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

Henning Bolte By

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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.


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