Jazzfestival Umeå 2013

Henning Bolte By

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Jazzfestival Umeå
Umeå, Sweden
October 23-27, 2013

Umeå, 400 miles/650 km north of Stockholm at the Ume river and near the gulf of Bothnia, is the capital of Västerbotten County. The city is located in the plain coastal strip with an enormous wide horizon on all sides, and everything within reach in the city itself.

The municipality with about 117,000 inhabitants is an important traffic junction for the northern region as well as an educational, cultural and medical center of the area. It has the lowest average age of any city in Sweden. Its lively creative scene has resulted in its appointment as the European Capital of Culture for 2014.

Umeå, a special place to let things happen

Frederik Lindegren, the festival's young artistic director, set up a creative- -and successful—campaign with an impressive, attractive program spread related to the eight seasons of the year of the Sami people. One of the strengths of Umeå, it seems, is the ease of collaboration between different art disciplines, genres and styles. A reflection of this could be seen at the festival with its very young and international corps of volunteers connected to various university institutes, schools and international businesses. I met and talked to Flemish people from Antwerp, German people from Rostock and Polish people from Wroclaw. A reflection of this is the way the international guests were received. In no time, guests were familiarized with the festival and felt well cared for. A guided tour by the artistic director immediately after arrival and an intimate dinner the next evening, all completely natural but very special nonetheless.

Gestures like these and an open ground make things happen. But there is also a firm belief people stick to and do not hide or run away from. That is what makes things flourish. This is contrary to moods in other parts of Europe: "When taxpayers' money funds culture it sometimes provokes strong feelings. But Umeå's politicians need ''ice in their blood'' to stand firm against populist and anti-culture sentiment, and combine this resolve with the collective will of the municipality's residents to keep the public free from the suggestion of xenophobia or racism," said Leif Larsson, journalist and former culture editor at Västerbottens-Kuriren.

The Umeå festival was founded in 1968 and is run by the local opera house Norrlandsoperan. Its director, Marco Feklistoff, is very present, around during the whole festival, approachable and open to exchange. During the last 20 years the programming of the jazz festival was in hands of artistic director Lennart Strömbäck, a man still driven after all these years. Umeå not only has this festival with its long history, it has a rich musical culture with a.o. Meshuggah, one of the most world famous Swedish metal bands, who originate from the city. And more recently, rock band Refused made a name worldwide. They released an album The Shape Of Punk To Come, A Chimerical Bombination In 12 Bursts (Burning Heart, 1998), creatively alluding to Ornette Coleman's legendary album The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959).

The festival's philosophy is all a consequence of the unifying concept of K- society, propagated by Åke E. Andersson, a Swedish economist 25 years ago: "kunskap, kreativitet, kultur, kommunikation"—knowledge, creativity, culture, communication. Culture as one of the most powerful forces for growth and development. It enforces self- consciousness contrary to populism which is a manifestation of lack of self- consciousness and (aggressive) fear, discomfort, uncertainty.

Festival locations are the opera house, and just a stone's throw away Folkets Hus, with its more than 10 halls of different sizes and shapes, a typical socialistic people's culture palace from the 1960s. Walking around and looking at Umeå you might say it is a city with three utopias, the old socialistic one manifested by Folkets Hus, the commercial one manifested in the brand new oversized shopping center, and in between the feministic one which manifests itself in various non-stony forms.

This years's Jazzfestival

The festival opened on Wednesday with a concert by talented music students from Midgårdskolan. Thursday offered two concerts: one with the symphony orchestra of the Opera House (Norrlandsoperan), featuring Argentian bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi with German cellist Anja Lechner and reedist Felix Saluzzi, followed by a concert of Chris Potter Underground at Studiojazz in Folkets Hus. On Friday the number of concerts increased considerably to 12. Saturday was the busiest day with more than 25 concerts. On Sunday evening all volunteers of the festival gathered for a dinner and celebrated a concert given by young local/regional musicians. On Friday and Saturday both, a seminar dedicated to jazz-related issues was held, plus a concert for children as well as a singing workshop.

This edition had a strong representation of high profile, heavyweight musicians and bands from the core of jazz, like Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Chris Potter, Jason Moran, Lynne Ariale and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah; a high portion of vocalists, a fair portion of orchestral work and an interesting diversity of experimental groups like the new music/improvisational ensemble of violinist Angharad Davies operating from London, the trumpet/double bass duo of Susana Santos Silva and Torbjörn Zetterberg or the newly formed Time Is A Mountain with well known bassist Johan Berthling and the duo of eminent vocalist Sidsel Endresen and guitarist Stian Westerhus.

In terms of countries of origin, it was mainly an American and Scandinavian affair with lots of musicians from both Americas, North and South, besides from Sweden also from the other Scandinavian countries, Norway, Denmark and Finland. And there was a smaller number of Central and South European musicians from Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, France, Portugal and Greece and last but not least one Asian, a musician from Japan.


It was a remarkable start at the opera house's concert hall with its pleasant combination of space and intimacy. Together with the strings of Norrlandsoperans Symfoniorkester, the wonderful Dino Saluzzi, forceful cello-player Anja Lechner, Felix Saluzzi and sensitive, resolute conductor Jules Buckley, created delicately balanced music with touching moments. Masterful and long resonating—a gorgeous opening! This was all but guaranteed, but a daring and challenging choice. Saluzzi's music and his playing surely does not fit into the usual classical framework. The Saluzzis, Lechner and Buckley know each other quite well from concerts and the recording with Dutch Metropole Orchestra El Encuentro, (ECM, 2010). Jules Buckley has just been appointed new chief conductor of the orchestra succeeding Vince Mendoza.

For Norrlandsoperans Symfoniorkester, however, it was a new thing. Both parties had first to find a common pathway and make it work in the moment, which they did successfully. This kind of encounter is a trademark of the Umeå festival which will go on on this path. For next year they commissioned a work by Swedish freeing jazz-icon Mats Gustafsson, his Symphony no.1 . That forecasts not only mighty roars of his master's horns but also a lot of sounding and bellowing machines. For 2014, also projected is an orchestral interpretation of the last album of hardcore band Refused, The Shape Of Punk To Come.

The second part of the evening belonged to Chris Potter's Underground at Jazzlabbet in Folkets Hus. Potter, Fima Ephron, Adam Rogers and Nate Smith played a bubbly cooking gig with lots of fireworks. Jason Moran even came sitting in on piano for a piece.


The daily seminar and discussion at Umeå Jazzfestival is shrouded in light mystery for all participants, the speaker included. Just that makes it evade the boring rituals you often encounter at those occasions. Ubiquitous Vancouver festival-director Ken Pickering held a talk on 'The Northern Perspective' which revealed as biographical story telling, kind of Bildungsroman, journeying through the realms of jazz of the past four decennia and zooming in on (key-)figures from Northern countries. And it ended with? Ice-hockey, mushroom hunting, sled dog races, skiing, collecting wild berries? Yes, ice- hockey stories. All together this spoke to people's imagination and provided fertile ground for good and lively discussion.

Trio Lyöstraini, a pretty new thing of well-known Swedish singer Lena Willemark / Jonas Knutsson / Mats Oberg, outstanding Swedish bassist Anders Jormin and Japanese koto player Karin Nakagawa as a new face in the field. The threesome arrived in Umeå directly from a tour in Japan. They went through intriguing musical contrasts gaining amazing flow, brightness and joy. They dug into each others roots and constantly came up with surprising original responses. When Willemark intoned a Northern folk theme, Nakagawa threw in raw koto strums which generated very special palpable qualities. When Nakagawa played a straight harp-like groove Jormin added bending pentatonic singing on his bass. Nakagawa expanded the musical range of the koto in extraordinary ways sounding as a kora or Celtic harp sometimes. It was just wonderful how they in the long run began to dance over their commonly created structure ending up in the rare and touching beauty of "Snöfall" ("Falling Snow"). Amazing how open and connected their playing, great listening yielding real new music!

Unfortunately the very special performance 'Reanimation' by pioneering visual artist Joan Jonas (video/performance art) together with Jason Moran was going on at the Opera House at the same time requiring a clear cut decision. Moran started to collaborate with Jonas in 2005. Reanimation has been performed several times in recent years, a.o. at Kassel dOCUMENTA, Germany, a year ago: "Joan Jonas and jazz pianist Jason Moran perform their collaborative piece Reanimation. The two artists carry out an improvisation through music, sound, movement, and video, working with ideas of collage and animation. Reanimation is a continuation of previous collaborations between Jonas and Moran, and a further exploration of subjects developed in Jonas' work Under the Glacier (2010—ongoing), which is inspired by Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness' novel of that title."

A new bony combination of ubiquitous versatile Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser recently emerged from his duo-playing with edgy French guitar maestro Marc Ducret. To go on, Ducret suggested Danish drummer extraordinaire Peter Bruun, also known from Django Bates' Beloved Bird Trio, to join them. The threesome started to play concerts in June of this year and in the meantime has become a compacted trio with an attractive signature of its own. Their music has evolved considerably during the last months. The Umeå-concert became an exciting manifestation of it.


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