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Moers Festival 2014

Moers Festival 2014
Henning Bolte By

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Moers Festival
Moers , Germany
June, 6-9, 2014

Moers is a small city of about 100,000 inhabitants at the periphery of the former mining and industrial Ruhrpott area in Germany, about 40 km from the Dutch border and near the cities of Duisburg and Düsseldorf. Moers Festival, a four-day annual event always taking place on White Sunday, is a special festival with a rich history and firm traditions. Originally named Moers International New Jazz Festival, it grew into a remarkable cultural enterprise through which the city has become world-famous among musicians, music aficionados, festival directors and cultural entrepreneurs.

Great changes, new beginnings, stable future

This year the festival had to relocate to a hall to a new place on the periphery of the city, and make a new start with this year's 19 main acts spread over four days and nights. Those 19 main acts were augmented by daily sessions starting at 11:00 in the morning, night sessions starting after midnight and special concerts in the dark. The morning sessions brought together festival artists, musicians from the region and other guest musicians. This year's edition was a big challenge due to the relocation of the festival activities and the task to resettle everything, establish the new surroundings and make everything work. It is still an event where visitors may stay during the festival in their mobile homes and tents next to the festival hall.

Friday night

The festival opened with reminiscences of legendary bassist Peter Kowald (1944-2002), originating from the close-by city of Wuppertal, cofounder of the festival and closely related to its heydays during the '80s and '90s. It became a very special thing, initiated and organized by Cologne double bassist Sebastian Gramms, who played Kowald's bass: standing in three rows, 44 double bassists (mainly from the region)—including Mark Dresser and Dieter Manderscheid—performed together, starting with themes by Kowald. It took a lot of organizational effort to bring Bassmasse, as it was called, into being. To rehearse and perform with this amount of big violins, more than forty parking lot spots were required, for instance. Daring as it doubtlessly was to do this as the very first concert in a completely new concert hall, it set the tone, succeeded in overcoming limitations and crossing borders. It ultimately turned out to be a triumph for the music, the instrument, the musicians and the audience.

44 double basses onstage is spectacular but not necessarily a spectacle. When Dutch drummer Han Bennink entered the stage, however, people expected a spectacle. And: they got it, generally speaking. In Moers, he hit the stage together with young Dutch pianist Oscar Jan Hoogland. As an artist and musician Bennink does not just play his tune or drum his rhythms, he transforms found realities percussively. And that's what he did effectively and in a highly enjoyable way for the cheering audience in Moers. Actually, when you get an audience that sympathetic, the musicians couldn't help but do a good job. Bennink then acted as many people would like to have acted themselves. He is a tough partner for every duo.

Hoogland is a homeboy (of the youngest generation) who acts in the same vein. Even as Bennink was expanding his work field, so, too, did Hoogland during their performance. He switched from piano to his heavily amplified and distorted clavinet and employed an armada of megaphones. Whereas other musicians add a lot of textural noise to their music, Bennink and Hoogland relied on a quite old tradition of artfully building up obstacles that they had to cope with in inventive ways to make their way into playing bits of music. Together with some of Thelonious Monk's pivotal lines as companions, both became entangled in a highly idiosyncratic and amusing way during their stage ride.

From 44, then, two musicians and, finally, to just one musician with an ordinary acoustic guitar on the big stage: Marc Ribot. Ribot, too, has his characteristic idiosyncratic way. He is a master of overshooting the mark in a highly precise and productive way, and he is also a master of being inside and outside the piece of music, very closely connected. In Moers, he crept into the ingrained role of singer-songwriter, thereby derailing the pattern of the old protest song. Sometimes there was a sketchy song, sometimes a creased, scrunched up form of prototypes for '60s protest songs (the far echoes of P.F. Sloan's "Eve Of Destruction," for instance), more or less unfinished.

Picking and strumming his guitar, Ribot talked and sang his way through a series of serious topics, serious enough to express a protest ("The Empire State Building," "My Body Is Lying," "The Dying Cowboy," "Santa Claus," The Internet"). A special aspect of the Ribot-parlando: his rendition of Bob Dylan's legendary "Masters Of War." First talking about the great feeling of playing a D-minor chord when he was a young guy ("Masters," from 1963, leans on the British folksong "Nottamun Town" which is in a major key; Dylan's minor gave it the definite doom-struck effect). Ribot ended with a hyper-rapid recitation of the song's lyrics. Although confusing or bothering parts of the audience, it was very much a Ribot thing: productively escaping the preset gusto framing, supplying food for thought and readjusting perceptions.

A big contrast, then, with the last group of the first night, the 16-member Ricky-Tick Big Band from Helsinki, augmented by Julkinen Sana (Public Address). Julkinen Sana, a highly infectious rap trio of acclaimed Finnish hip hop pioneers consists of Paleface, Redrama and Tommy Lindgren (Father Metro), The Ricky-Tick BB—founded in 2010 by its leader, guitarist/composer/producer Valtteri Laurell Pöyhönen, now residing in Berlin—is an all-star big band of top young jazz musicians from the younger Finish generation. It was revealed, very quickly, as being more than just a dynamic and groovy modern Big Band with some vocalists as guests. All three vocalists were natural born, high energy entertainers who made immediately contact with the audience, let it participate and shared with it the joy of the strong groove and the bright Big Band sound, stirring it up, conquering it and altogether making its first appearance outside Finland a surprisingly strong overall experience.

Saturday

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