Live review

FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: 2019 International Jazz Festival Münster (Germany)

Applause for Daniel Erdmann’s Velvet Jungle
L-R: Erdmann, Theo Ceccaldi, Samuel Rohrer, Jim Hart
Photo Credit: IJFM 

International Jazz Festival Münster
(Theater Münster, 4-6 January 2019. Round-up by Sebastian Scotney)

It definitely feels good to achieve something in the first few days of the year. So I bow down in huge admiration for one friend and colleague who makes it his mission during the three-day early January Jazz Festival in Münster to have jogged the complete 12.5km circuit of this city’s alphabetically unchallengeable lake, the Aasee.

And if he can derive a justifiable sense of achievement from such cold runnings, then one can only imagine how it must feel for the team who actually run this festival. This morning they will be celebrating having put the whole thing to bed by the end of last night, 6 January, Dreikönigstag. All told, there were 17 events over the three days, and musicians from 15 different countries performed. I managed to get to most…

This Festival takes as its mission once every two years to show some of the range and the diversity of the current jazz scene. So they invite contrasting bands from far and wide, with a particular emphasis on discovering up-and-coming performers who bring something different.

In his introductions, Festival Director Fritz Schmücker has fun explaining that there are no linking themes to this festival – but then tends to point out a few anyway. There were, for example, three bands including Portuguese musicians, notably the trumpeter Susana Santos Silva, trained in Holland and Germany, who now makes her home in Sweden. Her current quintet is seriously talented, and that seriousness was evident as they pursued Braxton-ish vocabulary and the angularity of tone rows.

As a contrast to the youth, there was veteran French bassist Henri Texier; and, there again, to bring a sense of contrast to the inevitable European bias, there was one exclusively US band, cellist Erik Friedlander’s quartet with Uri Caine. Their project ostensibly was to do with themes around drinking absinthe, but seemed to me to be more about the rather more abstract exploration of idiosyncratic scales and modes – and then gleefully ditching them in favour of hard-swinging blues-infused jazz.

What were my highlights? I particularly enjoyed two of this festival’s concerts:

– A first showing for the quartet version of Daniel Erdmann’s award-winnning trio Velvet Revolution, incorporating as its extra member Swiss drummer Samuel Rohrer, and called Velvet Jungle. Violin/viola, tenor saxophone, vibes/prepared vibes and drums in the hands of such high-quality players, all bandleaders in their own right, brings all kinds of possible sound, textural and rhythmic/ melodic combinations. And above all this group has a fine sense of drama and shape and contrast within numbers, and a lot of humour and theatricality too.

– I also enjoyed a tribute to Moondog led by French saxophonist Sylvain Rifflet, and entitled Perpetual Motion. This was lively, good-humoured and very enjoyable. It involved high calibre people such as French flautist Joce Mienniel and American saxophonist Jon Irabagon. It was also definitely the right project at the right time: Moondog, having been a New York landmark in his own right for decades, spent his last years in Europe. His last home was in Münster (I’m keeping hold of that one for the next trivia quiz). He died here 20 years ago this year and is buried in the city.

Sylvain Rifflet’s Moondog Tribute
Photo credit: IJFM

A band being talked about a lot is the Munich-based trio which brings a techno/dance vibe to the jazz piano trio, LBT. They are listed (nominated by Ralf Dombrowski) in LJN’s bands/musicians of the year, and I can see why. Ralf nominated them: “because they were doing something different, something I really hadn’t heard until now. It is a young piano trio that combines techno rhythms and structures with improvisation in a way that is really convincing.” They definitely worked for the Münsteraner audience: people were getting down to their favourite techno dance moves in the aisles of the small hall… at 3pm on a Sunday.

I also admired the sound of Hungarian singer Veronika Harcsa as she placed her trust in three things: in the inherent strengths of a good new song Listen To Me Now from an about-to-be-released album; in her Hungarian/ Belgian band; and in her own clear-as-a-bell and beautifully soaring voice.

Vocalist Veronika Harcsa
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

A singer determined to make things less simple was in-vogue and talented Estonian vocalist/pianist Kadri Voorand. Hers was a restless set, and one waited in vain for the relief and the simple enchantment of a good song.

The pianist Gregory Privat whom I heard in Paris in 2016 (REVIEW) has moved on: his trio is now louder and rockier. He uses more electronics, notably a synthesizer. And he also sings, and employs recorded spoken word (a DNA profile being read out). He now has a far more powerful and assertive drummer rather than a colourist in Mathieu Edward. I felt Privat was at his strongest when those impossibly long fingers were telling more subtle stories. The set was not without its balance problems: the sound engineer seemed to need a lot of persuading to take the bass volume down.

The one aspect which never disappoints at the Münster Festival is the keen and knowledgeable audience here. They always ensure the success of the festival by booking out the concerts early. And there is no mistaking when they have taken an artist to their hearts. The Polish composer/pianist Krzysztof Kobyliński and Erik Truffaz performed as a duo, and Kobyliński told me that within a few minutes he had sold all of the 50 duo CDs he had brought with him. These are a contrasting pair. Truffaz plays trumpet in an ineffably light way, whereas Kobyliński really digs in to the piano keys.

We reviewers are not supposed to review audiences, but with this Münster crowd it is unavoidable because they do inspire the musicians: Manuel Hermia, whose trio set with Valentin Ceccaldi and Sylvain Darrifourcq produced some astonishing fireworks, made a point of thanking the audience for the great energy they had brought.

And there was a lovely moment at the end of the Velvet Jungle set when the audience was simply bursting to give the band some appreciation. Moments like that – when rules of where to show the band you like what they’re doing can be broken, when the jazz police mercifully can do nothing, when a surge of supportive applause just wells up spontaneously and unavoidably – are to be treasured. For me, it sums up how a festival in these cold drizzly days of early January can bring a real sense of warmth – and connection.

A version of this round-up will appear in German in the March-April edition of Jazzthetik

Categories: Live review

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