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Jazzahead! 2015

Jazzahead! 2015
Henning Bolte By

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Jazzahead! Conference
Bremen, Germany
April 23-26, 2015

Ten years ago nobody would have dared to claim that the city of Bremen, situated in the north-western part of federal Germany, would stand as the place to be for jazz professionals, but it has become a matter of fact. Bremen IS definitely the place to be. The 'free' city, with a longstanding Hanseatic merchant tradition, has accomplished just that with steady, unswerving determination and dedication. The Hanseatic League, a merchant network in Northern Europe, dates back to the 13th century and 'free' means that Bremen has succeeded to keep an autonomous state and still does so today. The 10th edition of Jazzahead! stood firm and still has a growing perspective as a music-related fair event.

Jazzahead! is

During the ten years since Jazzahead!'s 2006 start, this event has grown rapidly and developed into the biggest and broadest meeting place for all kinds of professionals in the jazz field, from Europe and also increasingly from overseas. The 10th edition brought 929 exhibiting companies and 3,010 industry attendees from 55 countries, an increase of 31%. The musical portion offered 110 concerts: 40 showcases plus 70 concerts at 27 Bremen area venues on the Club Night Saturday. This year's 16,000 concert visitors outnumbered previous years' figures by far. The concerts attracted 16,000 concert visitors, an increase here too.

Rising demand was accommodated by moving to hall 7 of the fair conglomerate, situated at the head of the Bürgerweide area, near the old slaughterhouse. It now offers one contiguous exhibition space on the same level with two big adjacent concert halls, 7.1 and 7.2 . This new location is not only more spacious in the exhibition area, but also makes it easier to move between showcase venues. As a result, the Schlachthof venue was no longer overcrowded, as it had been in recent years. It was more comfortable and delightful to attend the showcases there. Unfortunately, the great set-up and equipment offered by the new exhibition space and two concert spaces went hand in hand with acoustics that will need to be improved in the years to come.

What is this thing called Jazzahead! and what are participants doing there? First and foremost, Jazzahead! is a fair, with exhibitors from 55 countries: individual musicians/groups, music collectives, record labels, booking agencies, festivals, jazz organizations, etc.. It is the triarchy of suppliers, intermediaries, and customers/audience.

You can meet so many people there that minds are buzzing constantly, from breakfast until deep into the night. For instance, a festival director will have talks with booking agencies to learn about touring schedules at least two years ahead, exchange plans and ideas, get in contact with colleagues about joint actions, etc. Organizations like the Europe Jazz Network or the German Bundeskonferenz Jazz have their meetings here, whilst checking out musician showcases or talking with them at fair hall booths. The event enables attendants to speed-connect with people and results in creating shortcuts. There are also a lot of panels and demonstration sessions to attend, and then you have the daily showcases; the real music thread of the festival, starting with a special program realized by partner country France, a German program, a pan-European program and a program with showcases from overseas. All this is augmented by a Club Night on Saturday, which spread over 27 venues in the urban area of Bremen. So a lot of musicians and groups will be mentioned in subsequent parts, contextualized as well as possible and/or provided with links to more detailed information.

Watching the Jazzahead! event, it seems (all at the same time): highly structured and channelled, chaotic, governed by secret rules, target-oriented, planned, accidental. In fact, it's a constantly readjusted, personal/functional mixture of those elements. The viability and vitality of the event is nourished by that. Another important element is close coordination of the organization with relevant European partners and with partners abroad during the planning phase of every year's edition. It is manifested in the international juries for the showcases and an annually changing partner country. After Spain, Turkey, Israel and Denmark in previous years, this year's partner country was France. Switzerland will be the partner country next year. The partner country program lasts two weeks and spans a variety of cultural disciplines such as concerts, literature readings, film screenings, exhibitions, art projects, and lots more.

France, Partner Country

France succeeded Denmark as partner country this year. Being the partner country is not only a big thing during the four days of the fair; the city of Bremen took a chance, and together with Institut Français Bremen, decided to run a broader cultural program, "Accents Français," during two weeks in April. This cultural week comprised music related movies, literature and exhibitions, amongst others a Camus exhibition, an exhibition dedicated to jazz trumpeter and writer Boris Vian and an exhibition on Laurent Garnier, an important character in the ground-breaking French electro scene.

The French organizations facilitated not only the showcases and participation of French musicians. The showcasing musicians, as well as other participating musicians, were paid decently for their concerts. France brought/presented additional concerts and special nights in addition to the French showcase program. Trumpeter Eric Truffaz's group opened the cultural weeks on April 9, and a gala concert was held at Bremen's most prestigious concert hall, Die Glocke, during the April 25th club night with performances of the Vincent Peirani Quintet and The New Musette Quartet of Richard Galliano, featuring guitarist Sylvain Luc. Additionally, France presented a Sacem Night (Friday), a Creole Jazz Night (Saturday) and a night with the Collision Collective (Saturday). Sacem is a non-profit, collective management society run by musicians, composers, and publishers. The Sacem Night presented the quartets of two young and upcoming female musicians, trumpeter Airelle Besson, and pianist Raphaële Atlan. Creole Jazz Night brought Meddy Cerville's Tropical Storm from Réunion (situated in the Indian Ocean) and Jowee Omicil + Bash Band, a Haitian group. Collision Collective is a musical exchange created by several French musician collectives related to concert series and festivals. The collective brought five bands to Bremen performing in one venue, Spedition, during the club night: So-Lo-Lo, Petite Vengeance, Polymorphie, Pulsar, Helved Rüm.

This brief description shows that France is a fairly organized country. That becomes still more evident when you look at the "Jazz En France—French Jazz Directory": a guide of 626 pages, produced with the support of the Ministry of Culture (DGCA) and IRMA (Centre d'information et de ressources pour les musiques actuelles). Under the subsequent headings you will find an abundance of information: artists/agents, festivals/venues/contests, media/publishers, photo/film, labels, education/research, organizations. The guide comprises 3000 musicians/groups, 60 musical collectives, 160 labels, 40 music contests, 110 journalists, 80 radio stations, 2300 schools, 170 agents and producers, 600 festivals, 300 associations, as well as 800 venues.

The Jazzahead! organization offers a series of useful facilities and possibilities to the partner country. Musicians of Jazzahead!'s featured partner country can register as co-exhibitors at the partner country stand, which enables them to benefit from all the advantages an exhibitor registration has to offer: the opportunity to submit a showcase application, listings in the print and online participants indexes, access to the contact details of all registered participants, and the chance to schedule meetings prior to the event. The guest country stand is an umbrella stand at the Jazzahead! trade fair, serving as contact point for French jazz musicians, festival organizers, club promoters, agents and bookers or other official institutions.

French Night

For the opening French Night, an international jury selected eight showcases. The configurations in order of appearance were:

Vincent Peirani/Emile Parisien, Orchestre National De Jazz (ONJ), Sylvain Rifflet Alphabet Quartet, Théo Ceccaldi Trio, Donkey Monkey, Henri Texier Hope Quartet, Papanosh, Thomas de Pourquery Supersonic.

Two duos, a string trio, two quartets, one quintet, and two large ensembles, one of them the prestigious National Jazz Orchestra, a longstanding French institution. This is an ensemble with a strictly limited working term, changing leadership and, for every working period, new members as well. The current installation, under the leadership of guitarist Olivier Benoit, is a bit atypical because it also had a couple of well-established names among its ten members, including bassist Bruno Chevillon, drummer Eric Echampard and pianist Sophie Agnel in addition to highly impressive and promising talents like saxophonist Alexandra Grimal and violinist Théo Ceccaldi. No vocalists were involved in the selection of the French Night (besides the singing of the instrumentalists in the show of Thomas de Pourquery Supersonic).

A more detailed description of all showcases would go beyond the scope of this article, which is therefore confined to some clues through a few qualifying keywords that can lead to the video recordings of the respective showcases. The videos will be available on the French-German television station ARTE TV and on the Jazzahead! website during the next five months. It's a very useful tool for readers as well as future Jazzahead! applicants to get a thorough impression.

Shows with immediate and uninhibited fireworks were the performances of ONJ and the string trio of Ceccaldi. ONJ tends to the grand gesture and a big sound. Ceccaldi, who is also a member of ONJ, has this Paganini attitude when playing. It is reinforced by the abruptness and jump cuts of the music his trio is playing. He is one of the fastest growing young French musicians getting involved in more and more enterprises. The Peirani/Parisien duo is one of the most embraced and successful acts of this moment. Its music is full of creative turns on evergreens. French musette is the regional playground they indulge their virtuosity on. Thomas de Pourquery, described as "one of the most prolific and eccentric saxophonist from the current French free jazz scene," brought together musicians from various fields (jazz, electro, rock, drum & bass) to create and celebrate a new amalgam of music inspired by Sun Ra. With high energy and restless drive, he and his musicians play games with various historical styles, tongue in cheek, sometimes over the top but always getting back on the ground at the last fraction of a second, right in time. It seems a bit too much at certain moments, but that's just what launches the soul to another place in space. It has a sense of drama, energy, it's funky fun. During the After Show in the basement of the Schlachthof, Pourquery proved that he can go even further into dark, roaring and throbbing realms full of grippingly deep pulse. Papanosh, a promising, up and coming group, is a good example of young musicians who have deeply absorbed traditions and melted them into something fresh, original, and captivating. The group, with an intense mutual attention and interchange, convincingly succeeded in casting the raw substance of the jazz tradition into the here-and-now of our present times. They sounded 'wham!' from the first second of playing. Another band of similar characteristics, although different stylistics, was Sylvain Rifflet's Alphabet Quartet. Rifflet, a new name for listeners outside France, merges rock and repetitive minimal patterns with Asian colorings. The combination of Joce Mieniel's versatile flute playing, Phil Gordiani's electric guitar, and Benjamin Flament's metallophonic percussion yields a highly appealing, unique sound. As a saxophonist and leader, Rifflet is a skilled economical configurator of the group's gratifying originality.

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