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ENJOY JAZZ International Festival for Jazz and More 2017

Henning Bolte By

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ENJOY JAZZ International Festival for Jazz and More
Heidelberg/Mannheim/Ludwigshafen
October 17-20, 2017

During fall Enjoy Jazz is the common thread running through the urban Rhine-Neckar-region in southwestern Germany. Unlike the fast-forward conveyor belt of musical acts whizzing past usually experienced at many jazz festivals, Enjoy Jazz covers a period of six weeks in October and November and takes place in five cities in two German federal states (Baden- Württemberg and Rhineland Palatinate) and more than 20 venues. The main hubs are the university city of Heidelberg on the river Neckar, the headquarters of the festival, and the twin cities of Mannheim, on the right bank of the Rhine, and Ludwigshafen (left bank), a main part of the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Area with a population of some 2.4 million people.

Considering the festival's long duration, a fraction of the multitude of concerts has to be chosen to report on. The chosen slice offered a rich palette of diversity: a group of a well-known Berlin drummer digging into electronic turbulences, a Brazilian—Portuguese guitar-vocal duo, a Norwegian pianist with a meditative solo-recital in a special concert place, an Austrian-American quintet in a rococo theatre, and a female Japanese pianist from Amsterdam playing Armenian music collaborating with a modern dance company from Germany. Two of the five concerts took place in industrial town Ludwigshafen, another two in Mannheim, a city of a rich cultural heritage and architecture and one in the small town of Schwetzingen in the neighborhood of Mannheim and Heidelberg:

Eric Schaefer & The Shredz (Ludwigshafen, Das Haus)—October 17, 2017
Egberto Gismonti & Maria João (Ludwigshafen, Das Haus)—October 18, 2017
Bugge Wesseltoft (Mannheim, Engelhorn department store)—October 19, 2017
Wolfgang Muthspiel Quintet (Schwetzingen, Rococo Theater)—October 20, 2017
Keiko Shichijo / La_Trottier Dance Ciollective (Mannheim, EinTanzHaus)—October 20, 2017

Shredding

Drummer Eric Schaefer, known from his role in Germany's first order piano trios of Michael Wollny and Joachim Kühn as well as from cult band Johnny La Marmara (with Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima and American bassist Chris Dahlgren), is a genre and style provoking musician extracting and conflating elements from quite divergent musical fields to create his very own edgy brew. He himself calls it the game of playfully reassembling and reintegrating heterogeneous elements from popular music in order to tell his own story. His latest excursion is a new German-Japanese group with legendary clarinetist Kazutoki Umezu, koto-player Naoka Kikuchi and bassist John Eckhardt, that recently released the album Kyoto, Mon Amour.

The Shredz unites Schaefer with trumpeter John-Dennis Renken_tp, keyboarder Volker Meitz and bassist John Eckhardt. The instrumental line-up and dynamics seem to have some similarities with the groups of Nils Petter Molvaer but the differences appear to be much bigger at second sight. Volker Meitz is an amiable playful tinkerer of his own sound worlds, John-Dennis Renken is a versatile trumpet-voice coordinating/balancing acoustic and electronic sound in solid, strong ways. Bassist John Eckhardt revealed as the rumbling man of straight and strong deployment (nicht kleckern, sondern klotzen) loving to work to the max. He was the one to take people up and beyond.

Bandleader Schaefer is keen on roller-coaster maneuvers, sudden turnabouts and accelerations. At times the four voices even circled like a ufo-quadrille. Through the concert well-built tension and release curves ran, peaking especially in "Bliss," the title piece of The Shredz' latest album. During the concert the compositional outline of pieces functioned as a ramp to launch from and to navigate, to weave a lively, moment-specific narrative from. The group was in close concordance with the dedicated audience in Das Haus, the Ludwigshafen venue. For me personally the shredding could have been a bit more shreddy. The group concluded with a great dub-reggae inflected piece "Nietzsche in Disguise" and an understated "Lohengrin" (after Richard Wagner) as encore (see slide show).

Graceful

Legendary vocalist Maria João still sings the softest and most joyous high notes (I know of) and guitarist/pianist Egberto Gismonti still has this nurturing and cherishing treatment of every tone he releases. For João every fiber is voice and joy, voyce or joice, her performance is curving movements and bright eyes' shine, it's dancing like a graceful puppet on a vocal string. Gismonti has a more inwards directed and concentrated temper. He uses different antennae in the interplay between interior and exterior -witness also his rich work of the past with amongst others the late Naná Vasconcelos, work that returned reshaped in the duo with João. Just the light tension of difference in temperament gave the concert an extra thrill and special quality. The way rhythm lead into melody (Gismonti), mood into temperature (João), breathing into inner fire and color, was breathtaking, highly captivating, deeply affecting body and soul of listeners.

Absent for a while from festivals and bigger stages in Europe, it is a huge pleasure to have both back in this promising new combination. In fact they split the sold-out concert up into several parts starting with a short solo-recital by Gismonti on 12-string guitar, then a duo part, a piano-solo part, and finally a conclusion in duo. They created space for each other together—a wonderful re-entry!

Angelic

Bugge Wesseltoft is a highly stimulating musician usually ready for unusual things. Being a regular at Enjoy Jazz this year's edition brought him to a truly extraordinary place to play piano. In Norway jazz musicians do lunch concerts at various company's offices but Enjoy Jazz even carried it further by collaborating with Mannheim's inner city grand department store Engelhorn. It seemed a match made in heaven: Bugge bringing his new Angel program to Angel's horn (Engelhorn)! Wesseltoft just released his newest solo-album entitled Everybody Loves Angels. More about this work you can find in my review at All About Jazz.

A lot of people will know Bugge Wesseltoft from his album It's Snowing On My Piano (1997), the best-selling record of the German ACT label. Enough people are familiar also with his New Conception of Jazz. It came with a new, all female version last year. Nonetheless, nobody could really know or predict what would touch the ears this night at the (sold-out) fashion department of the store with its glass-dominated architecture. Wesseltoft grabbed the concentrated attention and focus of the audience from the very first moment, and maintained the same high level right up to the end. The audience's concentration was as striking as the music happening. It became a fascinating quiet passage along a wonderful dispersion of the known and unknown. In this modus operandi it above all became an enchanting, memorable deep experience of beguiling lightness.

During the revealing and platitude-free public talk after the concert with Rainer Kern, the artistic director of the festival, Wesseltoft offered a surprising explanation for the long-standing popularity of Norwegian music in Germany worth considering. He not only emphasized the creative recourse to personal roots, but also pointed out that Norwegian music was strongly influenced by music from Germany in the past. So, Norwegian musicians/music give(s) something back, perhaps filling a gap created by the unhappy course of German history. German listeners might feel unencumbered identifying with and enjoying Norwegian rootsyness. The main point here, however, is that there exists a lot of -overt and hidden—interrelatedness and constant reshaping, especially in the fluid art of music. This also threw an interesting light on his re-creation of 'known' songs. According to Wesseltoft, there is no division of good and bad music. There are only good and less good interpretations/re-creations. The key is the way of listening and its implementation when playing music.

Rococo

"Rising Grace," the title piece of Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel's latest album with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade, is an ear worm tune shining on the horizon -a piece of music that can be spun endlessly. Muthspiel was the festival's choice for another special place, the famous rococo castle of the small town of Schwetzingen near the Mannheim-Ludwigshafen-Heidelberg urbanity. Schwetzingen has a name through its renowned classical festival, the Schwetzinger Festspiele connected also to SWR radio residing in Baden-Baden. The Muthspiel appearance marked the start of a new, closer collaboration of the local Schwetzingen jazz organization with its big brother Enjoy Jazz. Considering the number of visitors from outside, it definitely put weight in the balance in relation to the classical festival.

Muthspiel appeared with a different (first class) line-up at the splendid rococo theater of Schwetzingen as part of the largest rococo garden in Europe. It comprised trumpeter Ralph Alessi, pianist Jon Cowherd, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Eric Harland. The music had a vibe and flow different from the recording, the unit was less close with each other and relying more on the interaction of group work and outstanding stepping out solo work. It was different but adequate and satisfying for the pleasurable context.

Mind-expanding earthy lightness

The second performance of the night, a collaboration of Amsterdam based Japanese pianist Keiko Shichijo and La_Trottier Dance Collective led by Canadian choreographer Eric Trottier, brought the visitor to another extraordinary place, EinTanzHaus, a just opened dance venue in the Trinitatis church in the inner city of Mannheim. The church, significantly situated in the Alphornstrasse 28, is a post war (1959) modern church building (protected) perfectly suitable for dance events and concerts.

The central piece of the music and dance performance—the roles were switched since the dancers 'accompanied' the music—was the "Six Dances" cycle composed in 1906 in Paris by Soghomon Soghomonian aka Komitas Vardapet (1869- 1935), the most important Armenian composer. This program was a continuation of a longer Komitas-line in the program of Enjoy Jazz Festival. Earlier editions presented music of Komitas in concerts of Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensembe, of cellist Anja Lechner and pianist Francois Couturier, as well as guitarist Marc Sinan. Such a further reaching line in the programming can be considered remarkable, especially in the case of Komitas. Komitas is still too often put (away) in the folk or world music corner, whereas he should be considered an important composer and ethnomusicologist anticipating the work of Bartók and Kodály.

Keiko Shichijo, a specialist of fortepiano repertoire as well as avant-garde music, discovered Komitas when she was involved in a project with the music of Paul Motian, the legendary American-Armenian jazz drummer (connected a.o. to Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano) initiated by the author as part of Amsterdam.Pianolab. In the wake of the Paul Motian project she connected to Levon Eskenian, the director of the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble (several albums on ECM) and dived deeper into Komitas' music as well as the music of Tigran Mansurian and Alan Hovhaness that strongly resonated and spoke to her. The triggering key for this program was her recent recording of the "Six Dances" (astonishingly released on the label of the vocalist of Dutch punk-group The Ex).

Shichijo started her performance by introducing attuning steps conjuring up an atmosphere to carry and project the sound of the music and the movements of the dancers. She improvised with piano preparations, played shorter pieces by contemporary Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian and a piece of American-Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness (born Alan Vaness Chakmakjian, also with Japanese ties) and gave some short explanations about Komitas. Shichijo's alternation of seriousness and charming spontaneity had infectious effects. Mischievously she announced a 30 seconds etude, "Toghik" by Komitas as upbeat to the performance of the dances.

Her approach and interpretation were remarkable: the well-grounded, forceful rendering of the rhythmical side of the music, as well as the thrilling dynamics with retarding and release, contrasts, tensions and voicing of lower and higher components. All these elements strongly fostered the movements of the highly engaged six (!) dancers Michelle Cheung, Julie Pécard, Jonas Frey, Evandro Pedroni, Joseph Simon and Nora Vladiguerov, their curving, turning, struggling, surrender and acceptance in permanent spontaneous reconfiguring. The tension interplay of earthiness and celestial ether run through both, musical sounds and spontaneously emerging and orchestrated movements. It was a remarkable, enthralling and mind- expanding experience, a meaningful multidisciplinary enterprise, a fruitful meeting at crossroads. It could raise awareness for cultural traits and variants of minimal music, for the power and shaping of what we call 'repetition.'

Quality and challenge sell

As stated earlier only a fraction of the multitude of concerts could be reported on. The headings of the sections 'shredding—graceful—angelic—rococo—mind-expanding earthy lightness' indicate a rich and meaningful diversity of well-sold concerts with a deeper cohesion and strong local connection, as well as regional connectivity. The three special locations reported on speak for themselves. The last event at the modern dance venue -also connected to the Urban Thinkers Campus, a United Nations initiative -shows what a richly branched and lively firing network like that of artistic director Rainer Kern can effectuate and achieve.

Note on the drawings in the slideshow: the slideshow contains DrawNotes, non-edited drawings spontaneously made in real time during a musical performance.

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