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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.

THURSDAY

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.

FRIDAY

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.


Blazer is a genre- and style defying musician moving freely through different historical styles and tapping from various sources. Ducret guitar sounds merge with Blaser's sliding bone as well as his playing is sharply contrasting in ever unpredictable and striking ways. Ducret is an important link between various European scenes and between the European and North-American scene. He is the man of bended, stretched and strangled tones in intricate and dense interplay. This night at times his guitar sounded like a guzheng (Chinese zither). With his runs he repeatedly narrowed down the music so that it could be released again and again with dramatic effects. Drummer Bruun employed the quietest and fastest bass drum beats of the whole festival accompanied by his needle-like snare drumming. His remarkably free flowing drum-work created a significant texture which unobtrusively carried and lifted up the stringed bone- sounds. All culminated in a wonderful tricky waltz written by Ducret, in repeated supra- or hypergrooves and peaked in "Fanfare For A New Theater" a 40 second piece by Stravinsky originally written for two trumpets in 1964.

Prism is a new constellation launched by veteran Dave Holland, a towering figure in jazz of the last 40 years. Guitarist Kevin Eubanks is back on the scene after a long stint at the Television and he was for a while member of the famous seminal groups of Dave Holland (Extensions, 1989 (ECM). He subbed for a while for his brother Robin, the trombone player, who was one of the most steady members in Holland's groups. For pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland the Holland group with Steve Coleman was an eye-/ear- opener and guiding post in their teenage years. Now they are both renowned musicians asked by Dave Holland to join an new group and enter anew circle. It is a group with potential which still has just opened up to entering new territory but still has to develop in that direction. In Umeå mainly the returning (and enjoying) Kevin Eubanks was in the spotlights.


Esa Pietilä is a leading Finish saxophonist whose career took off in the second half of the nineties when he formed a trio with bassist Ulf Krokfors and drummer Markku Ounaskari. Last year he formed a new quartet., Liberty Ship, with Aki Rissanen (p), Antti Lotjonen (b), Olavi Louhivuori (dr) and just released the first album (Approaching, Eclipse Music (2013)), of this new group programmatically named Liberty Ship. Seeing him live for the first time he seemed almost a reincarnation of the young Gary Thomas. But that is a first moment association. Pietilä is a very powerful but also gentle saxophonist who can reach far out but first of all let all the capabilities of his fellow musicians unfold in this band. Great, incentive playing!

Due to the amount of parallel concerts I had to leave out Danish trio Ibrahim Electric as well as too many Swedish bands: Stevie Wonder Experience, Umelmo teachers Ensemble, Framnäs Jazzlinje, Lasse Lystedt Band, Tomas Fischer Kvintett, Lärkträdet.

SATURDAY

Saturday seminar with a lecture by renowned saxophonist Joakim Milder and a heavy weight panel was still more mystical. Joakim Milder is a professor at Stockholm's Royal Music College and is engaged in various committees. 'What is musical quality' was the vast question! Nervous laughter, helplessness? No, Milder made his way into it with well portioned dry humor and very special timing and phrasings. Graupner, Telemann or Bach, expression vs. technical skills, process or product, momentum or artifact, pre- programming vs. de-programming, channel into strict procedures or exchange to gain mutual understanding were some of the key-concepts touched upon in the exchange. And it ended with? De-mystification? No, with a strong plea for ongoing open exchange over these key-questions by Annamaia Saarela, president of European Jazz Network (EJN).

Saturday afternoon started with young Swedish-Ethiopian singer Sofia Jernberg together with Norwegian folk-fiddler Olav Luksengård Mjelva performing a new program with renowned Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (TJO). The orchestra which had collaborations with the likes of Chick Corea, Joshua Redman or Pat Metheny has launched an impressive variety of programs and plays a busy schedule with changing guest-artists and changing line-ups. It is however not primarily a big names enterprise. Consequently a list of different younger musician has been enabled to realize orchestral work. By this the orchestra itself could make its way into new territories and new ways of shaping music in the field of jazz. Its pioneering work has been highly appreciated internationally. Programming this ensemble seems almost inescapable for those who are on track and eager to serve their audience by exciting and challenging musical quality.


Vocalist Sofia Jernberg grew up in Sweden, Ethiopia and Vietnam and is active in a wide field of music. She has worked with the likes of Fred Lonberg-Holm, Frederik Ljungkvist and Sten Sandell. She co-leads and composes for modern jazz octet Paavo, contemporary Lieder quartet The New Songs and a duo with Norwegian cello-player Lene Grenager (also in TJO line-up). She has performed Schönberg pieces and sings in ''Lohengrin,'' an operatic monodrama by contemporary Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino (next performance in November in Oslo). Jernberg's singing includes split tone singing, pitchless singing and distorted singing.

Fiddler Olav Luksengård Mjelva is an award-winning young Norwegian folk- musician. He was awarded the Spelemansprisen, the Norwegian Grammy, in 2010 and was chosen Folk Musician Of The Year in 2013. He plays in five folk-groups but is not confined to the folk world as manifested by this collaboration with TJO and Jernberg.

Consequently TJO had a strong Norwegian folk-oriented line-up with four string-players including two hardanger fiddles, three horns, two drums and piano: Olav Luksengård Mjelva (hardanger fiddle, vln),Kari Rønnekleiv (hardanger fiddle, vln), Lene Grenager (vcl), Ole Morten Vågan (b), Eirik Hegdal (sax, cl), Eivind Lønning (tp), Espen Reinertsen (sax, cl), Jens Linell (dr), Tor Haugerud (dr) and Alexander Zethson (p).


The whole constellations worked out very well, in an unforced manner with a productive tension between old ways and new approaches. Mjelva and Jernberg shared the humorous announcement of the pieces played but took no exposed position. They sat and acted among the other musician as equal members of the ensemble. The music ran through dance pieces including polka's and folk songs wonderfully arranged and performed with great sophistication. Jernberg placed her vocal extensions, wisps, swipes, coos and cries as contrasting snippets on the melody lines which worked pretty well. All frictions were used productively, built in, turned round, countered and contra-ed. No overplaying but to the point expansions from the flow. A joyful entertaining metamorphosis. All together piece of music which would not be realizable with a small group and a good expansion of tonal music.

Piano trios, pianio trios, piano trios—this central, classical format in modern jazz is pretty much worn out and at the same time presented in still increasing quantity. Despite returning dullness miraculously it appears to resurrect again and again. But you also have the great masters of the format. One of them is the Swede Bobo Stenson and his current trio with eminent bassist Anders Jormin and concise and humorous young drummer Jon Fält which might be considered the best of all at this moment (the reviews of his last albums are quite clear about this). At the core of the piano-trio is the art of letting the song sing. Everything is at the service of that. Another essential: how to combine a diversity of song-material in a truthful, exciting, unifying and delighting way. Stenson, Jormin and Fält are great in both.

Jormin's ethereal arco introductions, the wonderful unfolding of the songs by Stenson (without any fanfare), the clear-cut, polyrhythmic percussion and humorous beats of Jon Fält and then the choice and order of the songs! With this trio purely the music is at the center, performed by musicians who are at the very inside of the music. The music has everything that makes the heart of many people beat up faster and fulfils deep desires.

All of this emerged and became true in the splendid performance of the trio in Umeå. The wondrous thing is how these three musicians manage to operate everybody on himself and nonetheless are impacting on each other so strongly and deeply at the same time. The elegant phrasings of Stenson, the lilting wood of Jormin and the crackling, rustling sounds and dull beats of Jon Fält produced a rare clarity driven by great hidden dynamics and inherent passion. And this passion revealed at the end during their performance of "Don's Corapiece," a piece dedicated to the great Don Cherry.


Emilia Martensson is from the south of Sweden but is now a rising star on the British scene. Shortly her second album will be released on the British Babel- label. Her band is British and she is also connected loosely to bands as Kairos 4tet. With her firm and bright voice she wins it no time but the effect is fostered and sustained by a band which plays with high sophistication and understated drama. Pianist Barry Greene is the Chopin-man who knows how to highlight the mood at the right moment. Adriano Adewale uses a special drum set which allows him to bring in subtle percussive colors and accents whereas Sam Lasserson is the man to anchor and round it up. They now take the beautiful nice way but also have potential for more.

Endresen/Westerhus is without doubt one of the most intense, creative and challenging duos of this moment. Its music cuts deep, flies high, takes the audience to places of bare beauty and simple truth. No escape, we are all gurgling sonic creatures and live by making sound in first place. Stian Westerhus let us experience the space, edgy contours, lightning power of sound. Sidsel Endresen takes us to the inner dimension, the bodily tractions, the ex- and implosions of our voice and to the voice as a foghorn of our soul. Together they conjure up ex tempore this lesson of life, one with daring usage of electronics, six guitar strings and a bow, the other one with just her voice and a microphone.

As usual they went off and into it fully but had to work hard due to difficult sound conditions and recalcitrant part of the audience. Not everybody can stand it and has to decide (when) to opt out. E/W relaunched a few times, finally connected on a higher level, entered into a cathartic orbit and again made it a deeply moving experience.

Jack DeJohnette's drumming still is an impressing event of nature. From a long period playing together, George Colligan and Jerome Harris lift up the drum work still more and both know how to unfold their very own thing in this constellation, for instance Harris with his wonderful Leon Thomas like singing or Colligan with his impressing cornet playing. DeJohnette also joined forces with Rudresh Mahanthappa or David Fuze Fiuczinski. This time he had Don Byron added to the group playing mainly saxophone. However, it did not sum up to quartet. Byron is a very outspoken man but here it did not became clear what he was standing for or sounding to.

Shortly before midnight it was possible to get a glimpse of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, this young trumpeter with his remarkable Dizzy 2.0-horn. He just introduced his band-mates in a way that is difficult to outdo. Great style! It was his very own pleasure to go on talking and signifying. Humorous and twisting. Igniting, big serious fun. He talked his audience into the powerful music, into his young and younger fellow musicians, into themselves and celebrated it all. And then they played con bravado.

Kora-player Alagi Mbye from Gambia worked with different Scandinavian musicians like Knut Reiersrud, Mats Edén and Dale W Miller. For this years' Umeå festival he teamed up with Umeå-born pianist Arne Forsén, a very special duo- constellation with nicely alternating piano-kora- interaction. The piano did not only modulate the kora but brought in some thoughtful and surprising chord-work which opened some interesting new perspective.

Soil Collectors is a young trio of the two voices of Hannah Tolf and Isabel Sörling, live- electronics and lots of percussion around drummer Jonathan Albrektson. These three young musicians, who already made it to this years edition of 12points-festival work on the intersections of choral traditions, pop and improvised music with a provocative, energetic as well as theatric approach which is still developing.


Swedish bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg appeared twice during Saturday. First in an open improvisation performance with Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva. Here both musicians journeyed along numerous gradations and extensions of the sound of their instruments in exploring musical passages which open up from moment to moment. Zetterberg also played the finishing concert of the

festival program with his group Zetterberg & Den Store Fagan(The Big Question), a group with a mighty horn- section (Susana Santos Silva (tp), Mats Äleklint (trb), Jonas Kullhammar (sax, cl, fl), Alberto Pinton (sax, cl, fl)) the excellent Jon Fält on drums. They provided a real grand finale of Mingusian dimensions with lots of serious fun. A good gathering of high caliber players to keep in mind!

More music, more musicians, more bands this day. As a consequence it was impossible to cover a still bigger amount of Swedish bands: Time is A Mountain, Bror Gunnar Jansson, Je Suis, Lars Enmarks Stora Styrka/Gunhild Carling, Sandvikken Big Band/Krister Andersson, Pristagare Unga Jazzkometer, Midgårdsskolans Lärarband, Consortes, Kristina Öhman Bues Band, Wisker. And also these three non-Swedish groups/musicians: Angharadensemble, Lynne Arriale, Mari Kvien Brunvoll,

SUNDAY


Sunday is the day of fringe-programming. There was a concert of Sami- vocalist Inga Juuso and her group Bárut (Waves), a side step into regional music culture, yoik-singing of the native Sami-people who spread over Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia presented by Michael Lindblad, chairman of the Sami Association of Umeå. Juuso was joined by her group-members Asbjørn Berson (vocal/guitar/sampling), Audun Eriksen (didgeridoo/flutes), Hilde Gunn Onset (trumpet/flugelhorn/goat horn) and Martin Smite (percussion). The five musicians are each on their own performers and composers in different ensembles and projects. Juuso, who made quite an impact, is one of the best and most respected yoik-singers. As turned out quickly Bárut blends yoik with sounds capes as well as elements of blues and jazz—a valid variation among other Scandinavian yoik blends. There are also clear resemblances to other blends of jazz and North American native music (Jim Pepper, Don Pullen, Robbie Robertson etc.). The most striking and impressing musician beside Juuso proved to be Norwegian trumpeter Hilde Gunn Onset. The way she played the goat horn, an ancient art, was just surprising as well as amazing and impressing. She appeared to be enormously fluent and adaptable on this natural horn which is rare. She clearly expanded the range of this instrument. She worked with the likes of Helge Norbakken, Paolo Vinaccia, Tore Brunborg. For her last album Stillness (2011 (Loosen Rec.)) she collaborated with Mats Eilertsen, Thomas Stone and Eyolf Dale. Her newest album Valencia (2013 (Loosen Rec.) has just been released.

The Sunday still had two events in store: the dinner of the volunteers and the program "My Kind Of Jazz." As most festivals also the Umeå Festival would be impossible with all volunteers. The quality of a festival for a big part depends on how their deployment is organized and their motivation is nourished and maintained. Here an atmosphere of natural responsibility, participation, openness, care and friendly solidarity prevailed.

My Kind Of Jazz was the closing bracket of the festival period. A local artistic project involving musicians from pop, rock, blues and singer-songwriters based in Umeå presented their jazz-related jazz-contribution in different ways: by singing jazz-standards or by singing own repertoire in a jazzy way: Lina Häggström (Skator), Frida Selander, Michael Stenberg (Syket), Sofia Henricsson (SlowFox), John Edén (Wolfman Jack), Lo Ersare, Ewa Wikström (Queenfish and other tales). All performing musicians had prepared their contributions with the house band consisting of pianist/arrangeur/ conductor Carl Bagge, saxophonist Elin Larsson, Chris Montgomery, drums and Micke Emsing, percussion, Jan Östlund, double bass, and Peter Holmkvist guitar, during by intense rehearsals.


The house band played on a high level offering a secure musical frame work for the great variety of performers. It was not possible to attend the whole show but it can be said that it was relaxed and entertaining at a high level of performing and song-quality. The highly appealing and memorable goodbye came from Ewa Wikström of Queenfish And Other Tales!

Photo credit
All photos: Henning Bolte

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