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Jazzwerkstatt

Andrey Henkin By

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A European Jazz Jamboree (is) a wide-ranging program that according to its organizers is an art concept in itself
In September in Berlin, an ambitious new jazz festival, A European Jazz Jamboree, took over several venues in the city with a wide-ranging program that according to its organizers is an art concept in itself: it displays the whole range of the current European jazz scene, from free jazz to traditional modern jazz, and a jazz between new music and improvised jazz. Grand to be sure, but certainly the group that organized the festival's events is up to such a challenge: A European Jazz Jamboree, an annual event in the German capital each September, is the brainchild of the owners of the new record label Jazzwerkstatt, which, in its two years of operation, has already established itself as a worthy heir to such other German labels as FMP, Calig, Horzl and early ECM.

But lest one think that the festival came directly "out of" the label, the story is a little more complicated. Jazzwerkstatt, as a label, is descended from Jazzwerkstatt Peitz, at one time the biggest jazz festival in Germany outside of Berlin. It was organized by Ulli Blobel and Peter Metag, in the then East Germany. In 1984, Blobel left East Germany to concentrate on other endeavors. In 1999, he returned to jazz, founding Jazzwerkstatt Berlin-Brandenburg eV, alongside Berlin musicians like Uschi Bruning, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, Friedhelm Schonfeld, Uwe Kropinski and Ernst Bier. Their stated aim was to support jazz in the German state of Brandenburg and the capital city Berlin.

After the successful presentation of many concerts in Berlin, Blobel founded the Jazzwerkstatt label. The label had a tripartite aim, to release older recordings from Jazzwerkstatt Peitz (to document the history of free and improvised jazz), to release new recordings from its recent concerts here in Berlin, and to document the newer scene of free and improvised jazz and recordings of Berlin artists, mostly younger artists like Rudi Mahall, Johannes Fink, Oliver Steidle, and Silke Eberhard, but also established performers such as Uschi Broning, Rolf Kuhn, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Ulrich Gumpert. And since 2006, the label has released 40 CDs, two DVDs and two boxed sets.

Just as with A European Jazz Jamboree, the scope of the label's releases has been wide. The first disc was the trio of (famed clarinetist) Peter Brotzmann, Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmuller, entitled Full Blast (Jazzwerkstatt, 2006). Other recordings include albums from the Ulrich Gumpert Workshop Band, Smell A Rat (Jazzwerkstatt, 2008), the duo of Phil Minton and Veryan Weston, Ways—A Songbook (Jazzwerkstatt, 2007), and works from the bands of bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall and bassist Gunter Lenz, (who was most famously the bassist for trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff in the late '60s and early '70s).

Complementing the newer recordings are archival discs from Jazzwerkstatt Peitz by players such as trombonist Conny Bauer, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and reed-player Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky. Other notable albums include the second outing from the sax trio Sonore (Peter Brotzmann, Ken Vandermark, and Mats Gustafsson), a recent live disc from Berlin by saxophonist David Murray's Black Saint Quartet and new music by one of the elder statesmen of German jazz, clarinetist Rolf Kuhn.

The label is a small operation: Blobel as producer, Melanie Martin in the office, graphic designer Klaus Untiet and Winnie Marquardt as technical support. But what Jazzwerkstatt might lack in office staff, it makes up for in probably the two most important areas of a jazz label, concept and design. The concept is evident in the high quality of the music presented; the design though is equally crucial—and just as impressive. Says Blobel, "The art design is very closely related to the music - our first cover was done by Peter Brotzmann for his own disc Full Blast. That was the beginning of designing a graphic on white background. After that we worked closely with an artist from Potsdam, Chris Hinze and his colleague Olga Maslo. Both of them are also interested in this kind of music—Chris Hinze is a musician himself—and thus the relation of art design and music is very close and natural.

Besides the work of Hinze and Maslo, some of the stark imagery comes from Blobel's personal collection of graphic art by artists such as Max Beckstein, AR Penck and Peter Kowald, and of course from staff designer Klaus Untiet. Already the label has won two important design awards in Germany for its cover designs—the Red Dot Award and the iF Communication Design Award—and is currently nominated for the German Design Award, the highest honor given to commercial products in Germany.

So, having started with concert promotion, then expanding to releasing albums and now programming festivals, one would think Blobel and company would have their hands full. But in addition to the aforementioned activities, another facet to the business opened last month, a retail store named jazzwerkstatt+klassik SHOP, in the western part of Berlin. The shop sells CDs and DVDs of primarily jazz and classical music, and has a lounge and performance space: several of the concerts presented as part of A European Jazz Jamboree have taken place there.

The label intends to release two to three albums a month, excluding the summer, with upcoming discs from the Floros Floridis Trio and Aki Takase as well as from more Jazzwerkstatt Peitz concerts of Elton Dean's Ninesense and Peter Kowald. More DVDs are planned, and more boxed sets, in addition to the two the label has released thus far - the boxed sets already released are Peter Brotzmann's Die Like A Dog— Complete Session and Ulrich Gumpert Workshop Band. Blobel says the two box sets are of previously released material. "It is a very difficult product (to sell) as it costs more and people are very hesitant to invest so much in CDs. But with that kind of popular and legendary material it can work," says Blobel. We will be producing other CD boxes with recordings of Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet and Globe Unity Orchestra. The DVD section will be built up in the next few months. We now also record all of our concerts on DVD and we want to release them with interviews and background pictures included."

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