REVIEW: Jazzdor Strasbourg 2016

The Jazzdor logo. Photo by Henning Bolte

Jazzdor Strasbourg 2016 
(Review: three days of Jazzdor Festival 2016, Strasbourg/Mulhouse, November 8 -10. Review by Henning Bolte and Anne Yven)

This 31st edition of French festival Jazzdor was held from November 4 -18 at Strasbourg and a few neighbouring places like Offenburg in Germany. Jazzdor also has a summer edition in Berlin (Germany) in June, and there is neat connection between both editions in both programming and objectives.

Developing durable international collaborations

Jazzdor works with a combination of new names and established names, appearing in  ever-new guises and new configurations. Above all, the festival initiates and presents new encounters of French musicians with music and musicians from different directions in Europe and the US, but always with an eye for long-term artist and band development, reflecting the fact that Director Philippe Ochem was a musician himself for twenty five years (interview).

The period from November 8 -10 of the two weeks running festival had three of those, namely the drum duo of Yuko Oshima and Hamid Drake, the brand-new trio configuration of Hamid Drake with Sylvain Kassap and Benjamin Duboc and the duo of French cellist Anil Eraslan with German pianist Julia Kadel. The other days introduced the new French-German unit qÖÖlp with the string instrument-playing Ceccaldi brothers, Theo on violin and Valentin on violoncello, guitarist Ronny Graupe and drummer Christian Lillinger, as well as the duos Noël Akchoté/Mary Halvorson and Bojan Z/Nils Wogram. qÖÖlp had made thir debut at the Jazzdor sister festival in Berlin in June of this year, and have just has just released their first album on the Jazzdor label.


It was a special pleasure when boarding the festival to get served an opening dish with Berio, Grock and Mangelsdorff by ever witty and good spirited Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser.

His solo performance was characterful and had a relaxed playfulness at its best. Blaser saluted the audience with his Missing Marc Suetterlyn piece dedicated to legendary German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff. It was followed by “Sequenza V”, a piece Luciano Berio (1925-2003) created as an homage to Grock (1880-1959) the famous (Swiss) clown and musician. Berio wrote it in 1966 as a solo piece for Stuart Dempsey. Grock was a “maître perturbateur”, a sweet and creative disorganizer, who anticipated lots of typical gestures of avant-garde music in his art of clownery. The piece (and the performance) itself had the humorous knack too such that listeners not familiar with Grock could get the essence of his art. Whereas Grock in his shows reunited, “healed” a constantly disconnected world by his humorous turns, in avant-garde music it was to the listener himself to cope with it. It appears that well-dosed portions of humour can have an important facilitating role and can make a difference. That’s why Blaser’s spicing of his performances with these kinds of pieces is so refreshing.

Yuko Oshima. Photo by Henning Bolte

It was just the beginning of a strong night, followed by two concerts at Fossé des Treize – another venue where most of the concerts of the up-coming season are going to take place – built around Chicagoan drummer Hamid Drake. The first one was a percussion discussion of Hamid Drake with female French-Japanese drummer Yuko Oshima, to most of us known from her duo Donkey Monkey with remarkable pianist Eve Risser. There are a lot of differences between both musicians – the most obvious being the difference of body seizes and gender. How would the chemistry of both temperaments and temperatures work out, how would they complement each other or collide? Whereas Oshima made a furious start operating in a pert and bold way right away, Drake operated in a more rounding off mode such that a gripping common expression, a common countenance could emerge from it. The empathy between both musicians was quite high throughout and resulted in marvellous timing, wonderful transitions and great dynamics.

Benjamin Duboc . Photo by Henning Bolte

The new trio configuration of Hamid Drake and clarinetist Sylvain Kassap with double bass player Benjamin Duboc proved to be a real surprise. Alternating open sound shaping, texturing and melodizing went stunningly supple and energetic. These were musicians of a broad horizon who could tap into rich musical sources and let it flow. There are not so many jazz musicians in Europe who can weave and float that freely. Kassap’s bass clarinet and Duboc’s bass, pizzicato and battente, were ruling the first two fervent pieces. A raw bouncing mode prevailed first, and subsequently a variation on Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance emerged. It proved a promising and thrilling no-nonsense combination of musicians, who are engaged in developing that kind of free and connecting musical discourse.

Drawnote of Sylvie Courvoisier Trio by Henning Bolte


Next day it appeared the world had changed profoundly through the results of the US presidential elections. It obviously had affected the US musicians at the festival quite heavily. That “day after”it had a clearly noticeable effect on the concert of the trio of Sylvie Courvoisier, Drew Gress and Kenny Wollesen the same evening. They played their out loud and furiously their displeasure and discomfort in a powerful fulminant performance.

The concert started furiously, kept its extraordinary initial sharpness and left its deep scratches and etchings in the spout of the music. From that fierce onset Courvoisier, Gress and Wollesen built bold tonal configurations collaged in a strong dramaturgy and highly dynamic flow, thereby sculpturing richly contoured shapes. Multiple strands with contrasting moods run through one another. Rhythmically driving and elegiac motifs were folded into each other or alternated by way of jump cuts. It was still more urged on by some Beethovenian pogo. Neatly ‘triorized’ as one unified body of sound Courvoisier, Gress and Wollesen left a strong mark with Wollesen’s Blue Boys (his Japanese brushes) as a swishing eye-/ear catcher.

Slightly different affairs were the two concerts that sandwiched the exemption of Courvoisier, Gress and Wollesen. Prior to it the duo of Turkish-French cellist Anil Eraslan and German pianist Julia Kadel performed at CEAAC in Strasbourg. Julia Kadel (b.1986) is the second German female pianist on Blue Note. Until now, she has released two albums on the label with her trio: Im Vertrauen (2014) and Über und Unter (2016). Anil Eraslan (b. 1981) is a Turkish-French cellist and a regular at Jazzdor. It was a kind of de-jazzed and improvisation-enriched kind of music – clear and playful, delicate and sophisticated, also a bit dry at times. There was a resemblance with contemporary composed music but the music clearly had been constructed and developed jointly by and in their interplay. It was an interesting approach, and one could argue they could have exploited the already existent humorous moments a bit more.

The trio of pianist Marc Perrenoud from Geneva went the strongly propulsive, bouncing, rhythmically centred way of the piano trio. Its approach sometimes reminds of the approach of Ramsey Lewis. The Geneva trio with Marco Müller and Cyril Regamey however operates on the basis of today’s rhythm patterns and groove directions without ending up in those diluted and pruned variations of minimal music of a couple of trendy bands. It proved that Perrenoud has a special talent to strip down old pieces to the essential and slowly let them arise and extend from that core. The trio could make (old) songs swell up slowly and let them ebb away in a great way. It created a new compactness and urgency of those pieces. That also went up for slow, ballad like pieces. The trio is strong in dealing with dynamics and space as a basis for their redesign of ‘old’ material from the jazz tradition with refreshing compactness and propulsive tension.

Julien Desprez


On Thursday, the festival took us to another city in Alsace, Mulhouse. Situated south of Strasbourg, near the German and the Swiss border, La Filature – national scene of Mulhouse – had programmed a special night of “sonic exploration”. The city also has its own renowned annual METEO festival for improvised and experimental music, which takes place in August.

The opening act was an extended version of the Acapulco, a solo project by French electric guitarist Julien Desprez, who is now taking it on the road with new dimensions. He has, ironically, called this version “Redux”. Desprez has a strong active role in the French Coax collective and is involved in quite a lot of smaller French groups, in Eve Risser’s extraordinary White Desert Orchestra as well as in international groups as Fire! Orchestra and the new installed Nu Ensemble of Mats Gustafsson. He’s been playing along with Rob Mazurek, Mwata Bowden and Matt Lux in the last “Bridge” tour in France and in The US. Acapulco Redux was recently brought to Rio de Janeiro. Desprez can – no doubt – be considered an outstanding voice of the new French generation.

In his redux show Desprez ‘interferes’ and interacts musically with light, space and sound. He takes the solo concert to a new synesthetic dimension. It would lead into a truly electrifying experience, wouldn’t it? Although I answered in the beginning with a safe and sound “No, don’t worry” when my neighbour asked me with a skeptic look if she would need the earplugs we were given, it turned out to be just that!

When the audience entered the high ceiling big theatre, they recognized a playground composed of rows of looping pedals, multiple jacks cables, electric devices and a set of fluorescent white LED-lights, on the floor. Desprez started and took control over all of these. They allow him to appear/disappear, make him walk around, stop, burst, push his nervous twitch-play to a new frontier and start again, in another location in the room, finishing the set in the audience! It was a stroboscopic experience directed by Gregory Edelein, the scenographer, who joined Desprez on the stage to greet. The audience was taken aback by this radical experience, but after all, and more significantly, stimulated, and charged!

The second act of the evening invited the audience to be immersed in “Um”, a contemporary meditative piece by Lebanese composer Zad Moultaka, directed by Philippe Nahon. This piece, a creation performed by 10 musicians and six vocalists, was so relaxing and profound that one could do nothing but acknowledge the pros and not the cons of golden musical contrasts. This is what we expect from a major festival such as Jazzdor.


Even a short visit this year gave strong indications that Jazzdor remains on the right track. Artistic standards are high. The matching of French with European and North American musicians is consistent, successful and forms a solid element. Another strong feature is the fair representation of the older generation, the middle generation and the young(est) generation of musicians. In comparison with other festivals it is not only well proportioned representation. It is especially recognizable that it is the result of a systematic approach with a clear vision. Samuel Blaser, Desprez, Eraslan/Kadel, Jalal, Poco Loco, QÖÖLP, Perrenoud Trio, Sartorius. The series of names from the younger generation speaks for itself. The inclusion of groups/bands, that can function as bridges to other genres and scenes like the Electro-scene is also noteworthy. The Actions Péripheriques are still impressively extended and are anything but a superfluous luxury, on the contrary. All these elements are key tasks of festivals subsidized by public money. The festival programming is clearly not following the receiving-house model. It is recognizably the result of a culturally reflected artistic view and related decision-making, from which all parties involved can reap the benefits.

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