Alison Bentley previews the Suedtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige which takes place from June 26th-July 5th at various towns in the mountainous Italian province just south of the border with Austria, which this year has a huge presence of British bands. Alison writes:
Expect a peak experience: the Suedtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige, among the awe-inspiring mountains of the South Tyrol, has 80 events over 10 days- and this year involves a large number of British musicians.
The Festival began in 1982 in the lovely old town of Bolzano (German name: Bozen) and has spread out since then to different towns, villages and mountains in the area. You could just stay in one town and go to everything there. (For example, in one evening alone you can hear British singer/violinist Alice Zawadzki with guitarist Moss Freed in a balmy hotel garden, followed by sax-player Soweto Kinch’s Quartet in Bolzano’s town square. There are lots of daytime gigs too, such as singers Julia Biel in Brunico (Bruneck) and Sarah Gillespie in Bressanone, (Brixen), or guitarist Chris Sharkey in Bolzano.There are shuttle buses, and the excellent public transport gets you round easily- the journeys from gig to gig through the extraordinary mountainscapes are an experience all by themselves.
There are projects that bring musicians from different countries together. ‘Fanfare Fatale’ is a ‘creative workshop’ and concert on the opening evening: Soweto Kinch is rapping with London-based (Suedtirol-born) bassist Ruth Goller, and French singer Leila Martial– brought together by Swiss singer Andreas Schaerer (he’s also leading voice workshops later in the Festival). They’re joined by Austrians Benny Omerzell (piano), Martin Eberle (trumpet) and cellist Valentin Ceccaldi from France.
The ‘Jazz Station’ project asks, ‘How is jazz made?’ Daily talks and discussions are followed by gigs. UK contributors include trumpeter Laura Jurd talking about Chaos Collective; guitarist Matt Calvert demonstrating the creation of ‘unusual sounds’, and UK pianist Kit Downes and Ruth Goller discussing chord-melody relationships. For the ‘Art Meets Jazz’ project, Downes has also curated a series of concerts by UK musicians on different days in the Museion (Modern Art Gallery), where pianos are part of the exhibition: Leon Michener duets with Matthew Bourne. You can also hear Tori Freestone’s trio; Blue-Eyed Hawk; Lauren Kinsella with Dan Nicholls; Polar Bear; Shiver; Flat Earth Society, as well as Downes’ own Tricko.
The Festival uses dramatic locations well; ‘Singing Rocks’ led by Bavarian trumpeter/alpenhornist Matthias Schriefl, is a concert for local choir and eight instrumentalists, including Ruth Goller and Soweto Kinch. Choreographed mountaineers will be climbing to improvised music, literally ‘on the edge’ of the rocks. There are extreme rural experiences. In ‘Jazz at Dusk and Dawn’, artists and audience walk to a mountain ‘hut’, or refuge: a kind of hostel/restaurant. It’s a 5 hour-long trip with an overnight stay, and concerts at sunrise and sunset from French accordionist Vincent Peirani and cellist François Salque. At other mountain refuges on other days, the Festival celebrates 19th century British mountaineers. (Did you know modern mountaineering was pioneered by the British? I didn’t.) The UK’s equally pioneering ‘twisted brass art marching-band’, Perhaps Contraption, play sets interspersed with talks on local flora and fauna.
In rather more urban setting, the ‘London Underground’ project has experimental British bands playing in the grittily realistic atmosphere of Varna’s (Vahrn’s) gravel mine, followed by DJ-ing and clubbing. If you missed a favourite musician at one gig you can often catch them on another day, maybe with another band. For example, Kit Downes is here with Troyka, Ruth Goller with Melt Yourself Down, Alex Bonney with Light Box and also Brass Mask. And you can find Brass Mask elsewhere at…best just to check out the Festival programme, and choose from the tantalising array of bands and venues.
It seems like a long way from the real London Underground, but a short flight to Verona takes you close- then a train ride winds up into the mountains. There are good train services between the main towns too, and people around to advise you on how to get from venue to venue.
Most of the concerts are free. Otherwise, tickets cost between €15 and €25; discounts available if you’re under 30.