Review: Saslonch Suite at the 2014 Suedtirol Jazz Festival

Kalle Kalima, Andreas Schaerer, Lucas Niggli
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski
Saslonch Suite
(Suedtirol Jazz Festival, Alto Adige, 30 June 2014. Review by Oliver Weindling)

The Saslonch Suite is a modest-sounding title for one of the most dramatic concerts (and experiences) that I have witnessed. Part of the Südtirol Jazz Festival, it took advantage of the possibilities of merging music and mountains in a most unique way and to a level which can rarely be repeated. Rock climbers walked tightropes, climbed overhangs and abseiled on a rock face (“Saslonch” in Ladino) to the accompaniment of live improvised music, with some of the musicians themselves perched on a ledge about 250 metres up.

To get there was in itself a challenge: a one hour bus journey to a pass just above Val Gardena, followed by a 45 minute walk to a point around 2300 metres above sea level. The musicians themselves had carried their equipment up the mountain at 7 a.m.

More than 6 months in the planning, the performance took place in spite of two last-minute challenges, for which one couldn’t plan: an unexploded First World War grenade had been found the previous day, and the weather steadily worsened that morning so that, after an hour, the rains were strong enough to bring the show to a close.

But this only added to the tensions and sense of anticipation. Musicians and climbers have a lot in common – both are risk lovers taking their talents to the limit. Indeed, Vortex founder David Mossman, a climber long before he became a jazz club owner, has used this affinity to discern his favourite musicians. And it’s this mutual understanding that made it all so effective. Fortunately we also had Swiss and German musicians, such as Lucas Niggli, extraordinary singer Andreas Schaerer and trumpeter Matthias Schriefl, who understand the mountains, and climbers who play music.

All the participants had microphones attached and could sense the best course for performing. So the musical accompaniment suddenly ended at one point and the tension mounted as we were able to hear the climbers’ breathing as they completed an overhang as the rocks wettened. The climbers, the Favresse brothers, are renowned for taking their musical instruments with them on their expeditions. So suddenly the improvisations of the musicians would be interrupted by versions of “The Raggle Taggle Gypsy” and “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?” straight from the rock face!

The bad weather ultimately won out. Even a drenching on the walk back to the bus didn’t dampen the emotions.

Along with all the climbers, musicians, sound engineers and others, Klaus Widmann, the festival director, for this dramatic conception of a site-specific event taken to its ultimate. Fortunately there will be a film of the event appearing in the Autumn. If it just has a fraction of the impact of actually being there, it will still be an amazing document of a unique event.

Andreas Schaerer – voc
Lucas Niggli – dr
Matthias Schriefl – trp
Cédric Favresse – sax
Florian Trübsbach – sax
Kalle Kalima – gtr
Nico Favresse – climber
Olivier Favresse – climber

Categories: miscellaneous

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