Berlin Jazz Festival Round-Up

Jazzfest Berlin 2012
(Various venues in Berlin, 1st-4th November 2012 . Review by Rob Mallows) 

Bert Noglik, the new director of the Berlin Jazz Festival, told Tagespiegel on the eve of the festival that with jazz, “Ekstase ist alles / ecstasy is everything.” He was clearly aiming to fuse together a strong line up to make his mark in his first year.

The line-up was certainly not short of big name power – it had attracted established names like Manu Katché, Wayne Shorter and Archie Shepp. But just as interesting were the new up-and-coming young acts from Europe.

I went to three shows which were pretty representative of what the Festival offered.

Poland’s Daktari, led by trumpeter Olgierd Dokalski, is a six-piece which mixes jazz with klezmer, rock, “patchwork jazz” and the sounds of Mogwai and Don Cherry (seriously!) They were full of energy and verve, but I found it hard to pin down what they’re about: they were angular and spiky and frequently changed tempo, mood and sound, going from great melodic passage to wild extemporising over some fearsome scales and tones. Key to their sound was guitarist Miron Grzegorkiewicz and his effects pedals. They went down a storm.

On the Friday, the big stage at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele saw a three-handed show led by percussionists. Manu Katché never lets you down and his band, playing some of the tracks from his latest album, had it going on with some strong playing particularly from Tore Brunborg on sax.

Drummer Günter Baby Sommer’s premier of “Songs for Kommeno” was a strange mix of hypnotic sounds built around percussive riffs that were compelling. written to tell the story of a massacre by German troops in the Corfu village of Kommeno. It was, he says, after reading of what happened “a challenge he had to take up”.

The real find was the Pierre Favre Ensemble. A Swiss drummer with a signature sound (he played throughout with rute or bundled sticks), he led a fantastic ensemble with four brass players, guitar, electric bass and upright bass. Favre drove the band but never dominated the sound, instead letting his brass section provide the melodic power and rich sounds to contrast with the fantastic guitar work of Philipp Schaufelberger, who squeezed every bit of creative juice out of each chord.

Saturday saw Rabi Lahouds Masaa. He’s a Lebanese singer who’s lived in Germany for a decade and, with his band, mixes a Middle Eastern soundscape with a contemporary jazz sound.

I felt a great buzz in the audiences at the main festival venues and got the impression from talking to people that Berlin was excited with the line-up and enthused about the quality of the music on offer.

Two venues in particular are well worth checking out. A-Trane, Bleibtreustr. 1, is perhaps Berlin’s equivalent to Ronnie Scott’s and the festival atmosphere its audience created was tremendous. Equally good was Quasimodo, Kantstr. 12a in Charlottenburg: think Pizza Express Dean Street without the pizza and with a wider choice of quality beers.

The Germans take their jazz seriously. The amount of exposure given to the festival by local radio and TV far exceeded any coverage one might see in the UK media of London’s festival and even in this era of austerity, the support from state and regional governments and media partners was impressive.

Berliner Festspiele website  / Rob Mallows is the founder of the London Jazz Meetup group

Categories: miscellaneous

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