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Jazzfest Berlin 2012: Berlin, Germany, November 1-4, 2012


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Jazzfest Berlin 2012
Berlin, Germany
November 1-4, 2012
In 1964, famous pioneering jazz aficionado and impresario Joachim E. Behrendt founded the legendary Berlin Jazztage. The event, nowadays named Jazzfest Berlin, with its tumultuous history and multitude of faces, has since worked with a variety of different artistic directors. This year was the beginning of a new four-year term and the first edition of new director Bert Noglik, from Leipzig. As a critic, writer and journalist, Noglik has played a prominent role—comparable to that of Berendt—for the new European improvised music that developed in Eastern Germany, the former German Democratic Republic, in the 1960s and '70s. In the recent past he was artistic director of the Leipzig Jazzfestival (1992-2007), and since 2009 he has also curated Berlin's Sounds No Walls— Friends & Neighbours in Jazz festival, Jazz from Poland (2009), South African Jazz Connections (2010), and Jazz & Jewish Culture (2011).

The festival's primary venue was the Festspielhaus, with its 1,000 seat main hall plus a small stage supporting 200 seats. In the late hours each night during the festival there were concerts in two clubs—A-Trane and Quasimodo—as well as at the Academy. These concerts slightly overlapped with each evening's closing concerts at the Festspielhaus. The venues were sold separately, and most of the concerts were sold out well in advance.

Consequently, clear choices have to be made. Access for journalist is not guaranteed for any concerts other than on the main stage. Ticketholders had priority; as a result it, some concerts could not be attended.

Chapter Index

Strong Marks

In his first edition Noglik, made strong marks by focusing on jazz as it relates to society and history, as well as to other artistic disciplines like poetry, cinema and dance. Noglik put two key musical figures of 20th century in the spotlight: composer Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) and pianist Jutta Hipp (1925-2003), both born and raised in Leipzig. Two special productions were premiered at the main venue, Haus der Berliner Festspiele: Remembering Jutta Hipp, an homage to the outstanding German jazz pianist of the 1950s; and Das Kapital (named after the famous work of Karl Marx) staged Wanted! Hanns Eisler, an audiovisual tribute to Eisler's work, with live video projections by directors Nicolas Humbert and Martin Otter. Another special production, Songs for Kommeno, featured drummer Gunter Baby Sommer's commemoration of the massacre of the German Army in the Greek Village of Kommeno during WWII, with a group of Greek Musicians including reed multi-instrumentalist Floros Floridis, bassist Spilios Kastanis, oudist Evgenius Voulgaris, and singer Savina Yannatou.

Noglik also explicitly connected the new edition of the festival to Germany's free music movement of some decades ago, by reviving former locations for its activities, like the Total Music Meeting, the Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste), in the western part of the city. For many years, the Total Music Meeting—which started in 1968 and the foundation of Free Music Production with FMP label as a part of it one year later—was separated from the "big" festival, as an off-festival event, but gradually young rebels like saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, drummer Han Bennink, pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, saxophonist Evan Parker and bassist Peter Kowald crossed over, moving to-and-fro between both worlds. In 2009, Total Music Meeting ceased to exist, but in 2012 Noglik took it up again and tried to integrate it with his festival.

Eisler and Hipp

In the case of Eisler and Hipp, big history and personal history are intertwined heavily. Like his teacher, Arnold Schönberg, and his artistic collaborator, writer Bertold Brecht, Eisler took refuge in California in the early 1930s. Eisler was indicted by the Un-American Activities Committee after the end of the war; deported from the United States in 1947 and subsequently expelled from Britain, he then settled in East Berlin, where he was reunited Bertold Brecht.

Hipp, a young woman of 22 living in Leipzig at the time, was the most advanced jazz talent in Germany. Hipp went the opposite direction, first from the Soviet zone in Eastern Germany to Munich, and later Frankfurt in the Western part of Germany, where she collaborated with the excellent reed player Hans Koller and turned into a leading figure in jazz in post-war Germany. In 1954, she became the first European and the first woman recorded by Alfred Lion's Blue Note label. That was the beginning of her American career and so, In 1955, she moved to New York to play and record with American musicians. She had a group with bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummer Ed Thigpen, played at the1956 Newport Festival and recorded for Blue Note with saxophonist Zoot Sims. Soon after, in 1958, she quit music and made her living as a worker in a sewing factory in Queens. She never returned to Europe and died in 2003.

Eisler navigated through cold war unruliness on the eastern side of the iron curtain. He even composed the hymn of the newly constituted eastern German state, the GDR. However, he never lost his keenness in its intimate interplay with his lyrical side. That is one of the reasons his music is still that vividly attractive, feeding new generations of musicians like young Dutch rebel, saxophonist Willem Breuker, and nowadays the young Danish, French and German group Das Kapital. Eisler died soon after the Berlin wall fell, ending the need to move the between western and eastern parts of both Berlin and Germany.

Four female pianists from different generations and angles performed or received tributes on the festival's first day: Jutta Hipp, Julia Hulsmann, Geri Allen and Irene Schweizer. The following day featured more women, including organist Amina Claudine Myers and pianists Marilyn Crispell, Aki Takase and Mary Lou Williams.

November 1: Hipp 2012

The musical heritage of the briefly prospering musical miracle Jutta Hipp was committed to two musicians from Berlin—pianist Julia Hülsmann and clarinetist Rolf Kuhn—along with an ensemble consisting of saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Christian Lillinger. Kühn, the elder brother of pianist Joachim Kuhn, is a compeer of Hipp, also grew up in Leipzig and was tutored by her immediately after the end of the war. In 1956, Kühn moved to New York, working there for a couple of years in clarinetist Benny Goodman's groups with trombonist Urbie Green and bassist Oscar Pettiford. Ranking highly in a Down Beat Magazine poll, in 1961 he returned to Europe, where jazz musicians started to figure out their own way of playing.

Later, in 1967, he played at Newport and recorded an album for the Impulse! label with brother Joachim, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Aldo Romano. In the 1990s he recorded with saxophonists Ornette Coleman, Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz and Michael Brecker. Greg Cohen—a participant in various Masada projects by saxophonist John Zorn as well as other Zorn-led ensembles, as well as playing with singer/songwriter Tom Waits—is currently the director of of Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler's Jazz Department in Berlin. Christian Lillinger is part of the free improvising scene and a real audience-attracting star who is beginning to break through internationally as well.

Hülsmann is a master of a significant brevity which feed strongly into the imagination, leaving enigmatic traces. She has worked a lot with vocalists, including Rebekka Bakken and Roger Cicero, and has recorded two albums with her trio for ECM, Imprint (2011) and The End Of A Summer (2008).

With Kühn and Hülsmann responsible for the arrangements, the ensemble played pieces by Hipp, including "Horatio" (dedicated to pianist Horace Silver, Hipp's main inspiration after she arrived at New York), and others based on or inspired by Hipp, such as Hülsmann's "Ballad," which consisted of reworked elements from Hipp compositions.

Kühn and Lovano started brilliantly and with verve, in full synch and, at times, colorful unison. Wonderful soloing and Hülsmann's lead resulted in a no-nonsense manner that kept the music balanced throughout. No simple fifties remake, no strained update, but to the point renditions; music with which to sojourn, but a bit perfunctory. Did it mirror the tragic reluctance of Hipp's real persona?

There were also some thrilling moments in the interaction between Cohen and Lillinger. Lillinger was the only player who set himself free in the long run, going through various stages of intensity, opening up space and expanding. Kühn's personal anecdotes about Jutta and her impressive red hair were the set's only dramaturgical elements. Lots of space and open questions, it seemed that it will still still take some time to reveal this lonely soul.

November 1: Geri Allen & Timeline

The twist of Allen's performance, according to the program, was tap dancer Maurice Chestnut, but unfortunately he did not appear. It was, then, a piano trio with the wonderful Kenny Davis on bass (a buddy from the old M-Base days) and promising young drummer Kassa Overall. Allen's playing was very rich and full of rhythmic power but it did not catch fire. She seemed to act from within an armor, while Overall appeared to play a role as bop-drummer—one of the many facets of this versatile young musician. Alllen tried to push it with Charlie Parker's "Ah-Leu-Cha," but it was when she intonated Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning" that things changed and opened up.

When a few moments later, Lovano appeared on stage to join the trio, it became luscious, including his beautiful shuffle. When they got into the deep blues of "Parker's Mood," the gates opened widely, magnificently resounding into the night

November 2: Drummers' Works

The second night at the Festspielhaus was an evening of drummers in different guises: Swiss veteran Pierre Favre, founder of Singing Drums, performed with a six-horn brass section augmented by a guitarist and two bassists; Günther Baby Sommer performed with his Greek ensemble; and last, but not least, master drummer Manu Katche, with a new lineup of Norwegian saxophonist Tore Brunborg, an Italian trumpeter with Norwegian and Macedonian connections, Luca Aquino, and young English keyboardist Jimmy Watson.

It was great to have a tentet like that from Favre. The group, however, played a solid but too uniform set. Sommer had to confine himself to his commemorative context, where a sonic interpretation of cruel actions and war crimes committed by humans against humans was molded. He did the by dramatic percussive accents on gongs and bells amidst the touching miroloi laments of his fellow Greek musicians. To have Manu Katché perform afterwards made good sense. It seems that Katché has gained a wonderful new balance with two brilliantly shining horns; from deeper light and bouncing flow emerged bright mannerisms.

Drummer's Work also took place at Akademie der Künste, with a number of duo performances. The previous night it was Pierre Favre with pianist Irene Schweizer; this night it was English drummer Paul Lytton and American pianist Marilyn Crispell, a duo that has collaborated for quite a while. However, neither of these two duos was burdened by a fixed image. It was sound in all its arousing qualities, shaped into stimulating manifestations, each focused in his/her very own way.

Crispell's playing was full of transitions, and contrasts of bursts and lyrical stillness. Lytton used very simple tools; in his very own consequential way he created moving sounds of magic. One of these was the toys moving across the drum skin, generating soft vibrations. This duo's music had its very own process and logic, as real Echtzeitmusik. The impulse, the approach and the results highly coincided, as they delivered wonderful night music.

November 3: French vs. Dutch—Japanese Knack

The trio of clarinetist Michel Portal, bassist Bruno Chevillon and Swiss born drummer Daniel Humair, augmented by clarinetist Louis Sclavis, was a heavyweight lineup. These gentlemen drew on plentiful resources, with two bass clarinetists of such high caliber. These musicians were able to play their game, and they approached it playfully throughout the set. Unadulterated, consonant, majestic, tongue in cheek and hilarious was what and how they played. What and how they play is well-known but fully enjoyable nevertheless. As the group encored with a tango featuring great theatrical stops, Sclavis disappeared in the wings, gracefully dancing with the magic blackness of his instrument.

There were many links in the program, and Sclavis/Takase was one, having recorded their wonderful duo recording Yokohama (Intakt, 2009), but fortunately Noglik brought in a brand new duo constellation, featuring reed player Silke Eberhard and the extraordinary young Swiss drummer Alex Huber. What they created was Echtzeitmusik , but it was almost possible to hear all the hours they spent to open up their new sonic territory. And it was not a cliché gambit to state it in this case. What they played was new—really new—and original. Huber's playing was amazingly fluent and layered with phrasing of a very special kind.

It seemed that Huber played directly with the orchestrations heard in his mind. Complex creations emerged lightly, effortlessly. As the set proceeded, Eberhard and Huber became freer and gained increasing degrees of convincing coherence. Huber discovered a lot of sounds in the quiet domain of the drum kit, and used them in a fascinating new musical way where his roots were sometime recognizable. Eberhard proved an experienced player with a rich reservoir of sounds on alto sax and clarinet. She was not only playing an instrument different from that of Huber; she was a different character, acting and playing with different energy. She was the one, it seemed, who wanted to make a higher leap through the show. A fascinating performance that rendered the periphery as the festival's center.

This also applied to the second performance of the night, different and distinguished as it was. Berlin-based pianist Aki Takase performed together with her Lieblingshase (from the 2011 documentary Hazentijd), drummer Han Bennink. It was one of those concerts that defied all expectations. It turned out to be a memorable performance, easily one of the best of the year. The duo's 2 for 2 (Intakt, 2011) gives some idea of what was to come. Evenly matched, Bennink could hit the drum as hard as he liked, as it never prevented Takase from getting hold of it all—even before they started to play. In a way, Bennink's capacities emerge highly concentrated during the performance—and from the very first moment. He started with a masterfully timed rest as an upbeat followed by an unexpected and enormous loud bang—the best variation of the 5 seconds of ritual rest at the start of the albums by a famous German record label.

After kicking off one of his floor-toms with aplomb, Bennink and Takase journeyed across the wonderland of jazz history. With Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk as main stations, before crossing the next bridge they played a bit of dance music. Nobody entered the dance floor, but people were smiling brightly. Around midnight, the duo played the suitable Monk piece, "'Round Midnight," as if it had been created on the spot.

November 4: Sharpness

The final night presented the special production Wanted! Hanns Eisler, as well as saxophonist Wayne Shorter as its big star—an odd combination which worked, in its own way.

Das Kapital's performance—drummer Edward Perraud, guitarist Hasse Poulsen , and saxophonist Daniel Erdmann—with pictures from the well-known Manic Cinema duo of Nicolas Humbert and Martin Otter, was is a multidisciplinary affair. Accompanied by Manic Cinema's associative black and white pictures the trio delivered a tour de force through Eisler's musical universe with its battle pieces, laments, lyrical pieces and more, thereby returning, again and again, to an immediately recognizable Eisler motif. All three musicians introduced an enormous reservoir of techniques and sounds into the musical battlefield, in particular Perraud acting this out. It was impressive how the trio picked up, accentuated, sharpened and transformed Eisler's music, including the reggae version of the folk song "An den deutschen Mond."

What was Eisler's music doing in our Coca-Cola era? Pictures and music offered some open points of reference and clues but didn't turn into revolutionary romantics. The pictures also linked to the famous 1929 documentary Vierzehn Arten den Regen zu beschreiben, by world famous Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens. Eisler composed music for this documentary in 1941. The fragments that included Eisler's interrogation by the House Committee on Un-American Activities were not immediately intelligible for younger generations, but as in the reworking of the music, certain parts crashed and clashed in a way that sharpened the audience's attention and perception. Eisler's music had a disturbing, unsettling effect, loosely uncovering historical lines and wiping out traces, and letting musical motifs from deeper Eastern European layers resonate. The performance delivered a special material roughness in combination with its lyrical traces.

The Festspielhaus was sold out for this evening. In his former musical life, Shorter played a prominent role in shaping modern urban music. Nowadays, he seems to linger above the horizon of discrete meaning, constituting and making sense of our digitalized world. In a way, it was a logical consequence of changes in modernity losing their place. A transportation problem caused considerable inconvenience before the concert, so Shorter seemed to be ill at ease when he entered the stage. It had, however, just the opposite effect on the musicians in his quartet, which began to play powerfully, and with great pleasure.

Drummer Brian Blade was quite loud within the textures woven by pianist Danilo Pérez and bassist John Patitucci. Shorter started to play after a while, though still looking uncomfortable. He played sharply and loudly, with long, expanding notes expanding but also immobilizing effects. He played a kind of yell with cryptic comments added and, later in the performance, forward-pushing accelerations. Nothing sounded predictable here but it was still a bit caged; perhaps this was one of the reasons for Shorter and his group's more aggressive approach. Still, this led to a beautifully open finale, which demanded a firm continuation of Jazzfest Berlin in 2013.



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