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Jazzahead! 2018

Henning Bolte By

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Bremen Trade Fair Hall
Jazzahead!
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.

The Paul Heller/Jasper van 't Hof Group is a German-Dutch-Macedonian-Polish constellation with two highly acclaimed musicians, nationally and internationally. They found each other on mutual common ground at a Cologne meeting in 2017.. Besides the two leaders of the group, Cologne saxophonist Paul Heller (1971) and Dutch international veteran pianist Jasper van 't Hof (1947), the quartet comprised bassist Martin Gjakonovski and percussionist Bodek Janke. Gjakonovski, who studied in Cologne in the early 90s, is a busy sideman, originating from Skopje, Macedonia. Heller, a member of the renowned WDR Big band, has an amazing service record across a great variety of collaborations (for his last award see my report. Bodek Janke, originating from Warsaw, has served in a broad spectrum of collaborations, both live and on a vast number of recordings. He also performed in Bremen as member of the trio of New York-based Greek bassist Petros Klampanis (together with Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu).

For van 't Hof the short concert was a 'homecoming' (his own words). His pioneering career started decades ago in Bremen and the 30 minutes was first class fireworks from the start. They opened furioso with an irresistible rendition of the irresistible "Two Folk Songs" (Pat Metheny), went on with van 't Hof's "Mute" (strongly associated with longtime Cologne resident saxophonist Charlie Mariano, see John Kelman's review and ended up with van 't Hof's festive "Zaïre." The combination revealed an ideal match of musicians in great shape, with vigorous playing and lots of performing pleasure; an ideal festival opener, old school in a fresh way, highly recommended. Janke, particularly, fired the music up. In short: Heller Hof, bright courtyard. A new Japanese-French-German configuration from Munich, led by Japanese drummer Shinya Fukumori and completed by saxophonist Matthieu Bordenave and pianist Walter Lang, presented its intense, gently flowing contemplative music holding a lot of hidden drama. Saxophonist Matthieu Bordenave has a delicate fluently crafted tone on tenor. It is as gentle as it is strong and enduring. From his long-time musical partnership with Lee Konitz, Walter Lang knows how to deal with Bordenave's type of sound—a good condition to make this moving triangle work and elaborate on compositions of all three members. The music of the trio was revealed as a slow-burning affair, shifting at the right moments as well as unfolding its hidden splendor. In a way Fukumori, Lang and Bordenave treated their sources from Japanese post-war pentatonic popular music of Shōwa Kayō in the same way that their North-American colleagues used the evergreens of the Great American Songbook. Fukumori's method of stretching and enriching the basic lines of the songs deepened it—at moments in an almost 'überschön' quality. Maybe even Paul McCartney will find some inspiration in the trio's music for a new version of his famous "The Long And Winding Road." The trio succeeded in bringing the audience's attention immediately into its mode and mood of playing, maintaining the tension to the very end. The debut album of the trio Two Akis has been released by ECM.

In case you haven't heard of or listened to pianist Benjamin Schaefer and his group Quiet Fire comprising New Zealand saxophonist James Wylie, German harpist Kathrin Pechlof, Italian bassist Igor Spallati and Polish drummer Max Andrzejewski, you should take a dive into its music. It is, in many ways, different in a distinguished way. Moving serenely, with astounding shifts but nonetheless seamless transitions, it is like walking through a pleasure garden with ever-changing exquisite, wondrous vegetation. A centerpiece of Quiet Fire's performance was a rendition/elaboration of Erik Satie's piece "Le fils des etoiles" (1891). Quiet Fire's orchestral version of the piano piece fell in with an eruptive wild ride but soon went on calmly with the strangely shifting, undetermined shadings of the piece. It showcased some general ingredients of Quiet Fire's music, had a high degree of originality, and worked out convincingly with a lot delicate detail and interplay. The two concluding pieces, "Elegy" and "The Moritat" were as different as they were—again—highly original. "Elegy" started from a forceful stamping pattern then ascending after a while. The finishing piece "The Moritat," a street or murder ballad, had a specific German flavor ending up with the whole group singing in that genre. Thus Quiet Fire's appearance became a highly original and delightful affair. The group performed music from his last album released on nWog records, the label of German trombonist Nils Wogram.

The finish of the German Expo was reserved for the most experienced and internationally renowned German musician of the selection, trumpeter Markus Stockhausen from Cologne with his Quadrivium group of Italian pianist Angelo Comisso, German cellist Jorg Brinkmann and Cologne drummer Christian Thomè. Stockhausen is one of the most outstanding trumpeters in current jazz, documented in a long list of prominent international collaborations. The Quadrivium configuration came forth from his longstanding trio with Comisso and Thomé back in 2004. In 2015, excellent cellist Jörg Brinkmann (1976) joined the group, extending the reach and richness of the music. Stockhausen is a mature musician with a clear vision and great capability to give it excellent shape in cinemascope dimensions.

The group spun out four pieces of cosmic dimensions, carried by Stockhausen's crystal clear trumpet lines winging through vast space in accordance with the title of its latest album Far Into The Stars. He alternated between trumpet, flügel and piccolo trumpet, reinforcing and extending the sound waves by electronics. His playing on piccolo trumpet especially is breathtaking every time. Grandeur and groove, depth and drive, soil and soul, spirit and space united in extended, lighting arches. His music can be found on his own label and for certain collaborations on ECM.

Some conclusions

Regarded as a whole, there was an age span of almost forty years among the musicians born between 1947-1986, and it was a multi-generation affair thus. Additionally, the cultural backgrounds of the musicians -as already indicated -were quite broad. Besides the mature core jazz of highly dynamic and intensely burning quality (as in the case of the Heller/van 't Hof group as well as the melodic cosmic extension of pure beauty of Stockhausen's Quadrivium), there were quite original, distinct manners of exploiting (historical) musical sources, traditions and styles of playing, by the young(er) groups and their leaders, some of them with a characteristic German twist, as in the case of Daniel Erdmann and Benjamin Schaefer. However, these characteristics get their shape by its specific playful merging with other cultural traits. Among the diversity of approach and expression there was the attractive and easy shifting of Max Andrzejeweski, the strong synthesis of Erdmann, the flânerie of Benjamin Schaefer, his musical pleasure garden strolling, but also the rougher abstract kind of cutting through different sources and styles of playing by Fearless Trio, and, last but not least, the re-imagination of Japanese urban folk music by the trio of Shinya Fukumori. Thus, from this year's selection, a clear and strong German profile became apparent, although it didn't tell the whole story. There were no variants of radical minimalism, no noise-inflected music, no rock-based things, no real-time-invention approaches and, there were no vocals—except in the communal group singing in the last piece of Benjamin Schaefer's Quiet Fire. Drummer Andrzejeweski apparently has a foible for vocals—witness his collaboration with a gospel choir on his last album The Homegrown Organic Gospel Choir released by Berlin label Traumton.

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