a bee swarm growing menacingly, reaching a high glissando and ebbing out into a long resonant silence.

The Scandinavian avant-jazz group Atomic -Fredrik Ljungkvist, sax, clarinet; Magnus Broo, trumpet; Håvard Wiik, piano; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, bass; Hans Hulbækmo, drums—couldn't have come up with a better band name. "Atomic" is the most appropriate description for the explosive show the musicians brought to the Karlstorbahnhof (Carol's Gate Station) club in Heidelberg. With a strong free jazz predisposition based on a solid Afro-American background, the five distinct musical entities created a many-layered sound fabric fuelled by an implosive groove with symphonic quality.

From the start, the band launched a furious intro ramifying right away into compact harmonic structures set free by the rhythmical energy generated by breaks and free accents, and escalated by the unexpected changes of mood. The well-integrated melodic inserts resulting from the brisk interaction of the brass section were graciously framed by the enveloping bass presence.

True architects of musical tension, the musicians combined intuitive synergy with in a highly intelligent playing into a performance of transporting intensity. The trumpet in conjunction with the sax or the clarinet moved in fluid abstractness, the solos becoming most of the time perfectly fused duos. The piano classical touches with abstract excurses into free jazz were aptly complemented by the drum work merging together in a complex rhythmical entity.

The Swedish Christmas carol transformed by Fredrik Ljungkvist into blues rendered a comfortable feeling of being inside the music, a cerebral approach with the emotions held on the backburner, a suspended meditations transferred to the present by an abrupt stop, through the apt insertion of a break -the rhythmical brand of the crew.

With their recently released album Inner Earth (Hubro, 2014), the Nordic band Møster brought to the Alte Feuerwache (Old Firehouse) in Mannheim a grave post-rock show with dark tones ebbing into brief intervals of solemn lyricism. With Kjetil Moester}} on sax amplified through a bass PA, Hans Magnus Ryan on guitar, Nikolai Eilertsen on bass and Kenneth Kapstad on drums, the evening started with "Descending Into the Crater" in dark sax breaths sliding expectantly through the minor registers.

The long narrative intro was joined by the guitar in heavy rock tones with vague touches of blues. The muddy, aeruginous texture of the sax sounds rose like a warning siren to rejoin the ascendant guitar slides in apocalyptical gravity. The downfalls then mounted again into a menacing agglomeration, reaching a tensional apex upon which the theme was picked up as a liberating passage to jazz modes. "A giant descending towards the center of the world with tears in his eyes" was the way Kjetil Moster described the next piece. In it a droning sound mass was tamed by serial oscillatory glides backed by the intricate drum rolling -rhythmical backdrop made of minute elaborate constructions.

The duo Lucian Ban, piano and Mat Maneri, viola, playing pieces from Transylvanian Concert (ECM, 2013) and Elevation (Sunnyside, 2013) made the proof of a successful "reversed osmosis" in which the Transylvania born Ban adopted a stylized manner of interpretation with excurses into blues and gospel, while Maneri switched to Romanian modes, which he played with remarkable sensitiveness.

The piano assumed the rhythmical part, in sober dry resonance with a minimalistic economy on the keys. A straightforward, cerebral approach, in confluence with the sweeping viola chords. The inner tonal dynamics moved toward free astringent tones and raw harmonies that render the silence at the end melodious. The lyrical pieces, reminded of Chopin studies, alternated the introspective theme with intervals of expectation opening the soundscape to smooth scalar wanderings.

In the essentialized interpretation of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," the stylized theme on isolate viola chords was reduced to its harmonic core, while the piano was decomposing of the chords on fluent legatos, navigating around the theme in sober gyrations.

Pianist Nikolas Anadolis' trio, with Simon Tailleu on bass and Jonas Burgwinkel on drums, brought to Heidelberg that warm, unsophisticated congruity of sound and rhythm characteristic to well played jazz.

Anadolos multi-facetious melodiousness generated a musical scheme that combined mozartesque substructures with the entertaining sonority of stylized standards and the floating dreaminess of dissipated sounds. The clear and well-aired intervals grew into volatile waltzes, heightening the pace into well-tempered grooves or frantic improvisations.

Enveloped in the fluid smoothness of the bass, the drums developed a parallel well-integrated dimension. In right adjustment of mood the distinct instrumental voices, moved along in the right gradation of timing and melodiousness creating a persistent musical halo.

The Australian trio The Necks with Chris Abrahams on piano, Lloyd Swanton on bass and Tony Buck on drums perform for 25 years a music that reminds one of the spatial sound effect obtained by sliding a finger on the rim of a glass, with the difference that here the spatiality unfolds unexpected dimensions. There is no telling what territory of consciousness these three musicians will touch and expand each time they are playing live.

As soon as the piano opened the landscape with wide tides of sound loaded with submerse sensitiveness, the musicians and the audience alike closed their eyes to embark on a hypnotic journey. The bass took the lead on a golden road out in the open, while the high touches of cymbals tempered the dream with a lassitude that doesn't fear silence. The bow crescent vibratos unified the drums stride with the increasing melodiousness of the piano part resulting in a finely tensioned continuum. An ebb and tide with orange scintillation of the high noon, that lets you see fata morganas and hear distant voices. The growing tension was powered by deep resonating bass chords in conjunction with the solid bass drum beat in a vibrant, dark augmentation opening up like a blue crack in a tight cloudy mass.

The minimalist insistence of the piano became the inner pulse of a living organism, diminishing like the purple sun setting as the sea breeze starts fondling the foliage. The bass tide took the land away carrying with it translucent heights of blue and green, crests of foamy white and wide breaths that make time lose its dimension. The full triangular melodiousness of the drum announced in rising tones the birth of a new day.

The British band Polar BearSebastian Rochford, drums; Mark Lockheart, sax; Pete Wareham, tenor sax; Tom Herbert, bass; Leafcutter John , laptop & controllers, -playing mainly pieces from the recent album suggestively named In Each and Everyone lent to the evening the rhythm of the heart in a continuous pulse of alternating rhythmical modules developed in concentric outrushes by the porous sax tones and the deep bass reverberations.

The themes -all composed by drummer Seb Rochford -moved on nervously, but not lacking a tinge of humor, into more abstract tonalities with the sturdy sax lines ebbing in an alerting poly-rhythmical cadence, backed by sampled harmonies and the hip-hop bass/drum groove patterns.

In "Sometimes" the sax dialogue created large sound estuaries of increasing groove and a permanent transposing of voices. The minimalist drum sampling picked up by the bass transferred the theme to the sax voices, which poured out remote Oriental hues washing over the green hills in translucent flurries of mist.

John Kameel Farah's piano and electronics recital took place in the Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkirche) of Heidelberg, among high Gothic columns gleaming in darkened red and green. His show, a vibrant intertexture of pre-classical tonalities with the solid bass drum sustenance and highly reflexive windings, rose into spheres of pure musicality descending then in white tone fulgurations.

The electronically augmented Renaissance and classical themes were perforated by abrupt sequences of drum and bass interventions -reminding of a hand organ accompanying the perpetual rotation on the clay figures in a tower where time stood still -alternating with recurrent lyrical passages, which were opening unexpected chromatic perspectives.

The Arabic instrument quanun brought in a deep fuzzy Oriental timber reverberating with harpsichord sonorities as it took on the pre-classical roundness to turn into circular inter-resonating waves, which attained the apotheotic richness of a church organ. The rising of a classical theme pierced by diffuse dark imagery and isolated solar outbursts became a dense "mixtum compositum" of Ravel themes, Mussorgsky hints, canon alliterations and programmed sonic progression in which music was playing itself.

The trio Jacob Karlzon, piano, synths & programming; Hans Andersson, bass; Robert Mehmet Sinan Ikiz, drums, featured mainly themes from Shine (ACT, 2014) released last summer, in a lively show with smooth changes of register, where the piano fortes were solidly sustained by the drum breaks and the subtly processed sound.

A suave theme unfolding on the finely nuanced piano windings, with a long resonating last note, reminded of the airy touches of a wing, flying up into the blue, sustained by a strong, grounding bass presence. The effect was that of a summer rain with stormy downpours of the drum bursts; of leaves dancing in the wind as they float upward, attracted by the airy piano whirls, and return to the ground with the full emotional impact of the strong attack on the keys. The rolling jangle effect on the hi-hat was reaching the compactness of a harmonic phalanx backed the smooth yet forceful bass glides.

Manu Katche's quartet with Luca Aquino, trumpet; Tore Brunborg, sax, and Jimmy Watson, piano and Hammond B3, flowed from beginning to end with the lightness of a thing well done. The generous spatiality of the meaty drum work provided the soundscape with on-going inner propulsion. Later on, the smooth enveloping sonic substance emanated by the drums counterbalanced the half-suspended, melodic escalations of the trumpet.

The Hammond in conjunction with the bass drum created a persistent double-bass hallo thus rounding up the high-pitched accents of the winds in an imaginative interplay with the trumpet tones leading out in the open backed by the sax low overtones.

The harmonic drive developed into sophisticated tonal congruencies, as the flowing organ themes were glided by the sax key note into a dense, more sober stance. The ripples on the toms, paced by the bass drum, formed an organic balance with the trumpet and sax double lines. It was as if once again Katché's was illustrating his musical credo, expressed not long ago in an AAJ interview: "playing with others does not only mean doing your thing at the drums, but also becoming part of a whole."

On the last day of October Nik Baertsch brought to the futuristic building of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, the Mobile Extended project presenting the show Spiral Space—A Four Hour Music Ritual" and giving thus a new meaning to the concept of ambient. Along with Mobile -Nik Baertsch, piano, arrangements; Sha, bass clarinet; Kaspar Rast, drums, and Nicolas Stocker, percussion, the project featured a string quintet, the chamber ensemble Mobile Extended -Etienne Abelin, violin; Ola Sendecka, violin; David Schnee, violin; Solme Hong, cello; Ambrosius Huber, cello.

The show -during which the audience could walk around the architectural structure shaped as a double helix, and experience the sound change of texture on different levels -included light and room design provided by Daniel Eaton. Nik Bärtsch' promise -"Music, visuals, architecture and a scientific context will combine to hopefully create a cosmic experience."—was accomplished. Upon accessing the high double spiral curves and crossing the bridges bathed in blue and purple while the pulsing, purely acoustic groove was ever changing the impact angle, the experience acquired full interstellar quality.

It started with a brush on the toms, a hint of a beat on the bass drum until the spirits quieted and the audience realized that the trip had begun. The rhythm gained substance and the silence became instilled with sound in times of long-lasting resonances. The mono-tonal hum of the strings amplified by the roll of the drums created a tense expectation. Then it became a trill, a throb with the piano joining in to finally transform rhythm into song.

The bass clarinet and the drums engaged in a dark groove pouring the resonances into a relentless track that carried along an incandescent sonic magma leaving behind fuming traces. The dream had begun. With oriental bells, on deep chords, the scintillating grove was breaking all dams and overflowing the sonic space with semi-submerse windings in a timeless progression.

Along the over imposed spheres of purple and blue, on suspended translucent bridges, in dark corners of meditation or in the open agora, the acoustics was perpetually generating new depth and attack angles, creating thus new orbits where sound, light and form fused in a suspended moment of music which lasted for four full hours.

The trio Tria Lingvo made up of Johannes Lemke, sax; Andre Nendza, double bass, and Christoph Hillmann, drums, garrahand & framedrum, as well as Sebastian Sternal and Claudius Valk, in a piano/sax duo, are the winners of the New German Jazz Award 2013. The ensemble brought to the Old Firehouse in Mannheim two sets of solid jazz spiced up with a good dose of playfulness and humor.

Tria Lingvo started the show with an Oriental theme, on well-structured instrumental lines with the bass following the soprano sinuous sax fugues, and the cymbals closing the codas. Small melodic modules with interchangeable rhythm patterns followed, first in unison then crystallized by the good propulsion of the breaks, as the bass drum controlled alertness launched its pulsing drone. The sax transposed melodically the sophisticated rhythmical structure into an intricate lacery made up of well-tuned curls that spread in the hall like melodious sound arrows.

The show of the duo Sebastian Sternal and Claudius Valk began with light tonal fulgurations on the sax, and a well-balanced rhythmical sustenance on the piano. The white heights of sax followed by icy breaks and unexpected melodic modules were mounting again into abstract like the loose leaves floating in the late autumn wind. Cole Porter's theme "You do something to me" set off a new harmonic spatiality, which alternated the theme with inspired rhythmical inserts provided by percussion on the piano strings. Two different melodical worlds were thus united by the inner balance of the piece. As black and white sound interferences echoed and reverberated, the flowery themes were flowing out, into the wide field of improvisation to return again enriched.

Branford Marsalis -Branford Marsalis, sax; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, double bass; Justin Faulkner, drums—brought to the Stadthalle in Heidelberg one of the most consistent show of the festival. The group's only show in Germany distilled the blues and gospel tradition along with contemporary jazz to come up with an essence that can only be described as jazz at its best.

The fulminant start with "The Mighty Sword" moved right on from the smoothness of the theme to swing full tilt, powered by the electrifying drum work. With transporting fluidity, the sax part -a single sound flow in golden inflections and rhythmical swirls—acted as a self-igniting mechanism, exact yet warm, sensuous and expansive, lyrical and masculine.

A dark theme on the piano, delicately transposing the sound into pearly successions, mouthed into a free tune, played with conceptual nervousness, opening up in abstract fields that left enough room for dream and nostalgia. The clockwork exactness of the performance sustained by the remarkable presence of the drums was endowed with the right amount of emotion in order to create an enticing effect of pure jazz pouring down into the gold and red velvet auditorium of the Stadthalle in Heidelberg.

Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" closed the show on a smooth gentle groove with the sax circumscribing the theme as in a pastel painting that unified the contours of the sounds without diluting them. Music was ebbing and flowing like the sea under the moon as the slow pace of a caravan was vanishing beyond the horizon.

The German saxophonist Alexandra Lehmler, recently awarded the Regional Jazz Award Baden-Wuerttemberg, brought together a handful of most prolific European musicians: Franck Tortiller on vibraphone; Herbert Joos on trumpet; Matthias Debuson double bass, and The Bad PlusEthan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, double bass; David King, drum -brought to the Old Firehouse in Mannheim their most recent album Inevitable Western (Masterworks, 2014). With renewed freshness the trio attuned the large rhythm and melodic fluctuations to the vertical dynamics of each piece in a powerful show of perfectly controlled inner balance.

The piano followed the rhythmical dilatations of the bass/drum with a tensioned dashing of semi-tones flowing like a white curtain billowing in the morning wind. Complete switches of tonality, brought about a polyphonic effect of symphonic fullness, in which rock sonorities were strangely associated with classical structures.

The bass took over the central role connecting the piano and the drums in a conceptual interplay infused with a fair dose of romanticism. The semi-tonal transpositions and rhythm alternations had the effect of superimposed images, which appear and fade away, replacing one another imperceptibly. Towards the end of the show the piece "Inevitable Western" was washing in like a roller that rushes and retires leaving behind deep patterns in the sand, and the foamy top of the waves.

The high-powered show of the trio Arild Andersen on double bass and electronics, together with Paolo Vinaccia on drums and percussion, and Tommy Smith on sax and shakuhachi flute reminded of beautifully colored pieces of the same melodic puzzle, falling together again into an ever renascent picture of sheer musicality.

Although playing no harmony instruments, the musicians created the elating dynamics of a natural sound environment characterized by the right dosage of expressive grace and instrumental power. Arild Andersen, wearing red sneakers, was the undisputed soloist of the show. The articulated fullness of the double bass permeated the performance with the right amount of pure melodiousness bearing a keen rhythmical edge.

Featuring mostly titles from the album Mira, (ECM< 2014) the trio's tightly-knit performance reminded one, if needed, that the musical interaction of the jazz musicians in action is a most inspiring way of listening. A theme on the bass with sampled wails was taken over by the sax in a warm, enveloping tone, calm like the soaring flight of a three-color kite at high noon or a swim late at dawn in a throbbing sea of gold. The drums, in constant dialogue with the bass enhanced the show with the special sense of spatiality that defines a fully accomplished show.

The closing gala was hosted by pianist Michael Wollny, artist in residence at the previous Enjoy Jazz edition, who performed the first set together with Kutsi Erguner, on nay. The piano intro set in a contemplative mood with a strong classical background, which joined by the nay opened a spiritual dimension calling forth old traditions, and languorous intervals of respite and dreaminess. An ancient story told in deep modal resonances, joining the piano to create an open imagistic world.

The immediate impact on the piano keys and the airflow of the reed flute merged into a flux that carried away the heritage of two world cultures in a vibrant synthesis. Chopin like etudes with growing harmony and spaced timings were joined in by the generous nay responses bringing in at first the lulling sea breeze and later on the whizzing wind of the desert. Wide sand ripples, burned earth, and the tall motionless sun—a rarefied atmosphere of a solitary song uniting the endless space of our origins.

The saxophonist Marius Nesset joined Wollny in the second set, on a more conceptual approach with a certain distancing from the melodic core of the pieces. Nesset's impetuous technicality marked by lyrical inlays was circumnavigating the theme with augmented tone grading met by the minimalistic piano crescendos. The piano's detached acuity created an atmosphere of solitude, suggesting a lonesome tree, out in the cold rain that was falling over the opulent Jugendstil hall in Heidelberg, as the 16th edition of Enjoy Jazz Festival was coming to an end.

Photo credit: Markus Kaesler


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