Review/Roundup: Inntoene Festival (Austria)

Inntoene Festival
(Western Part of Upper Austria. 17-19 May 2013. Review/Roundup by Oliver Weindling)

In a piece for allaboutjazz reviewing Inntoene a couple of years back, Sebastian Scotney described the special atmosphere engendered by a festival held on Paul Zauner’s farm in Upper Austria and programmed by the trombonist himself for 28 years.

Zauner works indefatigably for music, encouraging the musicians of his region in particular, of Upper Austria, promoting jazz and baroque music releasing on his own record label PAO. And not least, playing himself. And if he has a few moments to spare, he’s raising the pigs on his farm.

On his travels he is clearly keeping his ears open for new names – that Gregory Porter made one of, if not his first, European shows here is a prime recent example. And if you look at the programmes for past years, you see there are many who have become well known later, such as Gregory Porter himself or Bojan Z. He manages to mix this by using his infectious personality to bring some of the greater names to join in.

Thus he ends up with the mix that most jazz lovers would dream of: some stars to “tick off”, some new names to surprise us and tell our friends to watch out for, while the whole event takes place in a barn and outhouses around a farmyard where you can buy his own pork, locally-caught trout, local beer and taste some of the fine Austrian wines. All of which are available in real glasses and with real crockery. Something we see more and more rarely! And queues for food are minimal.

And this year’s music? The biggest star of the show was undeniably Pharaoh Sanders on Friday night. Paul Zauner seems to have been immensely proud of having one of the greatest playing in his backyard! Sanders didn’t disappoint. He has been touring for the past 3 years in Europe with the same band – William Henderson on piano and one of London’s finest bass-drums combos, Oli Hayhurst and Gene Calderazzo (known in London of course for their work together with Julian Siegel and Zoe Rahman in particular). In a recent allaboutjazz interview, Sanders explains how drummers too often lack energy. That Calderazzo is holding done the drum chair with such aplomb is a tribute to him.

The unbelievable Howard Johnson sat in, as did vocalist Dwight Tribble. The spirit and spirituality of Sanders was maintained, but we didn’t hear enough of his spine-chilling playing. He sounds as incredible as ever. It felt special. We were close to Coltrane.

Tribble himself played a duo set immediately before, with pianist Bobby West. It was a dramatic performance. Taking his roots out of gospel, Tribble stays just on the right side of self-indulgence. In fact, I could imagine their duo, fully acoustic, as a knockout recital in a hall like the Wigmore! West’s classical virtuosity, such as the use of a figure resembling the Chopin funeral march under Tribble’s version of Strange Fruit was particularly effective. The strong Oscar Brown influence on Tribble was heard in the original Moon Over Montgomery, written to highlight The Alabama city as a cradle of civil rights.

Friday ended with the Matthias Schriefl Six Alps & Jazz. Schriefl revisits the music that he had grown up with in an Alpine village in Southern Germany. He does this with a touching respect and it gives scope to his gorgeous trumpet playing which can be overpowered sometimes by laboured humour. But he also indulges in close harmony yodelling and we heard some phenomenal soloing on 10 foot long alphorns! Whether it’s something that could work away from the Austrian mountains, I’m not so sure.

Saturday was a day of the greatest contrasts, which we experienced in a day of great heat.

Peter Mayer, introduced as a star of the future from the next village and fellow pig breeder, was not a token local act in the slightest, having returned from studies in Dresden and Los Angeles. He started instrumentally just on acoustic guitar, but then included vocal duets with Nora Katzlberger, who has a pure and clear tone. Perhaps sometimes the songs were a bit too long and seemed almost operatic in texture, but certainly I look forward to how this duo develops.

Bobby Broom, one of Chicago’s guitar greats who has played with Lonnie Liston Smith and more, played a beautiful set, mixing Monk, other standards and some originals. I was impressed how the trio was able to move away from the heads during their interplay and soloing to such a degree but still remained implicitly there. Makaye McCraven on drums is a name to watch.

Mansur Scott is a regular at the festival. Indeed in October the PAO label will be releasing worldwide an album of “Voices of Harlem” where Scott is joined by Donald Smith and Gregory Porter and a band led by Zauner. A stunning prospect indeed.

This year, Scott, aided and abetted by Howard Johnson, magnificent on tubas and baritone saxophone, led us on an imaginative journey leaving the audience elated. He had attempted to persuade Paul Zauner to join in. However, throughout the festival, Zauner left his trombone its case, as he felt that he would not have done his playing justice, what with the distraction of being host, artistic director and troubleshooter.

Drummer Uli Soyka led a sextet which provided the most diverse musical experience. Thoughtful piano playing by Uli Rennert, the music was generally quite highly structured. But it is a tribute to the band that even when they played a section of free improvised music, they held the rammed barn spellbound. Klaus Gesing, known for his trio work with Norma Winstone, stood out for me.

The day ended for me as I returned by bus to the idyllic baroque town of Schärding at 2 a.m. leaving to the strains of the Afro reggae and Afro beat of Rocky Dawuni. I gather the bar stayed open till 7 a.m. when the last drop of the tasty Austrian wines had been consumed with a jam session roaring.

On Sunday, the weather changed. The high energy of Brazilian Renato Borghetti’s accordion saw us through to the start of a torrential downpour. We were able to stay dry in the barn, where the concerts occur, but it seemed to dampen Scott Hamilton’s performance. Technically flawless but not really overawing us.

Trumpeter and conga player Jerry Gonzales lives and breathes music, but here too his Cuban band hinted at great things, but again never quite took off.

Tulivu-Donna Cumberbatch is another new name to me, calling her quartet “the heart of Brooklyn”. But certainly another find by Zauner in his collection of singers developing the Great American Songbook as she elegantly worked her way through lesser known songs by the likes of Ellington and more.

To end, we had the Contraband of blues singer Otis Taylor. It had a great spirit to it. Meanwhile in Saint Pigs Pub next door, the rain had ended, the wine flowed freely and Schriefl was leading the jam session, entertaining the several hundred fans who remained.

And of course the pigs.

All concerts were recorded by Austrian Radio ORF, and will be broadcast over coming months. There will be a round-up programme on WDR in Cologne (accessible on the internet) at the beginning of June. Inntoene.com

Categories: miscellaneous

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