Live reviews

PHOTOS/ ROUND-UP: 2019 WDR3 Jazz Fest in Gütersloh

Phronesis and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band
(tenor saxophone – Steffen Weber)
Photo credit and copyright: Lutz Voigtlaender/WDR

WDR3 Jazz Fest 
(Theater Gütersloh, 1-2 February. Second and third nights. Round-ups by Sebastian Scotney (Friday) and Oliver Weindling (Saturday))


The annual prize concert, the focal point on the middle night of the WDR3 Jazz Festival, stands out as an occasion when one of the regions in Europe which sets a standard for how to provide coherent support its jazz musicians can pat itself on the back, and duly does so.

The German way of doing this involves a lot of speeches and bouquets of flowers – I have one German friend who is always irritated by the latter – but the end-result is positive: what needs to be said gets said, values are reinforced, effort which might otherwise go unseen is recognised.

Mary’s Big Band from Euskirchen
Photo credit and copyright: Lutz Voigtlaender/WDR 

Acknowledgement of unseen long-term effort was definitely the case for the winners of the “Nachwuchspreis” (next generation prize) which celebrated the existence of one school in Euskirchen (on the outskirts of Bonn on the way towards the Eifel) which, after 20 years of continuous nurturing, is host to no fewer than four big bands. They demonstrated again the scale of big band activity in Germany. The three salaried big bands of WDR in Cologne, NDR in Hamburg and of Frankfurt Radio (HR) are the tips of a very substantial tree.

Jens Düppe, winner of the Improvisation Prize
Photo credit and copyright: Lutz Voigtlaender/WDR

The winner of the Improvisation Prize was drummer Jens Düppe (above), and the other winners were Heiner Schmitz (Composition) the Brückenklang community outreach project of the regional Initiative Musik (Ehrenpreis / Honorary Prize), and the Cologne-based quartet of Turkish-Kurdish musicians Kavpersaz (Musikkulturen / World Music)

The retirement of Bernd Hoffmann felt like the passing of an era. He has pursued an ambitious vision with determination, notably in the area of making the broadcaster’s contribution to jazz additive to its long term sustainability in the region. There was much speculation about the ways that the broadcaster will find to retrench its jazz activity. A lot was left unsaid: for example there is definitely a commitment to host the WDR Jazz Prize concert in Gütersloh again next year… but whether there will be a festival on this scale to accompany it was less clear.

Oliver Weindling reports on the final day, Saturday 2 February

The third and final day was a great swansong for Bernd Hoffmann. Organising this festival was the last act of his 15 years as head of jazz at WDR.

Throughout, it showed the balance of the energy of experience and the thrill of the newer generations. The former was shown in particular by the last show of the evening, by Randy Brecker, performing with the Cologne Funkateers in a set reminiscent of the Brecker Brothers. His saxophonist wife Ada Rovati  depped more than easily on tenor for the late Michael. At 73, Randy brings all the energy and good vibes of that great band where he first really made his name.

Kirk Lightsey
Photo credit and copyright: Lutz Voigtlaender/WDR 

Meanwhile Detroit-born veteran Kirk Lightsey, at 82, has likewise lost none of his energy and imagination, impish as ever and bringing to bear his 60 years as a performer. Here he was again the leading accompanist for the opening act of the evening, vocalist Chanda Rule. She is a name to watch for, and a new album is on the way. To the band that we heard at the Vortex last year (REVIEWED HERE) was added Rick Margitza on tenor and the sparkling tabla player Avirbhav Verma (who will be appearing with Carlton Holmes and Paul Zauner at the Vortex on 5 February).

Chanda Rule
Photo credit and copyright: Lutz Voigtlaender/WDR 

These bands bookended the meatier part of the evening, first with accordionist Vincent Peirani leading his rockier line-up of Living Being. Starting with Sonny Bono’s Bang Bang the group passed through originals and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and climaxing with a song from Purcell’s King Arthur. The band, which included among others his regular sparring partner Emile Parisien on soprano, had the audience wishing, by the end, that the seats in the hall could disappear and give us space to dance! A justifiable standing ovation.

But Phronesis with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, already reviewed from its first performances at the London Jazz Festival in 2015, was a worthy follower. It is great to feel that this project really has as its heart the rhythm section taken over by the trio. The big band, set up on three sides around the trio, enhances their music, rather than controls it. Credit for this in part lies with the arrangements of Julian Argüelles. Though Julian wasn’t there, the band by now doesn’t need a separate conductor. And there were some great solos such as from tenor saxophonist Tony Lakatos and guitarist Martin Scales. But without doubt the trio deservedly took centre stage as performers and composers. Meanwhile, a particular bonus was Ivo Neame’s introduction of the band members in impeccable German. Listening and wallowing in the performance, I was reminded of the earliest gigs of Phronesis in 2005 just after the Vortex moved to Dalston – what a long way this trio has travelled together…

The last of many bouquets of flowers on Friday night
for Bernd Hoffmann (second from right)
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Categories: Live reviews

Leave a Reply