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Moers Festival: Moers, Germany, May 17-20, 2013

Henning Bolte By

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Moers Festival 2013
Moers, Germany
May 17-19, 2013
The internationally renowned Moers Festival again arrived at a turning point, with its 42nd edition. It was the last edition with the famous blue marquee in the vast Castle-park of the city of Moers. Next year, the festival will continue in a reconstructed solid hall, an old covered tennis court, situated nearby.

Chapter Index

Origins, Originality

Transformations

Morning, Day and Night

Three Days on the Main Stage

Day 1: Friday: Zorn Troop—Music from Different Spheres in One Spirit

Day 2: Saturday Diversity

Day 3: Sunday

Origins, Originality

The Moers Festival, with its experimental spirit originating from the seventies and lots of glorious highlights during its turbulent history, takes place every year during the weekend of Whit Sunday in the old town of Moers. Moers is a small city of about 100,000 inhabitants at the periphery of the former mining and industrial Ruhrpott area, about 40 km from the Dutch border and near the cities of Duisburg and Düsseldorf. Originally named International New Jazz Festival, Moers (the festival) grew into a remarkable cultural enterprise through which the city has become world- famous among musicians, music aficionados, festival directors and cultural entrepreneurs. Moers is the only city which, since 2008, annually hosts an improvising musician, who lives and works in the city for an entire year. The festival is embedded in his/her activities and vice versa. This year's improviser in residence was vocalist Michael Schiefel, preceded by saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, bassist Achim Tang, trumpeter Sanne van Hek, pianist Simon Rummel and saxophonist Angelika Niescier.

Transformations

With its outstanding artistic profile, it is typically a director-dependent and led festival. The era of founder Burkhard Hennen, a legendary local, came to an end after 34 years. Reiner Michalke, an experienced and successful organizer of the Cologne music scene— especially the internationally renowned Stadtgarten venue—took over in 2005.

In times of heavy shortages and cuts in—amongst others—the arts, the old festival will certainly undergo changes and transformations. It will move to a new hall with almost the same capacity but better facilities. There will be financing with a ten-year commitment to the new setup as a whole, from the city as well as the state. It is a challenge to pick up creatively, organizationally and practically.

It appears that there is a fertile soil concerning audiences. As the festival communiqué inidicated, the festival tent which holds 2,500 visitors, "was completely sold out, both on "Zorntag" and Whit Sunday. More advance tickets were sold than ever before, with sales of festival tickets up 30% over 2011, our previous best year. All in all, almost 15,000 visitors—many who had come from abroad—piled into the festival tent, the Röhre and the festival's other venues to enjoy a long weekend of contemporary music." And there are documentary traces available in the media for reliving. "Several thousand viewers followed festival online, too, via the live stream on the Moers Festival website and ARTE Live Web, which was produced by students at Cologne's Academy of Media Arts. A 'catch-up' stream, featuring almost all the festival concerts, will remain on ARTE Live Web for the next sixth months. The TV broadcaster WDR produced a 45-minute documentary on the festival, and WDR radio reported live from Moers on both Friday and Saturday. More radio programs about the festival are due to be aired this summer and autumn. Numerous ARD and European Broadcast Union channels will also be broadcasting live recordings of festival concerts in the coming weeks and months."

Morning, Day and Night

The festival presented three concerts at the main place, the marquee, in the afternoon, plus four concerts in the evening. There were also morning sessions and night concerts at the legendary Die Röhre (The Tube) club. The morning sessions were borne out of the original improvisational spirit of the festival. Artists who performed in the main program encountered artists invited to Moers especially for the morning sessions. The combination of musicians was decided shortly before the concert. The sessions were curated by Angelika Niescier, saxophonist and the festival's first Improviser in Residence (2008).

The three nighttime concerts at Die Röhre were an all-Polish affair. Piotr Damasiewicz, trumpeter and leader of "Power Of The Horns," put together three smaller ensembles from this collective: Pjotr Damasiewicz Quartet, with alto saxophonist (Maciej Obara, pianist Domink Wania, bassist Jakub Mielcarek and drummer Wojciech Romanowski; the Art Escape Quintet, with, in addition to Damasiewicz, alto saxophonist Adam Pindur, trombonist Pawel Niewiadomski, bassist Max Mucha, and drummer Dawid Fortuna; and the Power For Unit 4, with tenor saxophonist Marek Pospieszalski (also incorporating electronics), Damasiewicz (also employing acoustic objects), bassist Max Mucha and drummer Oba Janicki (using both electronics and acoustic objects. Damasiewiecz has also taken part in this year's Take Five Europe program.

Three Days on the Main Stage



Moers Festival has no overabundant programming, as many festivals do, but is focused, with a clear structure. Nonetheless, not all could be covered in this report which was restricted to the three days of main stage performances. The fourth day, Monday, presented four concerts: one with young local musicians; a Pink Floyd tribute from Hamburg's NDR Big Band, directed by Michael Gibbs and augmented by the excellent Italian singer Maria Pia De Vito, Paris-based guitarist Nguyen Le and drummer Gary Husband; Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba from Mali; and the cheering closing act of Fred Keller and the famous Soulsisters.

The musical contrasts of the three days were (mostly) sharp, challenging and impulsive. Weather conditions were extreme: much too cold for the time of the year, but that did not affect the temperature of the musical happening. The highlights of the three days: singer Sidsel Endresen and guitarist Stian Westerhus, John Zorn's Songs/Arditti String Quartet's rendition of the composer's "The Alchemist," and the lovely duo of drummer/percussionist Evelyn Glennie and guitarist/bassist/violinist Fred Frith.

Day 1: Friday: Zorn Troop—Music from Different Spheres in One Spirit

Moers Festival premiered a compact cross-sectional presentation of the different spheres of music (re)invented, composed, conducted, inspired, given, offered by John Zorn. As varied as Zorn's oeuvre is, there were numerous possible selections, seen in the varied reactions from the audience—or from colleagues who attended the concert—for each piece.

Zorntag started with a new collection of songs performed by vocalists Jesse Harris, Sofia Rei and Mike Patton, guitarist Marc Ribot, pianist John Medeski and the rhythm team of a rhythm bunch of percussionist Kenny Wollesen, on sparkling vibes, bassist Trevor Dunn on dark strings, drummer Joey Baron and percussionist Cyro Baptista on sticks, skins, wood, metal and other materials. The songs, with lyrics provided by musicians including Laurie Anderson, Sean Lennon and others, opened up a rare and beautifully strange experience. Performed brilliantly on the thin line between trivial and strenuous, the music of these songs sounded highly familiar yet evoked a nearly unfamiliar feeling of homecoming and of a deep, cross- generational memory for a surging and uplifting beginning.

"Illuminations" was a composed wild piano ride with totally improvised percussion and bass parts by Wollesen and Dunn, dedicated to and inspired by Bateau Ivre poet Arthur Rimbaud. Just a great piece.

"Holy Vision," a mystery play dedicated to the work of Hildegard von Bingen, was performed by five female voices—Lisa Bielawa, Martha Cluver, Melissa Hughes, Abby Fischer and Kirsten Sollek—in Latin. It lacked consistency a bit, but finally finished in extraordinary beauty.

The show went into even unusual territory next with world famous Arditti String Quartet— violinists Irvine Arditti and Ashot Sarkissjan, violist Ralf Ehlers and cellist Lucas Fels— performing Zorn's "The Alchemist." A packed marquee—apparently fascinated by the string men onstage—listened attentively and concentrated on the delicate string playing during the whole piece, which attracted attention with its greatly timed twists and turns within tension masterfully built up, including a string echo of Zornian shrieks. Great dynamics, deep playing, and a highlight of the evening.

Nearly ten minutes later, singer Mike Patton raved the stage with Moonchild—organist John Medeski, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Joey Baron— performing its tribute to the 13th century Templars knights, the legendary crusading warriors crashing in Jerusalem. Patton's grandioso performance immediately and totally attracted all the senses. Influenced by the strong repetitive nature of rock, very quickly patterned expectations for the next screaming outburst arose—but, fortunately, Patton and the band did not obey these rules; instead, they used the dense texture for intricate interplay. Moonchild, with its dramatic sounds, paved the way into the sunnier territory of the Dreamers and Electric Masada, with three percussionists and, in high spirits, keyboardist Jamie Saft and the tireless Trevor Dunn, once again on bass. Ikue Mori's wonderful needling-sparkling electronics made all the difference between the two bands.

Each piece performed was one side of the evening, the diversity of spheres another side. And above all, there was this very special influx of the spirit of creation and music-making of a dedicated troop taking freedom in a highly committed manner—a very rare and inspiring thing to experience within one program. Everyone in the audience certainly had their own preferences, but the effects of every individual part went through the vibe of the whole. Where else in the world would you have this varied music in direct succession in one evening? The busiest musician onstage? Joey Baron. The weather was really cold but the temperature of the festival at the end of Zorntag was high.

The troop will go on performing the program at various places/festivals: at Festival Internationale Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Canada, London's the Barbican, the Gent Jazz Festival), Rotterdam's North Sea Jazz, Lisbon's Jazz em Agosto, and Paris' Cité de la Musique, climaxing in New York with 140 musicians at the Miller Theatre in September, when Zorn actually turns sixty.

Day 2: Saturday Diversity

On the second day, Saturday, it was the day of three: three prominent vocalists, three prominent guitarists, three orchestras and three trios. The vocalists: Sidsel Endresen and Jenny Hval, from Norway, and Brazil's Lenine. The guitarists: Stian Westerhus and Håvard Volden, from Norway, and Finland's Raoul Björkenheim. The orchestras: The Dorf, from the Ruhrpott, Sweden's Je Suis and the Netherlands' Martin Fondse Orchestra. The trios: from Norway, Jenny Hval; from Finland, Sweden and the USA, Blixt;and percussionist Dafnis Prieto's Proverb Trio, also from the United States. Clearly all good things come in threes.

The opening The Dorf (The Village) was a mega ensemble of nearly thirty musicians recruited from the Ruhrpott area and held together by spiritus rector, saxophonist Jan Klare. The ensemble, which played Moers Festival for the third year in succession, can play really powerfully and loud—which they did, doing so with great fun and Freddy Mercury- like aplomb, and that was it. An abundance of great final chords, but in-between, the ensemble did not mine new territory.

That is, however, what Je Suis—a crazy young sextet from Sweden—did in its first performance outside Sweden. A three-member horn section—trumpeter Niklas Barno, trombonist Mats Äleklin and saxophonist Marcelo Gabard Pazos—was supported by the three-man rhythm section of pianist Alexander Zethson, bassist Joel Grip and drummer Magnus Vikberg. The group's performance was really something: accessible and sophisticated, too. It had the best ingredients from the tradition of famous ensembles of this size without resembling any of them. The group was able to balance the different input of all its members effectively, without anybody dominating. Je suis has a sound, texture, temperature and great dynamics. Je suis has excellent musicians—amongst them Äleklint, one of the most amazing trombonists around. And, Je Suis' musicians are crazy too—more or less...and differently.

Jenny Hval is a new kind of performer coming from the growing field of experimental pop. Hval has just released Innocence Is Kinky (2013), her second album on the Norwegian Rune Grammofon label. Together with guitarist Håvard Volden, she has also released Nude on Sand (2012), a duo album on the Norwegian impro-label Sofa; here, also with drummer Kyrre Laastad, she performed pieces from Innocence. Hval combined different vocal registers and modalities, which she channeled into her characteristically high, piercing voice. Live, most of the songs came out more straight more urgent and palpable. The drumming and guitar work constituted a counterpart to her seemingly static stage appearance. By their mutual effortless interplay, the trio brought into existence a solid sound basis to build up their special energy field. In that field, traces of 14th century composer Dufay crossed with traces of The White Stripes and—surprisingly—above all, the special attack of The Doors, reinforced by keyboard lines played by Hval. A valid and surprising performance, impressive in the consequent way it was executed by this trio.

Blixt, the next trio, is a group of great potential. Bassist Bill Laswell and guitarist Björkenheim were both Moers veterans, while Swedish drummer Morgan Aagre was a Moers novice. Blixt operates along the lines of The Golden Palominos, Last Exit, Krakatau, Massacre, Nils Petter Molvaer and Scorch Thing. The potentials surfaced in the performance without really igniting a fire of higher energy, an energy surmounting the brave and sophisticated grooves, blasts and smashes of each of these highly respected players.



As a festival with just one stream of consecutive concerts, Moers offers lots of nice— harsh, even—musical contrasts. The sequencing of closely related artists and groups needs careful consideration; from Blixt to Lenine, from heavy rock-infused jazz to a rock singer in an intimate acoustic surrounding.

Brazilian pop/rock-singer Lenine and Dutch composer/arranger, pianist Martin Fondse—who lives in Amsterdam and São Paulo—joined forces for The Bridge. The Bridge presents Lenine—normally a big hall-filling artist—in an intimate context with a nine-piece acoustic ensemble: Fondse on piano and vibrandoneon, three horns (bass clarinetist Mete Erker, saxophonist Søren Siegumfeldt and oboist Irma Kort), three strings (cellist Annie Tangberg and violinists Herman van Haaren and Vera van der Bie) and a rhythm section with bassist Robert Landfermann and drummer Dirk-Peter Koelsch. It was not new as such for Lenine, who had used varied electric and acoustic formats for his music. New, however, was this specific Brazilian-European combination, with Fondse as arranger and director of the ensemble. It was a big contrast with the preceding band and a nice surprise. Lenine came up with undulating pieces and catchy themes that swung and bounced along. The basic ingredients remained the same through all songs, with the mood changing now and then. It appeared to be an enjoyable act for a lot of people. The ensemble had a supporting role but also got some solo space for improvising on the songs. Sound and vision were focused on Lenine; consequently, the sound of the string section was poor and could not be heart at certain dead spots in the marquee, which did not apply to the string and horn solos in interaction with Lenine. It could be considered as a sympathetic format worthwhile to develop.

After Lenine/Fondse, again there was a switch to something radically different, the duo of already legendary Norwegian singer Sidsel Endresen and newer guitar hero Stian Westerhus. Many were eagerly looking forward to their appearance, with high expectations. It's nearly a miracle how these musicians have found each other again and again on their ongoing artistic/musical flights during the last two years. 2012 saw their album Didymoi Dreams (Rune Grammofon), a stunning all-improvised live document. Subsequent live appearances, such as at the 2012 Kongsberg Jazz Festival last summer turned out to be even better. It is as if a long incubated musical spirit had become awake and all of sudden fully unfolded.

The performance commanded the highest level of attention—full concentration, open mouths and gazes full of amazement, tension and expectation on the side of the audience. On the huge stage, sitting on a simple chair a female, like a divine oracle. At her side, a male, like an angel with a stringed sword, his magic key to the underworld, the spheres of the unconscious. The woman started to sing the air with her clickety-click sounds carried by the swooshings of the guardian's guitar. Out of the moment this couple created a deeply felt sound from the most elementary ingredients, both beautiful and threatening (which is called the sublime). Their sounds cut deep and deeper, staying with the audience. Not one single arbitrary expressive choice or void gesture, the performance had an urgent logic of a different order, the way they sang the air and the souls. It sounded as if it had to sound just that way, despite nobody being able to foresee or predict it. It was the power of singing pure sounds, the power behind it, the power within, which received an impressive manifestation. It all came out of Westerhus' swooping sword and Endresen's erupting tongue and throat, uncovering some of the deeper facts of life and nature. A performance of impressive, expressive, consistency and coherence.

After that, the steady hyper-grooves of Dafnis Prieto's Proverb Trio, with keyboardist Jason Lindner and Kokayi's big-mouthed raps, led the audience into ordered territories of bare beats' high energy. The trio knew how to hammer it out multilayered—speeding up, slowing down, overtaking and stumbling by means of feet, wood, skin, vocal chords, tongue mouth, hands and keys. They made the marquee vibrate into the cold night.

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