FESTIVAL: Second night of Jazzdor Berlin (Donkey Monkey, Hülsmann/Grimal, Élise Caron/ Roberto Negro

A reflective Alexandra Grimal at Jazzdor 2015
Second Night of Jazzdor Berlin 2015 (Donkey Monkey, Hülsmann/Grimal, Élise Caron/ Roberto Negro)
(Kesselhaus, Prenzlauer Berg Berlin, 3rd June 2015. Report by Sebastian Scotney)

Pianist Julia Hülsmann summed up the spirit of Jazzdor well when she thanked the organizers of the festival for having given her the opportunity to make a new musical “Verbindung”, and expressed the wish that “there could be many more like this.” The German word Verbindung can mean just a “connection”, but it also expresses a whole range of concepts very relevant to music in general, and to jazz in particular.

Her brand new collaboration presented at this festival was with saxophonist Alexandra Grimal, a current member of Olivier Benoit’s Orchestre National de Jazz. In this smaller group context, playing the middle set of a triple bill, Grimal picked up the vibe of balanced, contained, restrained, thoughtful highly musical playing, only rarely pushed the tone beyond the soft and the sweet and the sub- and sub-subtone. In a tune called “Climb” written by bassist Marc Muellbauer, she explored the quietest sounds on the soprano saxophone you will ever hear. The publicist’s advance description of this gig has these musicians “hearing the breath of silence,” and that captures it spot-on. Hülsmann’s trio unit with Marc Muellbauer and Heinrich Koebberling is a well-schooled and experienced unit, and they gave ample opportunity for Grimal to be free and to explore.

Julia Hülsmann with Alexandra Grimal

Either side of this reflective core came exuberance. The first set was taken by Donkey Monkey, the  duo of Eve Risser and Yuko Oshima, whose energy and shared sense of fun dominated proceedings. They started off with their regular opener, the Carla Bley-inspired Can’t Get My Motor To Start, and never let their playful habits of sparking off each other diminish. This is a joyful unit to hear, and – since Risser is such a versatile and massively capable composer – it will be fascinating to hear new repertoire being developed.

Donkey Monkey taking a quick curtain call

The final act, starting at 11pm before a dwindled audience was a new work from a group led by pianist/composer Roberto Negro, setting tongue-in-cheek words about love by writer Xavier Machault, and giving centre-stage to singer/actress/flautist Élise Caron, whose delivery of the words spoken and sung was knowing and delightful. The rapidity with which the French relationship described in one song proceeded from “nous nous sommes nounoyés” to “nos corps tous nus” made me reflect whether speed awareness courses exist or would serve any purpose in France. But what stays in the mind above all was the way the instrumental energy was being ramped up, notably by the charismatic Ceccaldi brothers Theo on violin and Valentin on cello, and was transmitting itself to the eloquent bass player Nicolas Bianco and to the leader Negro, who at one point was attacking the piano simultaneously with left fist, right forearm and considerable venom.

Élise Caron

Categories: miscellaneous

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