Internationales Jazz Festival Münster 2017

Henning Bolte By

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Theater Münster
Münster, Germany
Internationales Jazz Festival 2017
January 6-8, 2017

Münster, city of 300,000 inhabitants, situated in the northern part of German state North Rhine-Westphalia, with 18 million inhabitants the most populous state of Germany, has an ambitious biannual jazz festival now in its 27th year. The northern part of the state with Münster as the center clearly differs from the southern North Rhine part with its old and densely populated Ruhr area and the region of Cologne, the state´s largest city. The area has produced a couple of known jazz musicians as saxophonists Ingrid Laubrock and Jan Klare, drummers Christian Marien and Eva Klesse and guitarist Eberhard Hirt. This three-day festival is held in the local theatre and organized by the cultural department of the city with the support of an organization of private sponsors. The artistic direction has been in the hands of Fritz Schmücker since the foundation of the festival, which provides for a remarkable continuity of esprit. There is a remarkable continuity of artistic direction of the festival that has been done since its foundation by. In the last ten years the festival sold out in just a few days. This also happened this year with a lineup of presenting many young new groups and lacking the usual big names: proof that courage and risk-taking with regard to programming is rewarded and pays off under supportive circumstances.

The music

The number of daily concerts increased from four concerts on Friday to six on Saturday to seven on Sunday. Performing musicians and groups came from a greater diversity of European regions: Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Morocco, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, UK and the US. My personal highlights during this festival were the Swiss-Italian-Finnish unit A NOVEL OF ANOMALY of Andreas Schaerer, Luciano Biondini, Kalle Kalima, Lucas Nigli, the Alexander Hawkins/Elaine Mitchener Quartet from the UK and the unit CIRCLES of French drummer Anne Paceo.

Highlights and Thematics 1 (Friday)

The red-hot combination of Swiss vocalist Andreas Schaerer, Italian accordionist Luciano Biondini, Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima and Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli embodied the surprising, swirling and freely crisscrossing apotheosis of the first festival day. It was defined by the class of these musicians and their driven and flexible interplay. They knew how to adapt their instruments expression to a common purpose with a high degree of spontaneity, bringing about a strong feeling of momentum—a felicitous match of temperaments, energies and signatures, and a convincing entrée.

Captivating in a different way was the reworking of Charles Mingus pieces by the Berlin trio of Silke Eberhard (alto saxophone), Nikolaus Meuser (trumpet) and Christian Marien (drums). By calling their program "I am Three," inspired by the three personality traits of Mingus according to the master's own confession, the threesome put itself in the context with its daring instrumentation. Mingus had great saxophonists (Eric Dolphy, Charlie Mariano, Jackie McLean, JR Monterose, George Adams, Charles McPherson, Wayne Shorter, Book Ervin) as well as trumpeters (Ted Curson, Johnny Coles, Jack Walrath) in his groups but the core of Mingus' music was formed by the unique dynamics of the symbiotic bass-drum tandem of Mingus and Danny Richmond. It was a real challenge to step in with this reduced instrumentation. However, the sound of Mingus' own group is only one reference point. The other one are his strong compositions rooted in a rich tradition. Alto saxophone, trumpet and drums seem a daring choice, but are in first place a choice for each other as musicians, which matters here. So Eberhard/Meuser/Marien now joined the series of Mingus reworking with Hal Willner's Weird Night Mare: Meditations on Mingus (1992) as most prominent example.

The rhythmical intensity of Mingus' music was secured by the two horns taking rhythmical functions. It was in a way a European approach formerly also applied by Django Reinhardt in his large as well as in his small groups. As a consequence now and then the threesome even sounded charmingly 'traditional' in a pre-bebop sense. Mood and melody of the pieces were secured by unison horn lines and especially by Neuser's trumpet introductions of touching beauty. A real something became the rendition of "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," which they intoned as an encore. Here even something shone through of Lester Young to whom Mingus dedicated his piece. It would have enriched the concert and kept the tension even higher had this kind of varying detour from the more sober approach appeared earlier.

British group Empirical, the festival opener, is a proven group deeply entrenched in the Afro-American jazz tradition, which the group represented sharply and clearly with a knack of its own. Its present installment with only one alto and a vibraphone as counterpart makes the group compact and coherent, but in the long run just a bit too formatted, predictable and monochrome.

Spanish pianist David Peña Dorantes and double bassist extraordinaire Renaud Garcia-Fons delivered a highly virtuosic flamenco informed performance—as expected. Garcia-Fons, from the Syrian school of François Rabbath, was the first to introduce a five string contrabass played on a high level combining stunning arco work in the high register with plugged and strumming work in the lower register in jazz, Near Eastern music and flamenco. It has since been perfected and too dominantly electrified such that it has become an immaculate but also unmoved virtuoso routine, alas lacking a feeling of emergence and momentum, let alone duende.

Highlights and Thematics 2 (Saturday)

The likewise new configuration of pianist Alexander Hawkins and vocalist extraordinaire Elaine Mitchener together with bassist Neil Charles and drummer Steve Davis appeared to be a benevolent match too, and Elaine Mitchell not less than a revelation. The four musicians let arise a heaving wave, a wave swelling and ebbing away in a close to nature's way. The extensions of the basic tune as well as a great variety of extended techniques used provided immediate enthralling and strong meaningful expressiveness in a subtle connected and connecting way. The brilliance and urgency, the openness and the irresistible inner swing of the movement captivated the audience (think-like-the-waves-approach). Consequently the group took the audience as its fifth member on a stunning many-sided sonic tour.

Mitchener unites traces of Jeanne Lee, Betty Carter, Cathy Berberian, Brigitte Fontaine, Anca Parghel and even Billie Holiday in a highly fascinating, movable and pointed way in her highly dynamic, brisk and boisterous stage action. It is so much more than just vocalizing and singing. She can switch rapidly between leading and following and always manages to take the audience with her. Outstanding moments were the internal vocal conduction through STOP—MOVE—STAY shouts that strongly drew everybody into the movement. The other astounding moment was the performance of "The List," her reciting of an endless LIST OF THINGS TO GET RID OFF on a lovely undulating groove. Bassist Neil Charles went flying, from the first moment filling the space with the sound of his mighty wings. Steve Davis acted as an enormously spacy percussionist moving the clouds and Alexander Hawkins played or juggled the balls. The musical action went beyond known limits with a lot of known and familiar tools.

Likewise convincing with great dynamics was young German drummer Eva Klesse appearing with her quartet of saxophonist Evgeny Ring, pianist Philip Frischkorn and bassist Robert Lucaciu. About Klesse's appearance at the 12Points festival in San Sebastian last summer I wrote

"Drummer Eva Klesse and her group from Leipzig shone brightly through mysterious narratives alternating whispering airy passages with dense climaxes and suspended sudden halts. In its highly inventive playing Klesse's group (...) united subtleness and compactness in a highly consistent and distinctive way." (London Jazz News)

The group started with "Klabautermann" (Ship's cobold), the strongest piece of its brand-new album Obenland (Enja). The Klabautermann is a delusion that can become very real under certain (extreme) circumstances when perception is instable and constantly changing. The piece was an example of reducing, restarting, destabilizing and disturbing the expectable progression of musical lines in a highly sophisticated way—overtly by stops and restarts but also quite imperceptibly through different kinds of detours. It created an intense tension of smooth versus disruptive. The narrative element of this specific title functioned very well as a focus and imaginational projection mechanism for the audience. It was a structure that gave Klesse wonderful opportunities alternating between her discreet steering impulses and expressionistic bursts. Something similar proved itself in "Descend and Resurface," devised by pianist Philip Frischkorn. It sounded as a far echo of two famous Adagios, the one of Albinoni (1708) and the other one of Joaquin Rodrigo from "Concierto de Aranjuez" (1939). Frischkorn and the group played their very own game with the descending line-striding in Albinoni's case or more hovering in Rodrigo's case. The quartet's piece was full of subtle turns falling in a Latin groove all of a sudden included. It was no rollercoaster of emotions, but bold and coherent leaps in a flowing line. 'Escape and Resurface' would be another apt indication for the group's game. The quartet's music was a great combination of strong tunes in a highly dynamic game with subtle turns that made the music such a big pleasure. In that respect the group's music has an attraction comparable to the music of Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick.

With respect to the latter, it was good to hear that Klesse would do a series of European concerts with well-known Finish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola as part of the 2017 Westfalen Jazz Prize won by Klesse. This prize is awarded to musicians related to the Westphalia area part of German state North Rhine-Westphalia. Klesse was presented the prize during the festival, a well-deserved award given her specific fulfillment of a drummer's role and the special coequal collaboration in the group.

Another trump of the second night was US-drummer Allison Miller with her high caliber sextet Boom Tic Boom comprising violinist Jenny Scheinman, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, reedist Jeff Lederer and bassist Todd Sickafose, the only US-American group at the festival. Allison Miller is a very present, melodically bouncing drummer with a pointed dry attack. She is the kind of drummer that can reply every other strong instrumentalist on equal level. Especially her complementarity with bassist Todd Sickafose was of special class. She led and carried the group of musicians along a rich variety of modes between which she switched effortlessly in brilliant transitions. Miller built with her group wonderful elaborations of clear themes along the usual jazz pattern of unfolding a piece. Very down to earth it was a feast full of convincing interaction, exciting variation and variety, great soloing and coherent transitions. Miller's clear signature connects and unites variety, which could be deepened further still.


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