Henning Bolte By

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Amir ElSaffar

With his commission work "Ahwal" trumpeter Amir El Saffar presented a different way to live within differing cultural rootedness and related contrasting perceptions. Amir El Saffar who also plays the santour, a Persian hammered dulcimer, and sings, performed this work together with the Lutoslawski string quartet of NFM and two Polish top musicians, clarinetist Wacław Zimpel and bassist Ksawery Wóciński. "Ahwal" is a daring and delicate blend of Middle Eastern maqam music and occidental modern chamber music practices. It drives on intricate rhythms, microtonal transitions, timbres and textures (with Lachenmann processes and sound properties) low volume, and overall sophisticated dynamics. The process of producing these precious sounds was as exciting as the resulting lines and textures. The most challenging thing appeared to be the execution of those delicate textures and timbres in close connection with the feeling for the lively oriental rhythmical structures. It kept the tension in the music and invoked a highly attentive way of listening, established a close union or complicity of the performer and the ear of the beholder. It was a deep pleasure to watch and feel how all performers made eager and concentrated efforts to accomplish that and to see how El Saffar kept a fine balance of pushing and letting go. The members of the string quartet, Malgorzata Wasincionek (violin), Marcin Markowiz (violin), Artur Rozmysłowicz (viola) and Maciej Młodawski (violoncello), entered the performance with open visors and spur-of-the-moment alertness. Waclaw Zimpel, a strong voice experienced in Eastern music, served the piece's modes and processes with a great variety of his instrument's shadings. Ksawery Wóciński as the deep end of the strings adapted the needs of process and lines sensitively and with brilliant maneuvers. It was an extraordinary piece of music, astounding, brilliant and captivating. It certainly should not stay with this single performance and it is good to know that it will be presented at the New York and Chicago edition of Jazztopad in the fall of 2019.

Roots Magic

The Italian quartet Roots Magic of clarinetist Alberto Popolla, saxophonist Errico D Fabritiis, bassist Gianfranco Tedeschi and drummer Sandro Satta - Roberto Bellatalla - Fabrizio Spera lived up to its name in full measure. The group played a special selection of old blues classics from the Mississippi delta from the 20s of the last century onwards such as Blind Willie Johnson, Charly Patton and Geeshie Wiley and combined those with pieces of jazz musicians that carried and developed this legacy in a strong manner in(to) the social, political and artistic reality of the 50s, 60s and 70s. On the other hand Roots Magic revived pieces from the lineage of jazz characters such as Pee Wee Russell (1906-1969), Marion Brown (1931-2010), Sun Ra (1924-1993), Phil Cohran (1927-2017), John Carter (1929-1991), Makanda MacIntyre (1931-2001) Ornette Coleman (1931-2015), Julius Hemphill (1938-1995) and Roscoe Mitchell (1940). The concert, including introductory stories about these musical characters in the context of their time, provided illuminating confrontations and comparisons about influences, influences that numerous present musicians have adopted, imitated, absorbed, transformed unsolicited day in, day out as a matter of course, often even without being aware of it.

While 'old' music in jazz very often is transformed, this group went in the opposite direction, working from a reconstructive view of a bygone cultural practice and came up with its very own, stripped down essential version of it as a present mirroring echo. The trio has things in common with groups as Steven Bernstein's Millenial Territory Orchestra, the Polish duo Marcin Masecki/Jerzy Rogiewicz, French groups Post K and Novembre. Roots Magic dwelled on these sources and highlighted/honored it as a crucial influence upon the jazz field—a refreshing, exhilarating, relevant and necessary contribution to this or any festival.

Brad Mehldau

Pianist Brad Mehldau's commission for a work with the symphonic orchestra of NFM was also a meeting of different cultures, namely that of a leading jazz pianists possessing a unique signature encountering a formative institution of classical music In the introductory solo part he marked his individual domain with Bach, Radiohead and evergreens of American urban folk music before entering into the large orchestral domain. He resisted the temptation to break it open, make it big or stormy wild. Het stayed honest and true to himself and illuminated lots of harmonic nuances from within thereby generating a colorful, sparkling flow that elevated the orchestral sound and vice versa—a lovely and much appreciated and enthusiastically received offering to the audience in the big hall of NFM.

Jamie Baum

Flautist Jamie Baum has a strong intercultural commitment with her septet of Amir ElSaffar (trumpet/vocal), Sam Sadigursky (alto saxophone/bass clarinet), Chris Komer (French horn), Brad Shepik (guitar), Luis Perdomo (piano), Zack Lober (bass, singing bowl), Jeff Hirshfield (drums). This commitment was triggered by, and centered around, Qawwali singer Nusrat Fatih Ali Khan and her experiences in Nepal. Centerpiece of her last album "The Bridge" is a three-part Nepal-related Shiva-suite. A central challenge of such a commitment is the framework and approach for the combination and blend of elements from different musical cultures and systems. There are various possibilities with different reach, depth and dynamics and how it shifted and changed from the hard bop period into free jazz and present world jazz was visible. According to her own words, for Jamie Baum it is something of a back and forth process of going through her main sources and influences, the jazz tradition, the tradition of Jewish music and the traditions of Northern and Southern India, to find links and transitions to pour into compositions and arrangements that leave enough space for the individual musicians to meaningfully participate in the shaping of the work. The excellent compositions of "The Bridge" certainly allow for that in the sense of the standard pattern of jazz composition. There was fine solo work then but was often too insulated. The Wroclaw performance manifested Baum's work less flexibly, loose and flowing than its previous appearances.


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