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

Henning Bolte By

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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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