FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Umbria Jazz 2015

Stefano Bollani at Umbria Jazz 2015
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

We have the pleasure to publish Ralf Dombrowski’s Round-Up of Umbria 2015 in English – this is Sebastian’s hasty translation. The original flavoursome German, and a more substantial photo cache were published by Jazzzeitung HERE:


The circus is back on the road. A pack of the great and the very great have been playing the large jazz festivals since the middle of June: Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd and even Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga. Others get to be heard in the smaller halls, where their art can really take wing.

Vijay Iyer was playing with lohg-standing trio – bassist Stephan Crump und Drummer Marcus Gilmore – in the Teatro Morlacchi which is the main location for modern jazz concerts. The atmosphere of this respectable provincial theatre. the expectation of suited the music of the group he has run for many years well, their surges of energy tempered by the claims of art. This was careful craft at a high level of abstraction, oscillating from the momentum of the pulse being the main propellant to passages shaped by their strong musical motifs. Since the basic material was drawn out to the length of a major suite, there were moments when the interest flagged, but the existence of over-arching themes made this a concert where concentrating and listening intently were rewarded.

These paradoxes were also in evidence for the Umbria Jazz Festival as a whole, which continued until Sunday 19th. While it goes on, it is the main event determining how life is to be lived in Perugia. On the one hand you can hear music which is demanding both intellectually and aurally – such as the Danish guitarist Jakob Bro or Vijay Iyer. But over and above that there is another festival which belongs to the historically significant town, enlivened by its student population, and that happens under open skies and carries on as a party into the balmy hours towards sunrise.

Paolo Fresu and Steven Bernstein at Umbria Jazz 2015
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

The festival is well-loved, and musicians of stature play on stages such as the Arena Santa Giuliana which has the dimensions of as sporting arena. That is where the likes of Cassandra Wilson or the Gilberto Gil I/ Caetano Veloso tandem, and for local heroes such as Paolo Fresu who took the opportunity to introduce his Projekt Brass Bang!, a micro brass band with tuba player Marcus Rojas, trombonist Gianluca Petrella and fellow trumpeter from New York Steven Bernstein. It was attempt to combine latin band with a touch of New Orleans, a smattering of the avant-garde and some lashings of humour, but their hour-long set needed more of an identifiable creative centre.

Stefano Bollani, on the other hand, was enjoying playing with unusual resources. He was in a quartet with drummer Jim Black, bassist Paul Santner and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, presenting pieces by Frank Zappa which in their jazz re-workings gained in substance.

The reason it worked was not just because of Bollani himself, occupying pieces such as Bobby Brown and Blessed Reief with both his habitual tendency to tease and his jawdropping pianistic class. It was also down to Adasiewicz releasing casades of energy and emphatic lunacy.

Not just the music which is loyal to the tradition, but also experiments like this which caught the hearts and minds of a large audience. It’s all in the mix of ingredients: swing, blues, a party in the streets, art and something to keep the noddle occupied, and special locations. And above all that good time feel from just being cradled between the Umbrian hills.

Vijay Iyer at Umbria Jazz 2015
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski


Stefano Bollani Band at Umbria Jazz 2015
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Categories: miscellaneous

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