Live review

30th Schaffhauser Jazzfestival 2019, Switzerland

Lukas Mantel’s 6-tet “Vardah”

30th Schaffhauser Jazz Festival
(Kulturzentrum Kammgarn, Schaffhausen, Switzerland, May 22-25 2019. Round-Up and iPhone snaps by Alison Bentley)

This is the first part of Alison’s round-up of a long-standing and innovative festival:

Lukas Mantel’s 6-tet “Vardah” (24 May); Taïga (25 May); Raphael Walser’s GangArt (25 May); Film, Zwischen Kalkül und Zufall by Jürg Egli; Kammgarn West (several days.)


What’s the secret to keeping a successful jazz festival going for 30 years? When Festival co-founder Urs Röllin came back home to Schaffhausen after studying guitar in the US, he and fellow guitarist Hans Naef realised that Swiss jazz musicians were just supporting American stars. They needed a festival to “…try to get interesting projects from Switzerland today”, and put them centre stage. With the help of a team of dedicated volunteers, and the support of Swiss radio (SRF) they’ve built things up so that people “…come to the Festival because they trust us”. Most of the gigs took place in the Kulturzentrum Kammgarn, down the old town’s cobbled streets: a venue large enough to have the atmosphere and lighting of a theatre, but small enough to feel intimate, with tables and Ronnie’s-style orange lamps along the bar.

Several young Swiss bands brought their original, imaginative projects. Drummer Lukas Mantel’s 6-tet “Vardah” had a huge energy, with compositions based on his recent experience of a hurricane in Chennai. Mantel’s playing had tight rolls of sound working through time signatures (such as 10 or 11/8) as unpredictable as a storm. One piece has a very effective two-note bass riff (Lukas Traxel): the pauses were every bit as important as the notes. Long harmonised horn lines implied the chords, drawing the wild grooves together and making sense of them. (Matthias Spillmann on trumpet and flugel, the notes of his solos looping gracefully in the air; Rafael Schilt’s breathy-toned, fluid, tenor and clarinet.) Leandro Irarragorri’s Fender Rhodes kept the rhythmic energy and Travis Reuter‘s guitar solo sounded as smooth and fluent as a keyboard. Mantel’s writing was full of interesting textures.

Taïga spanned the generations with its trance-like, atmospheric, flugel-led electronica. It was like the soundtrack to the slow sci-fi movie you carry around in your head. (One piece was based on Tarkovsky’s iconic film Stalker. ) Pianist Marc Méan rested his keyboard on the grand piano, sometimes Hancockian (the space age albums); sometimes distorting the moody piano sounds. Drummer Valentin Liechti and bassist Fabien Iannone gently evoked an impending storm with hints of trip hop or slow Afro Latin. Matthieu Michel used to play with the Vienna Art Orchestra. Tonight his flugel seemed to pull sweet rushes of notes out from a deep place, the way Miles Davis did.

Raphael Walser’s GangArt

Bassist Raphael Walser grew up loving mountains and Swiss folk songs, and his folk arrangements for his band GangArt were fresh and original. Some compositions was Inspired by the Alpine triptych by painter Giovanni Segantini. ‘I started with the moods that the images triggered in me,’ said Walser. At times there was a driving groove with drummer Jonas Ruther, or a restless ball of energy recalling Phronesis. The front line themes (Niculin Janett, alto; Ganesh Geymeier, tenor) at times had a 60s vibe – Walser admires Mingus. Geymeier’s tone had some Joe Henderson it it, Marc Méan stretched the harmonic tension between piano and bass, but never to breaking point: the tenor solo filled the spaces in between. Another section had an alto solo sketching out the chords with pristine clarity. Another piece had bass drops and and time signatures that seemed to change mysteriously, depending on which instrument you focused on.

An exhibition space in the same building hosted a film (Zwischen Kalkül und Zufall – between calcultion and chance – by Jürg Egli) in which Swiss pianist Nik Bärtsch responded to the paintings and sculpture of Beat Zoderer as they were created. Bärtsch kept one painting on his piano for inspiration. We could look at some of Zoderer’s paintings on the walls too, while listening to Bärtsch’s music through state of the art headphones – in keeping with the superb sound quality and creativity of the whole festival.

Categories: Live review

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