Berlin’s Jazzfest has a long-held reputation as the foremost jazz festival in Germany. The German capital and this festival are magnets for musicians from all over the world. So, understandably, audiences go to the festival in the hope of making new musical discoveries. Under the artistic leadership of Nils Landgren, however, genuine surprises have become rare. His generally high-quality programming leans in the direction of consensus rather than controversy.
This year’s programme focussed on European jazz. Landgren’s decision to feature large ensembles from European countries – Austria, Germany, France, Macedonia, Italy – over the four days showed courage, but wasn’t fully representative of developments in today’s music scene. It was through listening to some of the smaller ensembles that a better steer as to current developments in music came through.
The directions in which jazz on the Continent is heading are fascinating, and I enjoyed performances by smaller ensembles from Netherlands, France and Germany. But I found that it was the bands from the UK which stood out. Musicians from all over the world converge to play in the UK, bringing unexpected strands of outside influences into these bands: drummer Gene Calderazzo brings that particular New York energy to Partisans. Another, Mark Holub, brought his band Led Bib; the Irish singer Christine Tobin has formed a band with London musicians, and the Django Bates Trio has two Danes; and so on.
Led Bib, completely unknown in Germany, totally captivated audience on the third evening. Mark Holub’s quintet with Chris Williams and Pete Grogan demonstrated in the sold out Quasimodo Club how punk-jazz can rock the house, showing the way to new musical ventures.
Django Bates’ performance on the big stage in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele was a fantastic event, mixing tunes reminiscent of Charlie Parker with his own intense, yet soothing music, creating the kind of intensity in a large hall which some of the larger ensembles had failed to convey. Surprisingly, the concert hadn’t sold out.
In comparison to these rousing success from the younger British scene, the final night’s concert by the well-established band Partisans turned out to be a mild disappointment – maybe they were just tired that night.
Christine Tobin should be considered the best female singer of the festival with her infallible sense for timing, intonation and the integration of her voice with the other instruments in the band. Her encore ‘Embraceable you’ could serve as a model for the kind of music that we would have liked to have seen more of at the festival.
Liebe britischen Jazz-Kosmopoliten: bitte kommt und spielt mehr auf dem Kontinent! Eure Ideen und Wanderungen in der Musik, die wir lieben, werden hier noch viel mehr offene Ohren finden.
(Dear British Jazz cosmopolitans: please come more often to perform on the continent! Your sparkling musical ideas and inventiveness will be received with open ears..)
Franziska Buhre is a jazz journalist based in Berlin.