Jazzahead! 2018

Henning Bolte By

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Bremen Trade Fair Hall
Bremen, Germany
April 21-23, 2018

Jazzahead!, the three-day annual jazz marketplace marketplace of/for jazz in the Hanseatic city of Bremen in North-Western Germany with 3,283 participants from 61 countries stood strong and steady again this year. A total of 40 showcases over three days, and a concluding club night spread across the town is impossible to cover adequately in one report. In this article, you'll find a review mainly focused upon the showcases of musicians/groups from Germany, the German Jazz Expo.

There were four rounds of showcases in total: eight showcases with Polish musicians/groups for this year's partner country Poland during the Polish Night, sixteen showcases from all over Europe for the European Jazz Meeting, eight showcases for the German Jazz Expo, and, finally, eight showcases for the Overseas Night chosen by an international jury of mainly presenters. It is a presentation for presenters presented by presenters. Excellent videos of all showcases can be viewed In the media library of Jazzahead!.

The club-night runs parallel with the Overseas Night. This set-up means that Jazzahead!, besides its function as a trade fair, also attracts a multitude of local/regional audiences. The days of the Jazzahead! trade fair are preceded by a 14-day multi-arts and culture festival, organized in a cooperation between the city of Bremen and this year's partner country, Poland.

Poland has a strong jazz scene, the strongest jazz tradition in Eastern Europe, with great musicians and figureheads like Krzysztof Komeda, Zbigniew Seifert, Michal Urbaniak, Urszula Dudziak and Tomasz Stanko to name but a few of the founding generation. Poland had already a prominent jazz festival long before many countries in the Western part of Europe were ready to start. For example, Norwegian—Polish musician Jan Garbarek made his first international steps at the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree. There were and still are strong bonds of Polish musicians and Finish musicians, as well as bonds with the other Scandinavian countries. The Polish jazz magazine JAZZ FORUM (diverse links on the web) was of special importance with its English (and for five years even German) edition circulated in the Eastern and Western part of Europe. It served as an important link in the Europe of the past and played an important role for jazz musicians and audiences in the Eastern part of Europe during the (iron curtain) East-West-division of Europe—a good example of a happy junction of self-interest and general interest. It ended after 25 years soon after the collapse of the communist regime in Poland. But do not underestimate tenacitas Poloniae: in 2018 it is back with a special English edition on the occasion of Jazzahead!—happily announced by longtime editor-in-chief Pawel Brodowski and now already a collector's item. This time it was facilitated by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute , the Polish culture institute for foreign countries.

Nowadays, Poland has a vibrant jazz scene with international names, highly regarded festivals with extraordinary programming and commissions of international allure like those at the National Forum of Music (Jazztopad Festival) in Wroclaw. It is all embedded in the work of around 25 Culture Institutes Poland maintains all over Europe.

Eight groups played a showcase, namely the Atom String Quartet, the High Definition Quartet of pianist Piotr Orzechowski, the trio of pianist Joanna Duda, the sextet of pianist Kamil Piotrowicz, the trio of saxophonist Kuba Wiecek, the renowned trio of pianist Marcin Wasilewski, vocalist Monika Borzym and trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz's Power Of The Horns. High-quality videos of these showcases may be viewed at the Jazzahead website. Apart from the showcases there were concerts during the 14 days culture festival and two gala concerts during Jazzahead!, a concert by the Polish-Norwegian quartet of alto saxophonist Maciej Obara with bassist Ole Morten Vågan, drummer Gard Nilssen and pianist Dominik Wania, that just released the album Unloved on ECM, plus a concert by singer Anna Maria Jopek with pianist Leszek Mozdzer.

Who's next?

Like every previous year, it was a guessing game which country would be next. United Kingdom with one of the most vibrant scenes presently in Europe? Belgium with an abundance of thrilling groups? Or Austria with its East-West linking force? Italy with its rich musical culture and primary link to emergent jazz in New Orleans? Not even close. The UK had no booth for the first time at Jazzahead! this year. Belgium had the best beer and the most people at its booth right at the entrance of the trade fair hall. Eventually there will be a natural overflow. Austria still has the best coffee at its special Kaffeehaus booth. Both countries delivered the most important European jazz musicians, namely Django Reinhardt and Joe Zawinul. And not to forget John McLaughlin and Dave Holland and Evan Parker from UK.

No, as an unsurprising surprise it will be Norway, the significant periphery and (still) the wonderland of jazz from Europe. It is now waiting for some interesting choices and decisions and, hopefully, a good occasion of honoring the most important and influential drummer in Europe for decades, Jon Christensen.

The selection

At this year's German Expo edition at Jazzahead! seven groups made their appearance; one showcase had to be cancelled last minute. There were two groups from Berlin and three from Cologne, as well as one from Munich and Hamburg all with well-established and accomplished musicians of German, French, Dutch, English Polish, Italian, Japanese and New Zealand origin. The choice was made by an international jury consisting of Barbara Barth / Peng Festival (DE), Uli Beckerhoff / jazzahead! (DE), Enzo Favata / Musica sulle Bocche, Sardinia (IT), Bertrand Flamang / Jazz Middelheim (BE), Therese Haugen / Molde Jazz (NO), Marcel Roeloefs / ZomerJazzFietsTour (NL), Matthias Wegener / Deutschlandfunk Kultur (DE) and Paul Zauner / INNtöne Festival (AT). The selection contained four quartets and three trios. Among the 24 musicians was just one woman, harpist Kathrin Pechlof, performing with pianist Benjamin Schaefer's quartet Quiet Fire. Two drummers, Max Andrzejewski and Shinya Fukumori, were leading a group. Max Andrzejewski (1986) was one of the most featured musicians of this year's edition of Jazzhead!. He played with his own group Hütte, with Benjamin Schaefer's Quiet Fire, and the Polish Joanna Duda Trio.

The selection revealed a collection of world-class quality and remarkable originality, offering a lot to presenters in terms of choice for different purposes and gusto. You could even ask why this year so many renowned and established groups were selected. Apparently, these kinds of groups have discovered Jazzahead! as a means to promote themselves, which enabled the jury to make a good choice from a rich supply, namely drummer Max Andrzejewski's Hütte, saxophonist Daniel Erdmann's Velvet Revolution, Johannes Ludwig's Fearless Trio, drummer Shinya Fukumori 's Trio, the Paul Heller / Jasper Van't Hof Group, pianist Benjamin Schaefer's Quiet Fire and trumpeter Markus Stockhausen's Quadrivium.

The selection at work

Max Andrzejewski has become a ubiquitous drummer in the Berlin scene. His Hütte configuration—'Hütte' means 'shack' in German -with saxophonist Johannes Schleiermacher, guitarist Tobias Hoffmann and bassist Andreas Lang is an astonishing phenomenon. Andrzejewski has the virtues of a classical swing drummer (Teppo Mäkinnen from Finland is another drummer of that ilk). He plays loose-handed and light-footed, thereby effortlessly injecting lots of sophisticated details. His marvelous grounding and use of space provides the groundwork for highly enjoyable, organically shifting in and shifting out 'style travels.' It is an unknown force making many astounding things possible and actually happening without ever feeling forced. Hütte's way of embracing a multitude of sources and making it its very own is remarkable as is its easy going, entertaining way into transmutation. Hütte makes it possible and accessible without lowering levels of sophistication or losing substance. It seems that—based on great trust -Andrzejewski leads fellow musicians to places they would not go on their own initiative. Melody is in there, as well as tricky metres and rough edged saxophone roars from Schleiermacher's side. Guitarist Hoffmann plays down to earth and has a foible for 'small' slides and Hawaian effects and Lang's bass is vibrating intensely. This unique quartet chosen by a pan-European jury deserves wider European recognition and a Hüttenplatz at European festivals.

Daniel Erdmann's Velvet Revolution with French violinist extraordinaire Théo Ceccaldi and English percussion master Jim Hart (here solely on vibraphone) is a happy meeting of three kindred spirits and a tonal specialty. Theo Ceccaldi is one of the strongest, most dazzling and fanciful musicians of the younger French generation. As a ubiquitous musician he has made a strong mark. If the question "what connects German composer Hanns Eisler, Free Jazz, French musette and dub reggae?" arises, the answer no doubt will be saxophonist Daniel Erdmann from Germany, living and working now in France as well as in Berlin. He made a name with German-French-Danish group Das Kapital and worked in numerous highly profiled European groups. Jim Hart played an important role in the London LOOP collective and has made his mark in the British scene. He is now residing in France and found his allies in Velvet Revolution. Velvet Revolution is a true European group with a strong spirit, wit, great musical ideas as well as fantasy and capacity to make it work in captivating ways.

It's not only the combination of instruments that is unique. The same applies to the playing. Fed by many sources, they act independently and together at the same time. They know what to play when, and how to arrive at a strong common theme, something that carries them along the predisposed into the imagined-in-the-moment. They are great at creating shifting atmospheres. It is heavy, then light again, firing at one moment and whispering the next. These and other remarkable qualities were accomplished in a cool hot way, brilliant and convincing right from the start of their 30 minute turn—a group with a strong European signature and the capacity to ignite something special for its audience. Velvet Revolution's latest album A Short Moment Of Zero G was released by the exquisite BMC label of Budapest Music Center.

Fearless Trio is a new trio of Cologne sax-man Johannes Ludwig together with young up-and-coming drummer Fabian Arends and world-famous veteran and Cologne resident Simon Nabatov. For the Bremen showcase, young piano ace Ludwig Hornung from Berlin was subbing for Nabatov. Solidity is a defining characteristic of musicians from the Cologne scene, which applies to Ludwig and his trio to a high degree. The trio initiated a highly dynamic free form playing with lots of subtlety, bold leaps, fast runs, forward thrusting attacks and surprising escapes. Ludwig kept playing in a well-defined format, carving out the group's own mold. Along that line, the trio performed an eloquent piece of music that spoke to the adepts of that particular orientation in jazz.


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