Though jazz doesn't sell the albums it used to, it remains popular as a live art form, particularly in the festival format and especially in Europe. What has been somewhat distressing, however, is that most European festivals feel the need to bring over American artists as major draws instead of highlighting the region's own impressive talent.
Not so for the inaugural year of the European Jazz Jamboree, a compelling new festival in Berlin organized by Jazzwerkstatt Records (see label profile
). Label owner Ulli Blobel, once a concert promoter in 1980s East Germany, put together a festival that illuminates a fascinating cross-section of the modern European jazz scene.
The European Jazz Jamboree took place in various venues around Berlin from Sept. 18th-24th; this correspondent was able to catch only the middle three days, with no disrespect to German reedplayer Gebhard Ullmann, who played both the day before arrival (The Clarinet Trio with Jorgen Kupke and Michael Thieke) and the two days after departure (Ullmann's Ta Lam 11 Plays Charles Mingus).
The first stop was Jazzwerkstatt's new retail shop in the Charlottenburg section of Berlin for a solo set by acoustic guitarist Uwe Kropinski, who proved a hard musician to classify with forays into classical technique, avant-garde musings, folk-like thematic material and even vocalizing and percussive effects. Next up was a trip to the beautiful Kammermusiksaal der Berliner Philharmonie, an architecturally stunning, if not necessarily good for jazz, room. There, a double bill was presented that was certainly strange and sadly not well-attended: The Parco Della Musica Jazz Orchestra led by Maurizio Giammarco and vocalists Georgie Fame and Uschi Bruning backed by the Alan Skidmore Quartet.
The 19-piece Italian ensemble was making its first Berlin appearance and seemed tentative at the onset. The material was written by various members of the group and ran the gamut from spunky grooves to shades of Mingus to Continental Latin. The textural arrangements never exceeded 10 minutes but included nice solo turns, especially from the leader's various saxophones. Towards the end of the set, the Orchestra became looser with energetic contributions from drummer Pietro Iodice. The set that followed began with English saxophonist Alan Skidmore's quartet playing an instrumental version of Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." as a warmup. Skidmore has left behind his avant-garde playing from the '60s to devote himself to the work and style of Coltrane but has an appealingly bluesy rasp along with a strong young rhythm section. When Fame became involved, it was to the detriment of Skidmore, who could have easily carried an entire set himself, though he used his solo spaces to good advantage. Fame is an older British rhythm and blues singer who is hard to take for long periods. There was much posturing, and the collaboration frankly felt anachronistic, particularly Fame's exhortational chanting of Skidmore's name.
Soon, it became apparent that It was necessary for your correspondent to leave the show early for a longish S-Bahn ride to Schlot Jazzclub for the eagerly anticipated Clarinet Total. Schlot is a cozy little venue that seems to discourage walk-in traffic by being located down several dark alleys off a main street. There clarinetist Theo Jorgensmann played a lengthy set in duo with bassist Hagen Stuedemann, before inviting several guests, clarinetists of all stripesWolfgang Schmidtke, Rudi Mahall, Michel Pilz, Ernst Deuker, along with drummer Michael Grienerfor some impromptu collaborations.
Jorgensmann and Stuedemann began their performance with two long improvisations (both over 20 minutes), the first slow and mysterious with Jorgensmann swirling around both musically and physically on his clarinet. The second was more minimalist, relying on arco bass and heavy clarinet overtones, a slightly-too-long exploration of extended technique. An apocalyptic seven-minute solo clarinet piece was next, followed by a solo exposition by Stuedemann and then a final duo. Jorgensmann and Stuedemann then ceded the stage to the clarinet quartet, which played a 20-minute improvisation that featured less melodic and motific development than chaotic examination of the low register in solo, duo and full group configurations. Jorgensmann and Stuedemann then returned with drummer Griener in tow for a 12-minute finale. As the rest of the band left the stage, elder statesman Pilz, possibly the first jazz musician to play solely bass clarinet, led the rhythm section for a dark-toned encore.