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Jazz Baltica 2012 Opening Night: Niendorf, Germany, June 29, 2012

Alexander J. Beissenhirtz By

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Jazz Baltica Ensemble / Stefano Bollani with the NDR Big Band
Jazz Baltica 2012
Niendorf, Germany
June 29, 2012

In the course of its 21 years of existence, Jazz Baltica has developed into one of Germany's most important jazz festivals. After a period of uncertainty about sponsors and funding in 2010 and 2011, Jazz Baltica returned in 2012 with a slightly altered concept introduced by its new artistic director, Swedish star trombonist Nils Landgren. Furthermore, the festival relocated to the town of Niendorf, a picturesque small harbor city at the Baltic Sea, situated between the cities of Hamburg and Luebeck.

Instead of presenting various international superstars as in recent years, the festival's 2012 edition was a welcome return to its roots as the majority of featured musicians (though not all) came from countries around the Baltic sea, specifically from Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Germany.

The opening night proved that the new concept worked beautifully, both musically and in terms of audience acceptance. Landgren stuck to a festival tradition by assembling an ensemble especially for this occasion, the so-called Jazz Baltica Ensemble, which opened up the festival. This leader-less group consisted of both Jazz Baltica veterans like horn-player Arkady Schilkloper (from the Moscow Art Trio) and percussionist Lisbeth Diers as well as younger players including saxophonist/flutist Charlotte Greve and bassist Eva Kruse, from the celebrated piano trio, [em]. The ensemble presented originals composed by its members that were characterized by a focus on ensemble playing and mostly shorter solos. The music drew on a variety of styles and traditions, reaching from Norwegian folklore, with Hildegunn Oeiseth's contributions on cow horn, to fiery solos from young Finnish trumpet virtuoso Verneri Pohjola that were solidly grounded in hard bop. This stylistic variety made for a highly entertaining, inspiring start of the festival which culminated in a spectacular guest appearance by Landgren on trombone.

The second set of the concert featured Italian pianist Stefano Bollani, accompanied by the NDR Big Band directed by Norwegian arranger Geir Lysne., performing music from the relatively recent Big Band! Live in Hamburg (Verve, 2011), for which Lysne rearranged some of the pianist's own solos from other recordings. The interplay between the Big Band and Bollani was stunning, especially since the pianist's improvisations, based on former solos of his own, were full of energy and fire. The Big Band's soloists—especially tenor sax veteran Christof Lauer—were equally exciting.

The first evening of Jazz Baltica 2012 marked a highly successful new beginning for the festival, making next summer in Niendorf one to anticipate.

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