INNtöne Jazz Festival 2019
(Froschau, Diersbach, Austria. 7-9 June 2019. Round-Up by Sebastian Scotney; all pictures courtesy of a good friend of LJN)
INNtöne is a tiny annual festival which justifibly now has a major international reputation. There was a time when it went under the radar, but such is the reputation of the festival’s director and guiding spirit Paul Zauner for making discoveries (eg Gregory Porter’s first appearance at a European festival), those days are long gone. The three-day event all happens on Whitsun weekend on the Zauner family’s pig farm in the Innviertel district of Austria. A festival with this name has been going since the 1980s, and it has been held at this location since 2002. One of the working barns on the farm is turned into an 800-seater concert hall. This year the three days of the festival had 18 gigs on the main stage, of which I was able to hear most.
“Headline” names are in the minority at INNtöne. An exception was Abdullah Ibrahim who came and did a solo set on the opening evening. Unlike some recent concerts by him reviewed on this site, the South African octogenarian delivered an experience to remember in the barn. His recital kept a reverentially slow tempo and never left it, but the concert lasting most of an hour and a half had a sense of flow, it persuaded, it delighted. The tune Salaam – Peace was a recurrent presence, always ushered in with an incredibly delicate touch, pianissimo. There was quite a bit of ambient noise in the hall, but Austrian Radio tell me their radio recording is of very high quality with more or less no distractions; I look forward to hearing it.
The opening act of the festival was a quartet of alto saxophonist Paul Van Kemenade, trombonist Ray Anderson, with bassist Ernst Glerum, who were all enoying the restless and indefatigable madcap energy of drummer Han Bennink. Then at the end of the evening three powerful and experienced gospel singers, the Como Mummers closed out the evening. Their a capella opening number conveyed a totally, wonderfully compelling sense of raw vocal power and belief.
The sheer extent of the variety on show and the cumulative experience of the central day of INNtöne 2019 was nothing short of a miracle. The INNtöne audience will palpably take bands of totally different persuasions to their collective heart, and in the process will help to lift the performances out of the ordinary. This repeated virtuous circle, the progrssive building of appreciation of trust in the room is heartwarming stuff.
The openers, French duo of guitarist Sylvain Luc and trumpet/flugel Stéphane Belmondo brought lightness and humour to their melodic and well-crafted standards-based duo set. Then New York pianist Brian Marsella played a set with a wide range of inspirations: everything from stride, Chopin and Mompou through to a ferocious keyboard-pummelling Cecil Taylor finale.
Jean Toussaint, flanked by top players such as Byron Wallen and Dennis Rollins egged on by this willing and appreciative audience was always going to produce something special – and he duly did. The horn arrangements from his new album Brother Raymond are wonderfully written, often culminating in a chord which somehow has that sense of bloom, reminiscent of a flower opening out. And in his final song, Moanin, Toussaint set to work with that well-known skill of his: dreaming up and leading the horn section in backing figures, giving every soloist, notably the fluently expressive Andrew McCormack and rhythmically assertive bassist Max Luthert lively material to work with. If only such a large, warm, encouraging, involved, passionately musical crowd could lift this group’s performance in this way every time they take the stage.
The next three acts constitute arguably the most fascinating juxtaposition of styles that one could ever hea hear on a single stage. The Seattle-based Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio with guitarist Jimmy James and (more recently) drummer Doug Octa Port usher the listener instantly into the familiar and welcoming land of deep grooves from ’60s soul, R&B and electric blues. The INNtöne audience unsurprisingly found this an agreeable world to inhabit. The warmth and sense of connection in the room just grew and grew as the set progressed.
Supersonus – The European Resonance Ensemble, by contrast, with the sequence of tunes played a continuous flow of music based on baroque sensitivities and what we used to call “experimental” or “extended technique” sounds. Bavarian singer and multi-instrmentalist Anna-Maria Hefele has built an individual technique of polyphonic overtone singing. Eva-Maria Rusche is a fine harpsichordist. Marco Ambrosini plays what the Germans call a Schlüsselfiedel (and the Swedes a nyckelharpa), Wolf Janscha plays “jaw harp”. Normal band member Anna-Liisa Eller plucks the Estonian kannel but had to be replaced at 24 hours’ notice. This band has an ECM recording imminent, and the word will get out quickly now. The INNtöne audience savoured this group’s intensely quiet sound world and stayed still.
The next group from Nuoro in the Central-Eastern hills of Sardinia juxtaposed two very dissimilar worlds, fast Mingus-y jazz and their traditional throat singing style the “cantu a tenore”. The project is based around Gavino Murgia who not only plays very fluent and warm-toned jazz saxophone but also does the singing as part of the quartet. Both idioms are authentic, both give testimony to deep musicianship. And that dichotomy of wanting to explore the world yet to be rooted in local tradition is a Sardinian thing, and is central to the work of Sardinia’s greatest novelist Grazia Deledda… but the critic is bound to wonder if the two worlds are not too separate to want or to need to be combined. I had very good reports of the act which closed the day, a quintet led by pianist Joe Armon-Jones.
The final day stays in the mind for the ecstatically loud roars which greeted the trio of tuba player Theon Cross, saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael and drummer Moses Boyd. Having seen the INNtöne crowd connect again and again, this band brought their level of appreciation of everyone there to a different level. Right up at the top of the hall where the heat must have been totally oppressive, a group of students was dancing. And down below by edge the stage, I happened to notice one of Germany’s most eminent jazz scholars and broadcasters. His boyish grin and total focus were testimony to the sheer enjoyment and involvement this band were bringing to the farm.
Of the other acts I partivularly enjoyed the quartet of German pianist Florian Weber, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Michel Benita and drummer Nasheet Waits. This group combines huge musicians with strong individual personalities; they performed a very strong set. It was a particular joy to hear Alessi’s fluency, expressiveness and a trumpet sound of astonishing power and authority. Weber is one of the most illustrious heirs to the legacy of John Taylor and has the great Mancunian’s ability to be in motion, to traverse and transcend different moods, feels and harmonic centres with total authority and ease.
On a much quieter level, the civilised conversations of Toninho Horta, a guitarist and singer from Belo Horizonte, and Rudi Berger, a Viennese violinist. Their duo gig was a celebration of a friendship, and a mutual and musical respect that has straddled the ocean for more than 30 years.
Azar Lawrence is known as the saxophonist who replaced Coltrane in McCoy Tyner’s group. Paul Zauner introduced the band in a way which highlighted the slightly surreal contrast of this urban LA band coming to the open country of Froschau (meaning frog meadow). His band makes regular use of the hashtag #itsgoingtobehot. It was… and for my taste a bit unremitting.
Calum Gourlay‘s band Thelonious has special guest guitarist Steve Cardenas, plus Hans Koller on euphonium, Martin Speake on alto sax and James Maddren on drums. Their Monk tunes took a short while to get the INNtöne audience hooked, but there was a moment – I thought it was during one of Martin Speake’s persuasive and fluent solos – that the mood changed and one could sense the appreciation kick in, that INNtöne virtuous circle to start happening.
INNtöne is the remarkable creation of a remarkable figure in jazz. The food and wine and beer and companionship and family feel of this festival are very special. The Austrians use the word “Servus!” when they greet, or part, or want to say “cheers!” It conveys the happy spirit of this convivial festival.