Saalfelden? For those who don't already know, it is a small Austrian town in a magnificent alpine landscape in the Pinzgau, 70 km west of Salzburg, famous for its jazz festival in August and January and popular as a vacation and sport area
The festival has a great 40-years history having built a charisma that is so much larger than the physically small town itself. It has always been carried by an open communal attitude and broad orientation. Within that it had an ear and eye for surprising, convincing edginess from the very beginning and has always put down marks of what counts and what will be next seen all over Europe during the year ahead.
With this year's 40th edition, the festival managed to renovate and renew itself with apparent success. Thereby of course, Saalfelden is still steeped in the spirit of discovery, exploration and experimentation. The weather mostly is good and is paired with remarkable hospitality in abundance. Saalfelden no doubt has its standing as an important, outstanding case in the European festival landscape and draws visitors not only from neighboring regions in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Italy but from the furthest reaches of Europe.
This year's 40th edition was a vital turning point with an extended approach -among others 83 concerts, 60 of them with free access -and new elements in the presentation and experiencing of music. The festival opened up to the city and its people with the free City Stage and more smaller places around the city such as bookbindery (Buchbinderei Fuchs), a bookshop, a defunct courthouse building (Bezirksgericht), a local museum and of course higher up in the coulisse of the attractive Steinernes Meer mountains (Stone Ocean).
It also entailed other dynamic approaches and ways to curate and present music igniting rich dynamics. Most significant variant were short surprise appearances of combinations of residential musicians at a great diversity of locations through town, from fast food to pharmacy especially the spontaneous mobs of the Bassmannschaft/bass-crew under renowned chief Lukas Kranzelbinder
(Shake Stew, among others). This year's edition worked with two artists in residence: vocalist/flautist and electronica partisan Maja Osojnik & Band
, originally from Slovenia, and drummer Lukas König
of the crazy König Leopold duo with Leo Riegler
and the deep digging and heavily raging Compost 3 bunch of Martin Eberle ((slide-)trumpet), Benny Omerzell (keys), Manu Mayr (bass), Lukas König (drums)). Maja Osojnik figured in three happenings: a solo called "You need me! Who else will you blame when I am gone," an exposition performance, a kind of Hörspiel with Natascha Gangl
(voice+toys) and Mattija Schellander (voice, electronics, toys) called "Wendy Pferd Tod Mexico" and an appearance with Zsamm, her duo with drummer Patrick Wurzwallner annex soundwoman Christina Bauer.
Harmolodics at the Ranch
Harmolodics got its substantiation at this year's first night. It took the fest back to the 'The Ranch,' a small hidden backyard garden in town, also called 'Der Stall,' from where it once took its course with 12 concerts in three days. Here, in the dim light of the garden, young generation Sketchbook Quartet made its appearance on a small wooden stillage stage followed by Fulsome X, a group of saxophonist/flautist Wolfgang Puschnig
, the most Saalfelden-featured musician. While first the Sketchbook troupe jumped its original, stimulating way through Dolpy-esque, rock and reggae reminiscences, Puschnig immediately roe the attention of the big garden trees by a unique asymmetrical, edgy version of harmolodics. He had to do it without his old partner in crime, master Jamaladeen Tacuma, who couldn't make it. He brought in another ace instead, guitarist Rick Iannacone. Iannacone sounds like no other guitarist. Not having heard him before, I wasutterly fascinated and stunned. Their collaboration dates back to the days of the of the Korean Samul Nori ensemble of percussionist Kim Duk Soo
from the first half of the 90s (see the ECM-album Then Comes The White Tiger
produced by Steve Lake). The group was completed by Jon Sass
on tuba, Asja Valcic
on cello and Reinhardt Winkler
on drums. It became an inciting lead-in.
Beautiful strange meadow and mesmerizing purgatorio
The opening of the shortcuts series Thursday night offered a remarkable difference of radicals. Many festivals wouldn't dare to program this and if ever then not together. Saalfelden is Saalfelden, and thus it is done and happens. Anthony Coleman/Studio Dan Pianist Anthony Coleman
, one of the pioneering musicians of New York's downtown scene and having a prolific career as composer too, is a traversing and transcending artist. Known for unparalleled explorations and elaborations of the work of Jelly Roll Morton, he is a passionate teacher of composition at New England Conservatory (NEC) in Boston. As part of its 150th anniversary celebration in 2018, NEC commissioned Anthony Coleman to compose a large-scale work. In Saalfelden, Coleman performed compositions he wrote for the Vienna nine-piece ensemble Studio Dan, a world premiere. Anthony Coleman is a traversing and transcending artist, especially interested in certain in-between areas, moving between built form and found form/happening shapes, between "rock and rant" as he himself expresses it. Studio Dan is an ensemble acting in a field between new music and improvisation comprising Daniel Riegler
(trombone), Sophia Goidinger-Koch
(violin), Maiken Beer
(cello), Doris Nicoletti
(flute), Clemens Salesny
(saxophone, clarinet), Dominik Fuss
(trumpet), Michael Tiefenbacher
(piano), Philipp Kienberger
(bass) and Mathias Koch
(drums). The Coleman commission continues a series that began with Elliott Shar
and George Lewis
. The music was a wondrous, fascinating and bewildering listening puzzle with pieces called "Rotschal," "Echo vom Berg," "Osslips" or "Freudian Heat." Proceeding in curious, unlikely steps, sequences slipped away, motifs broke off and resurfaced at surprising moments. Expressionistic tinged shreds flared up and it had the feel of motionless motion at times, or sounded blurry, somnambulistic. Nonetheless it owned a strong, vivid signature. For me it also triggered thoughts of the music of Stefan Wolpe or Christian Wolff It was an uncommon, arresting and precious experience for a jazz festival. A video registration can be found here
After Coleman's strange and beautiful music, music, ferocious French-German unit Abacaxi, pronounced /ar-ba-ka-shee/, of Julien Desprez
(guitar), Jean-Francois Riffaud
(el. bass guitar) and Max Andrzejewski
(drums) took over the stage at Nexus Kunsthaus venue. Uncompromising, eruptive and incisive, the three young musicians took action, stark, and with rapid turns they shook up the venue thereby heightening awareness, sharpening senses, evoking physical alertness, causing a lightning mental clean-up, a purgatorio by the sweet stings of hard-hitting sounds (Portuguese 'Abacaxi' means 'Pineapple'). It turned out as a great leap into the night towards twirling things to appear next.
Julien Desprez, one of the central musicians, was involved in three configurations: in Abacaxi, in Mopcut with Austrian drummer Lukas König and US-American vocalist/cellist Audrey Chen
, a Berlin resident, and in T(r)opic, that he co-leads with US-American trumpeter Rob Mazurek
. T(r)opic is a nine-piece large ensemble comprising trumpeter Susana Santos Silva
, saxophonists Lotte Anker
and Mette Rasmussen
, vocalist Isabel Sörling
, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten
, percussionist Mauricio Takara
and drummer Gerald Cleaver
a colorful troupe from across the world: Portugal, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Brazil and the US. That Desprez is a well-connected significant musician should be clearly evident from these parts of his work field. He has strong ties at home in France and in the Berlin scene, as well as in Scandinavia, Portugal, Brazil and the US.
Desprez' music is radically condensed, sharp-edged and materialized. Influences you rather feel than you can identify solely by ear. His music sounds just like the moves, kicks, strikes and hitting of karate fights look. It goes with sudden break offs and a delayed and then accelerated cumulative explosiveness -a kind of shorthand with strong inner rhythm. The sound attacks are driven by a cutting-edge syntax chiseling into the airy space.
Experiencing Desprez's music live is a mesmerizing affair with a mind cleansing, purifying effect. There is no redundancy, no posing, no hyper-expressiveness, no lingering or wandering away. It is not just loud, terrifying, far out for its own sake. It feels incisive with a reason, a reason that can be sensed clearly as a gesture but cannot be put in words. Jimi Hendrix
in his time made use of only very few pedals, wah-wah, fuzz, univibe, while presently guitarists surround themselves with an extended battery of pedals. Desprez breaks through this armed tableau and blows it up. By tapping the pedals, positioned in a half circle, percussively in increasing tempo, he starts to dance, the speedy pedal dance evoking flashing up roars, then explosive sound strikes.
König's devilish smokestack lightning
Austrian drummer Lukas König was one of the most visible and energetic musicians. He played with Shazad Ismaily
, Briggan Krauss
, Petter Eldh
, Otis Sandsjö
and Leo Riegler. König is an important voice of the Austrian scene and a well-connected significant musician internationally. As part of the Short Cut series he played on Saturday with his group Mopcut under the heading 'Accelerate Frames of Reference,' a trio comprising US-American cellist/vocalist Audrey Chen and, not unexpected, French guitarist Julien Desprez. König adds up, accelerates, König crashes things under, buries them, sparks a Luciferian fire, gets almost lost in noise realms where the conjured spirits appear in the dense haze -moltiplicatore di velocità moltiplicatore infernale. The performance of these three raging musicians was permanently balancing on the cutting edge.
Cat Attack -musical fun with claws, hisses and bared teeth
Animals can be great inspirators for music making, and it can make a difference taking a a triggering context and frame from real life to feed our imagination. Eartha Kitt was one of the first to adopt the cat image to emphasize and project her singing. Many followed her. Cats' movements and voices not only speak strongly to our imagination but also to our feelings and empathy. That is the imaginational space where MeoW, a multinational team from Berlin, vocalist Ayse Cansu Tanrikulu
, keyboardist Liz Kosack
, electric basisst Dan Peter Sundland
and drummer Jim Black
, gave shape through sounds of cat attacks, the hisses, spits, shrieks and laments. Once let go, the music exploded and freely and highly expressively, squirmed in all corners. Jim Black is completely in his element, Ayse Cansu Tanrikulu is an amazingly outgoing and catchy vocalist and both trigger, stimulate and incite each other. Dan Peter Sundland is the Oscar Wildeian cat lover and mysteriously masked Liz Kosack is the janitor of the cat empire. It was the greatest musical fun I have experienced in years.
Courvoisier, Rasmussen, Raab, Dorji
Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier
and alto saxophonist Mette Rasmussen
, two strong characters on the scene, both appeared twice in the festival program, in a larger ensemble on the main stage and in a duo in the Short Cuts series at Nexus. Mette Rasmussen played with electric guitarist Tashi Dorji
, Courvoisier with Austrian trumpeter Lorenz Raab
. For Tashi Dorji, originally from Bhutan, collaboration with saxophonists opened new possibilities for him. In her playing Rasmussen vividly recaps the heritage of alto players who made a strong mark in the past. Time after time she pushes the envelope tremendously. She plays an enormous number of gigs worldwide and met Dorji when they played with Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Rasmussen blew out full strength while Dorji added more subdued dark strikes and counterbalancing textures greatly intensifying the erratic character. The Courvoisier/Raab duet on the other hand was a first meeting. It worked out as an intensely enjoyable listening experience along a sophisticated rendition of each other's compositions.
Main stage colors, temperaments, temperatures (avalanching)
The Main stage presented 14 concerts in three days and offered a broad palette of approaches and varieties, from freer to advanced, through-composed, from folk-tinged to rock-, soul-and hip-hop-connected music, to even the Elysian variety.
Traditionally, an Austrian musician is commissioned for the opening concert of the main stage. This year young Viennese bassist Manu Mayr
was chosen. He joined forces with bass clarinetist Susanna Gartmayer
, an acknowledged free improviser as well experimental rock musician. So, the great opening act on the main stage had the smallest possible interactional line-up this year, and high expectations, that for me were extra fed by a remarkable solo-concert Mayr did at recent Ljubljana Jazz Festival: "Mayr succeeded in catching and stretching the attention at high degree thereby introducing the audience into a newly explored original sound world" (see my review here). The duet of the two bass instruments here departed in a calm ostinato way with tonal and percussive sophistication but after a short while the music lost thrill and tension, and went on a nicely subdued course that compositionally and performance-wise could not hold the attention enough, operating more like a (bit too) long fade out. It also would have made a difference if the stage light would have focused adequately the intimate setting of it.
T(r)opic is a relatively new formation and a notably female/male balanced, intergenerational and intercontinental nine-piece ensemble of top-notch improvisers co-led by trumpeter Rob Mazurek
and guitarist Julien Desprez
comprising Susana Santos Silva (trumpet), Lotte Anker and Mette Rasmussen(sax), Isabel Sörling (vocals, electronics), Mauricio Takara (percussions, electronics), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). It offers favorable prerequisites for unleashing great provocative music. The beginning sounded like a massive slaughter of chickens. Interactions in smaller circles and combinations emerged, shaping musical nuclei. Actually, it was about interaction of solid ground and grand space fluttering. The ensemble produced powerful cacophonies and the waiting was for exploding stars and spouting of fire holes. James Brandon Lewis
is an Afro-American saxophonist of the younger generation who originates from and adheres to the US free jazz heritage. His very unique approach and charisma brought him broader attention and wider acknowledgement beyond the core circles of free jazz. Especially with his Unruly Manifesto group and album he is frequenting this year's festivals in Europe.
The raw expressions of the Free jazz tradition are as made for reaction on the present breaking up and sharpening of old conflicts, perturbing and threatening as it is, and consequently the decay or loss of fair, civilized ways of public dispute and negotiation. This tradition obviously supplies apt means of expressing emotions, of encouraging, of shaking up and mobilizing in the situation now. These are means, of course, to be sharpened for, and to adapt to, today's feel of time, tempo and rhythm, volume and forwardness.
Name and line-up of the Unruly Manifesto Group speak volumes. You see what you get, and, when immersed, you know what you got: loud, violent in your face straight and strong expression, the trademark not only of trumpeter Jamie Branch
. Having a look at bassist Luke Stewart
you'll discover an interesting entanglement of musical, medial, social and political activities in the black community, a couple of known old names and new networks. I liked their approach, but it was a pity that too much was drowned in a bad loudness of sound.
Also, of fairly recent date is the two horns tied to a strong piano-drums axis of Ken Vandermark/Nate Wooley
and Sylvie Courvoisier
on sax, trumpet, (prepared) piano and drums. The unit excelled in variability, rapid switches, mood shifts, herky-jerky movesat times it felt like a walk through the interior of a Kurt Schwitters Merzbau. Frode Haltli
's 10-piece Avant Folk ensemble is also a fairly recent creature entering international stages. Classical music is to a great extent derived from folk music as primary source. Actually, classical music was the specialty, folk the basic thing. In the long run, the relationship has turned around: folk is now the specialty. Folk and avant-garde that was in the past for instance Italian New Music composer Luciano Berio. Then around the turn of the century Armenian percussionist Arto Tuncboyacian
used the term Avant-garde Folk for his re-imagination of folk music from Armenia with his Armenian Navy Band. When Bob Dylan
in his early New York days met Thelonius Monk
in a music bar, Monk ask him what he was doing. Zimmerman aka Dylan answered with some emphasis that he was playing folk music, to which Monk replied: "We all play folk music" (rendered in Bob Dylan's "The Chronicles 1"). Whatever the label 'avant folk' means or entails, Haltli's ensemble is a large one, a tentet staffed by prominent musicians of the Norwegian scene: Frode Haltli (accordion), Erlend Apneseth
(hardanger fiddle), Hans P. Kjorstad (violin), Rolf-Erik Nystrøm
(saxophones), Hildegunn Oiseth
(trumpet, goat horn, vocals), Ståle Storløkken
(harmonium, synthesizers), Juhani Silvola
(guitars, electronics), Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir
(guitar, vocals), Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson
(double bass), and Siv Øyunn Kjenstad
( drums, vocals). Haltli himself is a highly gifted musician who won his spurs in contemporary music, improvised music and folk music, so he is the ideal artist to add something in merging traces from all those fields. The crop unfolded and ripened in an extended wandering swirl with shining up West African detours, Hawaiian tinges and Indian undercurrents, all done in a pleasurable, appealing and enjoyable way. It is nothing new but elaboration in this large format added an extra dimension an put extra emphasis on it.
Flautist/saxophonist Anna Webber
is, no doubt, an intriguing new voice who has developed a consistent and flaring generative compositional system of her own, like Steve Coleman
or Henry Threadgil
. In her music, differential rotation of the participating instruments or smaller combinations of instruments play a central role, plus a sophisticated use of the tine colors of instruments and timbres of individual instrumentalists functioning in a well-directed system with open moments. Her pieces also often have a lightly wry touch (which would make them suitable for good animated cartoons). Her ensemble also has the right first-class line-up to bring that out in appealing ways: Anna Webber (flute, bass flute, alto flute, tenor sax), Jeremy Viner
(clarinet, tenor sax), Jacob Garchik
(trombone), Christopher Hoffman
(cello), Matt Mitchell
(piano), Chris Tordini
(bass), and Ches Smith
(drums). While the music on the Pi Recodings album is crystal clear to highlight these interactions and orbiting movements, a lot of the intricate characteristics -without evident cause -did not really shine in Saalfelden.
The 18-piece Orjazztra Vienna is the youngest sprout on the Very Large Ensemble tree, founded especially for the festival, which strengthen the Austrian presence. Led by renowned trombonist Christian Muthspiel
, the ensemble comprises best names of the Vienna scene: seven saxophonists/ clarinetists (Lisa Hofmaninger
, Gerald Preinfalk
, Astrid Wiesinger
, Florian Bauer
), three trumpeters (Gerhard Ornig
, Lorenz Raab
, Matthieu Michel
), three trombonists/tubists (Alois Eberl
, Daniel Holzleitner
), two contrabasses (Judith Ferstl
, Beate Wiesinger
), two drummers (Judith Schwarz
, Marton Juhasz
)and a pianist (Philipp Nykrin
). The rhythm section is predominantly in female hands and six female members participate in the ensemble. The orchestra started with a nice remmiedemmie dixie phase, then slid into the serious part, solidly rendered and with a lot of nice solo-parts. It was well arranged, but a flow and special appeal had not yet grown. The ensemble played pieces in conventional Big band manner. This modest approach was slightly surprising and did not quite fit well in the rather challenging and border-crossing character of the festival.
Personal highlights main stage
My personal highlights were Koma Sax, Ceccaldi/Negro and Joshua Redman Koma Sax, a new quintet instigated and led by bass beast Petter Eldh
gathering the sweeping horns of Mikko Innanen
, Jonas Kullhammar
and Otis Sandsjö
and the driven and driving inner chiseling of impetuous power-drummer Christian Lillinger
. Koma Sax is a compact, mighty new form of outright core jazz of its own resting on strong and valid self-reliance. The internalized experiences and discoveries from years of playing (together) are densified here on a high level. The group sounds totally as itself and borrows in first place from itself. This music has a double expressive impact. It gives a clear and urgent feeling of facing straight to the time, the realities we are living in. This music has a double expressive impact. It gives a clear and urgent feeling of facing straight to the time, the realities we are living in. And it bundles up a decided, feathered, infectious counter force. It is musically deep core jazz of the best and radical new cut.
The music of the duo of pianist Roberto Negro
, an Italian working in France and violinist Théo Ceccaldi
, a Frenchman with Sicilian family roots, is a passionate affair: otherworldly magic as well as straight and earthy, they took Saalfelden in a pleasureful coup. Ceccaldi is one of the brightest shining and most delightful musicians of the middle generation of this moment underway with a broad range of musical enterprises.
My first meeting with Joshua Redman
was in the early nineties, 1991, when he just had graduated from Harvard. I saw him playing in a jazz club in Utrecht where he had joined his father Dewey Redman
's group with bassist Cameron Brown
and extraordinary drummer Leon Parker
. After that year, Joshua Redman's rise as a star went lightning fast.
In Saalfelden he played his present "Still Dreaming" program with Ron Miles
(trumpet), Scott Colley
(bass) And Dave King
(drums), a program that refers to the legendary Old and New Dreams group of his father Dewey Redman with Don Cherry
, Charlie Haden
and Ed Blackwell
, recorded on four iconic albums between 1976 and 1987 (on ECM and Black Saints). The eponymous albums Old And New Dreams
(1976, 1979) were landmarks in the musical socialization of my generation. Joshua Redman recently felt mature enough to envision together with his fellow musicians the music of the group that played a crucial role in his father's musical career. This brought, among others, Don Cherry's fetching piece "Guinea" to the ears and souls of a 2019 audience. Strikingly both, father and son, played this music around their fifties. Joshua Redman has a special gift to play a lot of music as if it is tailored for him and, above all, he has a great talent to breathe life into it with great sensitivity and passion. While depth of expression went with a characteristic frayed surface, in the envisioned 2019 version the rhythmical intensity went with a more fluent shaping of contours. This way Redman and his fellow musicians remained close to the original with their own dynamics and coloring. It is a precious and necessary thing to have this once in a while and I re-listened to the original versions afterwards.
This article covers parts of the festival concerts. It clearly shows how eager Saalfelden is to focus on advanced artistic development and its promising protagonists. It also shows that this is done in frictionless coexistence with more popular or mainstream facets. The festival fulfills an important task and takes a pioneering role for artistic development as well as for audience service and development. Many other festivals will just avoid that aspects and those acts and wait in order to keep risks low and just follow trends. It would be quite interesting to conduct an explorative research with a well-chosen sample of festivals and a well-chosen sample of artists/groups to see and test, which newly established artistic developments and up-and-coming protagonists had been taken up by festivals in an early stadium. In the meantime, the Saalfelden crew is already in full swing and search for the 2020 edition that will take place 20-23 of August.