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Les Rencontres AJC 2019

Les Rencontres AJC 2019

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Pan Piper, Dynamo de Banlieues Bleues, Cité de la Musique, Philharmonie de Paris
Les Rencontres AJC 2019
December 2-4, 2019

Association Jazzé Croisé (AJC) extended its annual December meeting in Paris to a three-day program with French and Scandinavian showcases and an extensive program of talks and discussions. Here the annual showcases of the laureates of the Jazz Migration program and the Scandinavian showcases will be reviewed followed by remarks on some aspects of the talks-/discussion part of the meeting.

Annual Jazz Migration programme/meeting

Jazz Migration is a unique annual program:

  • of Association Jazzé Croisé (AJC), a 'collectif de 80 diffuseurs,' coaching and seriously boosting the professional career of four promising and already proven musicians/groups (under 35 years).
  • laureates are nominated through an election process opened to 100 promoters inside and outside AJC's network (clubs, festivals, national theatres, cultural centers).
  • organization and procurement of concerts, nationally and internationally for the laureates. In addition, a French venue or festival adopts a laureate. In 2018, the four laureates were on tour in France and Europe for more than 80 gigs (see review here)

Choices laureates 2019/2020

It is an enormous task to make a sharp and valid choice of musicians and groups from all scenes of a country and the huge horizontal variety gathered under the heading 'jazz,' and to fish out the units that match the criteria and represent the already proven, the best matured, and the most promising ones. Strikingly this year's selection represents a similar scope of varieties:

  • a group with rock/pop affinities/sensibility (You (2019) | Three Days of Forest (2018);
  • a group elaborating on transformations of ethnic music sources (NoSax NoClar (2019) | No Tongues (2018);
  • a group working in the mode of emergence/slow expansion from a nucleus (Kepler (2019) | House of Echo (2018);
  • and a group with modern jazz affinities (Nefertiti Quartet (2019) | Melusine (2018).
In other European countries fostering this group of promising and already proven and matured musicians/groups is organized in various ways.

The 2019 selection has one duo, two trios and a quartet—all together with a total 7:4 male-female ratio. These were the participating musicians:

YOU: Heloïse Divilly (dr), Guillaume Magne (g), Isabel Sörling (voc) NoSAX | NoCLAR: Julien Stella (cl, sax), Bastian Weeger (cl, sax) KEPLER: Julien Pontviannee (sax, cl), Adrien Sanchez (sax), Maxime Sanchez (p) NEFERTITI Quartet: Delphine Deau (p), Camille Maussion (sax), Pedro Ferreira (b), Pierre Demange (dr)

It is a clearly distinctive choice on a high level.

Nefertiti Quartet

"Morse Code" by Nefertiti Quartet was the most memorable piece of the Jazz Migration night 2019 at La Dynamo de Banlieues Bleues, Paris. The opposite in tempo to trio Kepler, the quartet founded by pianist Delphine Deau, is elated by joyfully forward rushing polyrhythm, sophisticated about-turns and improvisational elaborations. The masterful interplay of the four musicians of this gender-equal unit contained all achievements of modern North American jazz in a highly developed manner and offered highly precise soloing. Pianist Delphine Deau, saxophonist Camille Maussion, bassist Pedro Ferreira and drummer Pierre Demange forming a close unit presented an impeccable performance with rich dynamics, texture and color.


The music of trio Kepler is affected by the praise of slowness and the inherent (aesthetic and (e)motional) necessity, consistence of tonal extension and expansion. Digging into the realm of pianist Maxime Sanchez and saxophonists Julien Pontvianne and Adrien Sanchez leads you deep in the network of the French scene in which these three musicians are plenty entangled for a decade, especially via collectief Onze Heures Onze (with its 10 configurations). It turns out pretty quickly that a main source for them was, and is, the music of Paul Motian Trio. Kepler's music reflects his music in a clear and very own manner. It might not sound as 'jazz' on first hearing for some, but it deeply is.

NoSax NoClar

The NoSax NoClar duo of Julien Stella (bass clarinet, other clarinets) and Bastian Weeger (saxophone, clarinets) cruised through Eastern and Southern folk tonalities transforming and melting those into their virtuosic, intense and infectious up-to-date version of a voyage folklore imaginaire. They deeply dove into a greater diversity of musical tones of voice, conjuring and mirroring Armenian duduk melodiousness, frenetically echoed Ivo Papasov's wedding music, swirled into a Katchaturian dance of clarinettos and ended up as spirited sons of the Berber Master Musicians of Joujouka of Bachir Attar (Morocco).

Mentioning these associations does not mean that the duo was immersing itself in plain mimicry of musical idioms or that there always was a clear link to a specific ethnic source. Its music was driven primarily by unfolding inherent potentials of their instruments—bass clarinet, other clarinets and saxophone—in complex, orchestral interaction and ever shifting lines. They used their instruments in percussive function or as drone instruments etc., thereby making use of extended techniques. By these means Stella and Weeger created a series of gripping constellations of rhythm and melody, uniting and united in abundant flow and deep groove. Extended techniques and free jazz bursts acquired a new significance in this music, a reloaded significance and immediacy—a bit similar to the reloading in the music of last year's laureates, No Tongues (see review here). No Tongues started from specific ethnic idioms while No Sax No Clar project their instrument potentials into a diversity of matching idioms.

While older-generation musicians as Evan Parker invented and developed those means in highly abstracted way, these young musicians use them to frame and induce rhythmic-melodic constellations as part of a groove-driven flow. Stella is also a highly skilled, sophisticated beat boxer and both musicians work with the rigorous rhythm centered configuration Groove Catcher.


Trio YOU, consisting of drummer Heloïse Divilly, guitarist Guillaume Magne and vocalist Isabel Sörling, is an intriguing, not immediately clear case. The group has a vigorous rock approach but can wonderfully fan out on that basis. The rock feel comes from Magne and Divilly's wonderfully flying and supple interlocking dynamics, a fabric oscillating between Ry Cooder/Ali Farka Toure and early Fleetwood Mac. It fits as a glove for Sörling's amiable, telling voice, fluidly moving between twittering, dreamily purring and howling. The trio opens up a(n) (in)credible space of its very own beyond absorbed influences—a fresh, lighthearted match that works as a strong entity in itself.

Is it possible to do a bit of (shifting to) pop or rock in a jazz context? Does something exist as experimental pop-or rock music where musicians with a jazz back-ground meet with people from a pop-or rock background? What are rock/pop affinities or sensibilities presently in a jazz context? Can we hear it or feel it?

There are lots of mutual influences and effects between jazz and those fields. There are also good transitional examples, examples of musicians crossing over from one side to the other. But when we talk about shifting into rock-or pop sensibilities we have to be aware that it's not only a stylistic shift or adaptation. It is especially for rock music—a question of the way of being, of attitude, of a specific lifestyle and presence on stage and in the subcultural field.

Jazz musicians just using heavy rock stuff—as more and more is happening presently—can be like fish in the air or helicopters under water. Playing rock does not necessarily mean that you are rock. To be credible, it needs a playful unique identity that is shown and staged in the performance and it needs a special complicité with the audience, a vibe that is celebrated together with peers.

The best link between the French Migration program and the Scandinavian Nordic Jazz Comet program is vocalist Isabel Sörling. Being part of the present Migration, almost ten years ago, in 2010, she has been part of the Nordic Jazz Comets too with her group Farvel. And if that is not enough, she has also been part of the 12Points Festival selection in 2013. She is a prime example of integration of an artist from outside in the French scene of which there are more well-known names in different generations.

Nordic Jazz Comets

The Nordic Jazz Comets is a collaboration of the Nordic jazz organizations FIH Music School & Iceland Music Export, JazzDanmark, Jazz Finland, Norsk jazzforum and Svensk Jazz. The candidates are young, emerging jazz units selected by the Artistic Committee of each organization.

From Finland came Kaisa's Machine, Denmark sent Røgsignal, Sweden selected Fartyg 6, Norway chose Erlend Apneseth Trio and Iceland presented the duo Arnason/Eliasen. The contingent had one duo, one trio, two quartets and one sextet with a 14 to 5 male-female ratio.

Røgsignal (DK) is a group with rock/pop affinities/sensibility and a fender rhodes (Jakob Lauritse), electric guitar (Nikolaj Bugge), electric bass-guitar (Henrik Lauritsen) and drums (Jonas Møller Andreasen).

Erlend Apneseth Trio (NO) is a group elaborating on transformations of ethnic music sources and doing that in the mode of emergence/slow expansion from a nucleus and there were two groups with modern jazz affinities: Kaisa's Machine (FI) led by a female bassist and the Swedish group Fartyg 6 that combined vocal jazz with a horn frontline in surprising turns. The Icelandic group combined modern jazz with rock affinities in a jump-cut-zapping, open improvisation way.

These musicians and groups were clearly younger and in an earlier developmental stage than the French selection of Jazz Migration. An exception was the trio of violinist Erlend Apneseth from Bergen, Norway, which is an established matured group with experienced and proven musicians. Apneseth's trio is one of these groups that can make music from dust. From dusty sound clouds folk melodies can emerge or intonated folk motifs can resolve to dust. The three musicians, Apneseth, percussionist, Øyvind Hegg-Lunde and guitarist Stephan Meidell work from Norwegian folk sources and acoustic as well electronic sound particles. By highly improvised means, they playfully let those unfold and amass in their consonance and give wings to their layered resonances in cosmic orchestral dimensions. It evokes the desire to hear the Cretan lyra of Ross Daly here.

Røgsignal played flawless interlocking, glowing rock of the cultivated and self-sufficient kind. However, there was lacking something to really kindle the spark. Fartyg 6, another equally female-male group, had this unusual and very singular color of vocals (Matilda Andersson) in interaction with baritone saxophone (Daniel Gahrton and bass clarinet Lisa Grotherus) next to Milton Öhrstròm on keys, Boel Mogensen on double bass and Julia Schabbauer on drums. It is for sure something to further develop, to extend and to densify. While Røgsignal stayed too long in one mode, Fartyg 6 enthusiastically flew in many directions and thereby diligently served a well-intended entertaining purpose. The developmental potential lay in the deep valleys that appeared now and then.

Double bassist Kaisa Mäensivu, dividing her time between New York and Helsinki, is a highly talented, very active, versatile double bassist with a mighty tone of voice. She has a lot to offer and Kaisa's Machine with Max Zenger on saxophone, Mikael Myrskog on piano and Jonatan Sarikoski on drums is a good beginning. She yet has to mold her very own thing by means of those potentials. As a vocalist and bassist Mäensivu is a member of Finnish four-piece vocal group Signe, too, together with Josefina Vannesluoma, Riikka Keränen, Selma Savolainen:

"Coming more from a contemporary and multi-idiomatic "new thing" perspective, the female group known as Signe presented what was, to these ears, one of the more exciting sets of the festival—and without resorting to obvious excitation or intensity agents. These tautly-connected quartet of vocalists—one being bassist-vocalist Kaisa Mäensivu, who has been studying in the U.S. recently—conjured up a compelling and malleable ensemble identity, moving between folk music links to classical and jazz sonorities, and more experimental touches. The sum effect was quite stunning, and ear/mind-opening." (All About Jazz)

Drummer Magnús Trygvason Eliassen and saxophonist Tumi Árnason, two headstrong musical individuals on ice and fire, have been playing in free improvised mode as a duo for quite a while and released an album Allt er ómæliðin early 2019. Their music showed a broad range of dynamics and timbres, from extremely quiet and understated passages to high energy eruptions. often electronically processed. The about-turns kept their playing lively, but its logics were quite peculiar and not so easy to comprehend. Together with the trio of Erlend Apneseth the duo was a rather rare example of an open improvisation unit in this kind of showcases.

Varieties of infrastructure

The program of talks and discussions of the first edition of Les Rencontres AJC included an overview about the organization, facilitation and funding infrastructure in the Scandinavian countries and in France, a meeting exclusively for musicians to exchange with each other and a final meeting entitled "Jazz and Improvised Music: Thinking through how to bring international relations to life."

All involved countries have a multi-branched, multi-faceted infrastructure of its own character and their own salient features ranging from Norway with its strong regional jazz centers, numerous festivals and dream budget, to France with its dense structure of networks and collectifs. Looking exclusively at pendants to the French Migration program in other European countries reveals a great variety with even greater differences. As it became clear already, French Migration and Nordic Jazz Comets programs differ considerably. It should also be borne in mind that there are European countries that are lacking many of these kinds of facilities and related funding. A critical evaluative overview of these varieties would need an extra article. It was useful to start in the context of the meeting with displaying these structural aspects in a more systematic and thorough way. A good next step would be to illuminate the working of these structures on the basis of some interesting and revealing cases.

Walls, ways and weights

One of the key issues dealt with in the finishing panel discussion was the social dynamics of the artist—programmer/curator relationship and its effects on advanced creative development.

Programmers are confronted with a massive pool of choice on the artist side. Musicians and groups are confronted with a communication jungle where they have to get noticed, have to manage to get clear feedback and hopefully enter (fair) negotiation. It is by far no barrier free territory, on the contrary. Often a large amount of time is demanded and consumed, and friction and narrowing of perspective might be caused—all counter-productive phenomena. Structuring and dynamics of the relationship depends on the aims of the programmer/curator and the type and character of the festival/venue.

As a case of advanced practice, a video of a joint concert of T(r)opic-CoCo-São Paulo Underground at the recent Berlin Jazzfest, curated by artistic director Nadin Deventer, was screened. Its creation and elaboration were then clarified by French guitarist Julien Desprez, the only musician in the panel. He was involved as leader in the Berlin multinational and multidisciplinary performance. Musicians and dancers from Brazil, US, Portugal, France, Denmark, Sweden and Norway participated in the massive venture. It had started in a smaller set up at last year's Sons d'Hiver Festival in Paris, had a reprise at Saalfelden Festival in the summer, and finally expanded and exploded into its Berlin version, constituting a landmark of its kind. It was transformed by adding the Coco-troupe, connected to Julien Desprez, and musicians of São Paulo, connected to trumpeter Rob Mazurek, the other leader and elaborating this during a two-days residency in Berlin in choreography and musical movement. The musicians and dancers performed in a lighted large circle, a space inviting the artists to move, feel, see, project and pass on. The whole was visible and could be watched from three sides (like in an amphitheater). Both opened new perspectives and possibilities (in comparison with a pochette/Guckkastenbühne). As the video showed, it became a far more movable, hot burning, glittering happening permeated by poetical moments, reaching from stamping ground to sky high shoots and flashes. It had the signs of 'fresh, hot baked.' This artistically much further reaching transformation needed a close collaboration between musicians and curator to secure the technical preconditions and a free space and trust to develop and realize something like this, a collaboration that exceeds the more conventional programmer-artist cooperation. Both parties need each other to accomplish such advanced practice and results.

Taking this case as an encouraging example, Julien Desprez put forward a plea for breaking down walls, removing obstructions and sharing responsibilities instead. One of the arguments is that musicians are more used to organizing themselves and are more experienced to take responsibilities for artistic risks, as well as business related risks. As in this example the multinational combination of musicians came from the musicians themselves and led into a higher artistic achievement in this kind of collaboration.

Certainly, there are other models and strategies for a jointly realizing exchange and Interesting, challenging artistic advancement. The bilateral model of Jazzdor complemented by a policy to invite groups of potential partners is another one with its own dynamics that has functioned for quite some time and will be extended in the near future by a French-Hungarian axis (that has a solid foundation already).

Another new stepping-stone is the new, renovated instalment of the old institution of Orchestre National de Jazz. Among other changes, the ensemble now integrates musicians from other countries scenes such as trumpeter Susana Santos Silva (Portugal/Sweden) or Anna-Lena Schnabel (Germany). It is no longer leaning on "Reinkultur." It is a strong signal of commitment to real open exchange, and confidence in fruitful earnings as a corrective to the national export perspective.

The French speakers mostly welcomed these perspectives and discussed how it has to be 'translated' to adaptations of the strong French network structure. The Scandinavian side took a cautious wait and see stance. Luckily, there are already some first steps into real exchange, making much sense artistically, and enriching both parties.

Photo Julien Stella ©Henning Bolte

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