FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: JazzFest Berlin (Berlin London Connections at the A-Trane)

JazzFest Berlin 2017
(Berlin London Connections at the A-Trane. Round-Up by Oliver Weindling)

This is the second of three round-ups of this year’s festival – links below

Berlin-London Connections was a strand of this year’s Berlin Jazz Festival where collaborations were encouraged between like-minded musicians based in the two cities. During his trips to Berlin over the past three years, the festival’s artistic director, Richard Williams, had found strong parallels between the present-day scenes in the two cities. To celebrate this he brought together new formations of complementary musicians. All three gigs took place at the A-Trane – Berlin’s premier jazz club with an intimacy more like the Vortex than, say, Ronnie Scott’s.

It was great to see many musicians whom I have seen/heard regularly at the Vortex given the chance for prominence at this leading festival and starting new musical ‘friendships’.

The first of the three nights was Black Top: the partnership of Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas exists through reacting to new musical alliances and by now there have been many memorable gigs, mainly at Cafe Oto but also the Vortex and Jazz Cafe in London. So it was a natural extension for them to work with Berlin-based guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly (originally part of the M-BASE scene but heard too little on this side of the Channel) and saxophonist Frank Gratkowski. Gratkowski has a responsiveness to the sound landscape painted by Black Top in the variety of tone and sound. He also has the power to take the gig by the scruff of the neck and send the music into new directions. Meanwhile the bluesiness and ‘crunch’ of Bourelly’s guitar gave it a strong momentum, which allowed Robinson, particularly, a great degree of freedom. The standing ovation at the end of was well earned.

L-R: Kit Downes, Lucy Railton, Philipp Gropper, Oliver Steidle
Photo credit: Berliner Festspiele/Camille Blake

Unfortunately, I missed the second night’s collaboration of Kit Downes and Lucy Railton with Philip Gropper and Oliver Steidle. Gropper and Steidle had been at the Vortex the previous Sunday for an unforgettable performance by Philm.

However, I was able to catch the third night. Pianist Sarah Tandy and bassist Daniel Casimir, both members of Camilla George’s Quartet, worked together with altoist Silke Eberhard and her regular drummer Kay Lübke. Eberhard is known for her reworkings of the music of Dolphy and, more recently, Charles Mingus in a bassless line-up. As the most experienced member of the group, she was pushing the group hard from the start, her speediness contrasting with Casimir’s spacious and sonorous bass playing. But it was when they played Epistrophy that it all really clicked and one felt that one was hearing the first performance of a proper ‘band’. Sarah Tandy was able to use her unique combination of imagination and extraordinary technique. Dan Casimir’s Uncle James provided a lyrical breather. Here were two London musicians of the newest generation, and they were in no way overawed  by the circumstances.

Although away from the main festival building, it certainly wasn’t an ‘add on’. The same can be said of the late night gigs in the Seitenbühne. One in particular that really stood out for me was the trio ‘Punkt.Vrt.Plastik’ of Kaja Draksler (piano), Petter Eldh (bass), Christian Lillinger (drums) – in effect half of Amok Amor working with an imaginative Amsterdam-based Slovenian pianist. This band has really come on in leaps and bounds from when they first played together a year ago at the October Meeting organised at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis (where Draksler is resident). An intensity and empathy which sucked in its audience, understandably.

LINKS: Wednesday- Friday Round-Up by Sebastian

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. A few linked dates in the EFG London Jazz Festival for your diaries!
    10: Black Top with guests including Jean-Paul Bourelly (St Lukes)
    12: Kit Downes as part of Elt (Vortex in double bill with Pablo Held Trio)
    17: Sarah Tandy and Daniel Casimir as members of Camilla George Quartet (Spice of Life)

  2. Good to hear about this excellent initiative. Black Top played with just Jean-Paul Bourelly in Birmingham in the intimate surroundings of the Hexagon Theatre at mac and after initial probing produced a very enjoyable series of improvisations. Jazz Now recorded and excerpts from the concert will be broadcast on the Monday night programme in early 2019

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