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Inntoene Festival: Diersbach, Austria, June 10-12, 2011

Inntoene Festival: Diersbach, Austria, June 10-12, 2011

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Inntoene Festival 2011
Diersbach, Austria
June 10-12, 2011
I overheard a conversation at the Inntoene Festival in Austria. In a mock-incredulous tone, one New York musician was asking another:
"Straight up. You're telling me. That this whole farm place. Is owned. By a trombonist?!"
Cue laughter and the gentlest of fist pumps.

That statement does have its slight inaccuracies, but they shouldn't be allowed to spoil what is not just a good story, but a truly remarkable one. Paul Zauner, the director of the Inntoene Festival—whose family own the pig farm at which the Inntoene Festival is held—is, indeed, a trombonist. He lived in the US for a while in the late 1980s and played with George Adams and David Murray. But he is also the proprietor of a record label which has produced many gems—see the selection of two below—and over ten years he has developed a concept for a festival which may be unique in the world.

How does the Inntoene concept work?

Zauner " refuses to play the big names game," said one observer. He mixes a very few familiar names—last year he had Hugh Masekela and Gregory Porter—with the unfamiliar. This year the festival was packed, even without the lure of familiar names—perhaps the best-known internationally was guitarist John Abercrombie—which implies an audience firmly entrenched in the habit of coming along with open ears, and prepared to place its trust the bold instincts of the festival programmer.

Within jazz, Zauner unearths the neglected. What had originally drawn me towards the Diersbach was a fabulous recording, from the 2009 festival, of Lenny Popkin.

Zauner unashamedly puts jazz in its logical place at the centre of a broad range of different music, and sets the standard for musicianship/musicality/quality very high, indeed. This year, he moved further than before in the direction of baroque, folk and world music, with interesting collaborations. One Austrian journalist wrote, about the 2011, Festival that Zauner may have created an entirely new genre: "polygamous music."

The audience, mostly of regulars—he doesn't need to market anymore, just enjoy the open, relaxed atmosphere—"it's just like the seventies," one couple from Germany told me with a smile. There are no VIP enclosures, no guarded areas, no burly gatekeepers preventing access. The atmosphere is one of trust, companionship and a warm welcome.

The Festival has been held in its current location on a working farm in Diersbach for the past ten years. The main stage, on which all the concerts happen, is in a huge barn with a capacity of 800 people sitting on two levels. It is a working agricultural building which also serves to store the hay in winter. There is pride in farming communities about the quality and the freshness of the food. And people weren't disappointed. One mischievous local farmer seemed to enjoy plying musicians with his home-distilled fire-water. Idiot.

The Inntoene Festival is, in fact, in its 26th season. It used to be held in various locations—one long-term devotee had a hazy memory of having heard Joe Lovano, probably in a sawmill.

Where is Diersbach?

In the Innviertel province of Upper Austria. The nearest large town to Diersbach is Passau, just over the border in Germany, 25km away. A preserved Baroque town—Schaerding is nearby, and the state capital of Linz is an hour away by train.

A few personal highlights:

Singer/pianist Davell Crawford. The virtuous circle of an audience warming to a musician, and taking him completely to their heart. At 2 15am. Unforgettable.

Any of several pianists level-checking, warming-up, getting comfortable with the Bosendorfer piano and its gentle nature—but particularly Kirk Lightsey, with Wayne Shorter's "Fee Fi Fo Fum."

Melba Joyce, digging deep for a smoky contralto timbre in "Round Midnight," and responding to the physicality of Ronnie Burrage's backbeat in "World on a String."

A surreal, can-this-really-be-happening moment. So here I am in an Austrian barn, listening to Japanese serpent player Chaki a Galician/Portuguese jazz-folk band.

The gentle, persuasively courtly, multi-voiced baroque splendor of XavierDiaz Latorre's guitar.

John Abercrombie's weaving of counter melodies around the Tawadros brothers.

Pure emotion from Larry Smith, whose valedictory words on the last night were close to tears: "I've had two strokes. And I've never seen anything as beautiful as this in 57 years of playing music."

Yes, Inntoene was bound to be a voyage of discovery, and so it proved.

Friday, June 10, 2011

This was the first day, but there had been a pre-opening night, the inauguration of "St Pig's Pub," an informal venue in a building which until recently had served as a pig shed.


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