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Live From Cologne: The Dorf, Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra & Jaki Liebezeit: A Tribute

Martin Longley By

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The Dorf meets Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra
Stadtgarten
Cologne, Germany
January 21, 2018

Stadtgarten is one of Germany's prime music venues, now heading into its 32nd year of existence. It's situated to the western side of Cologne, just across the train tracks, and next to several surrounding parks. The Stadtgarten building is divided between music hall and bar/restaurant, the latter being a sensible means of support for the often wild sounds (sometimes wildly uneconomical) to be heard next door. In more recent times, outside funding has bloomed, and an even more ambitious programme has become possible.

The calendar focus is primarily on jazz and improvised music, but there are frequent excursions towards rock, electronics, global roots and modern classical sounds. Artistic director Reiner Michalke has exceptionally fine taste, as already witnessed internationally during his substantial stint programming the nearby Moers Festival.

Stadtgarten's main theatre is of good size, but not too large to lose its intimacy. The room's sound system has both detailed clarity and behemoth volume-thrust, with all instruments equal, even within a fist-fightin' maelstrom of massed individualists. One big band is customarily sufficient, but on this so-far so-quiet Sunday evening, two of North Rhine-Westphalia's enlarged ensembles were about to inhabit the stage, sometimes even at the same time.

The Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra tends to create music that stands well inside the tradition, mostly in the manner of Gil Evans, Mike Gibbs, Maria Schneider and other painters of cinematic jazz narratives: lyrical, studied, bright and sleek. Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes" slid by at a slow tempo, Frank Sackenheim soloing on tenor saxophone, swelling and gliding. Presumably, the following "Ritual" is penned by pianist Jürgen Friedrich, who opened the piece by triggering a swirling section from the innards of his instrument. The free billowing eventually entertained thoughts of a rhythm, developing a purposeful tread. The CCJO delivered a polished set, but the following extravaganza by The Dorf was destined to surge out into the dangerously diced-up realms of jazz beyond even our ken.

The Dorf came together in 2006, around the Ruhr area, founded by saxophonist Jan Klare. Even when lacking German lingo translation skills, it's possible to glean that his between-number patter was highly amusing. The music itself also possesses absurdist moments, but is mainly devoted to savage sonic eviscerations, enacted with brutal precision, even without the aid of exact scoring. Klare's own spirited directions are usually enough to coax out a tightened razor reaction-time amongst the substantial spread of players.

High contrasts were at play, with vocals, electronics and sousaphone on the battlefield of audibility, but with the muscular sound system, heard at just the right levels within a compacted, almost industrial barrage of mixed textures. The extreme crackle, fizz and pustulous bursting of the four electronicysts infested the complexion with rupturing spatial displacement. Astoundingly, this action enhanced the other 'conventional' instrumental structures, not obscuring, but overlaying with a coating of bursting, sizzling, synthezoid fry-up. The massed horns ebbed and flowed in waves, acting as an entity, with soloing possible at any time, by anyone.

Klare remained on top, in command (credited for 'air movement'), riding this bucking bronco of revolutionary fracturing. It's a commendation indeed, when an ensemble can still create music that's surprising, in these days where we always assume that all combinations have now been heard already. All was circling, coalescing, the double drums shown off, alto saxophone and electronics joining in for some skeletal dub reggae. As the set intensified even further, the encores kept coming, and members of the CCJO took to the stage, converting to the laws of mayhem, which relaxed for a stately swaying, glowing with dignified sound-colours, getting more crowded, and slowly more violent, and ultimately, as close to anthemic as we could withstand.

Jaki Liebezeit: A Tribute
Kölner Philharmonie
Cologne, Germany
January 22, 2018

Jaki Liebezeit is amongst the very finest of rock drummers, although his work with Cologne combo Can, where his reputation was made, often embraced strong aspects of satellite modes, particularly his extended funk and African patterns. Liebezeit died on January 22nd, 2017, aged 78, leaving behind not only a wondrous legacy of recording and performing work, but also a vast cross-genre influence on artists from multiple musical realms and generations. His best work was with Can, between 1968 and 1979, but Liebezeit also made excellent records with Phantomband, Drums Off Chaos and the English bassist Jah Wobble, amongst illustrious others.

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