A postcard from Cologne

I’m in Cologne for the first two nights of the eighth “WDR3jazz.cologne2011” festival. It takes place partly in the Funkhaus right in the heart of the city, and part in the Stadtgarten, a 250-seater well suited to jazz. There were three bands on the first night. I interviewed Rudresh Mahanthappa who had the 10pm slot at the Stadtgarten, and will be doing  a fuller piece on him later.

In the main studio of the Funkhaus – hard to resist calling this jazz-crazy place the House of Funk – there was a double bill of the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, playing compositions by the New York-based Argentinian Pedro Giraudo, and directed by him.

Giraudo’s writing for big band is propulsive, determined, dense, tense. The most successful piece was the long composition Duendo del Mate, played last, which charted the familiar progress from the peace of the countryside, into the frenetic pace of the city and back out again to simplicity and space.

Among the soloists, my ear was caught by young German/Icelandic tenor saxophonist Stefan Karl Schmid. He plays a clean line, and from the evidence of a CD I was given, he is also a characterful and interesting composer. The CD is “Olaf Lind” on the Cologne Jazzhausmusik label. Schmid’s compositions use two intertwining saxophone voices well, to creating surprising calm and space in unusual meters. Other soloists who caught the ear were trumpeter Jan Schneider and pianist Juergen Friedrich, who steered the final piece carefully to a calm close.

I was only able to stay for the first few numbers of Markus Stockhausen ‘s new “About In a Silent Way” project. The first track was reminiscent of the Miles Jack Johnson music. A dominant figure in the mix of sound is producer/sound artist/DJ Martux_M. I found that both rhythmically and harmonically, we were being served a comfort blanket. Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset, quietly hidden behind his blond mane and his Apple iMac, could definitely have thrown rather more unpredictability into the mix, as he does in other contexts. Maybe that did happen later in the set, that’s the hazard of trying to fit more than one gig and one venue into an evening. What I heard wasn’t really for me…. but there are Youtube clips available

Tonight is the Jazz Preis evening, where the WDR’s fine Big Band will be in evidence, plus a late show from Robert Glasper. The festival is also plugged into the UK scene, Sunday features a concert by the Sam Crockatt Quartet. More later.
WDR Jazz website

Categories: miscellaneous

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