For a jazz festival which presents strong players in spectacular settings, Südtirol is hard to beat. Alison Bentley previews the 2019 festival:
Every year, the Südtirol Jazz Festival brings musicians from different countries to extraordinary venues – from the highest mountains to the most scenic lakes. Every gig is an amazing experience. This year Spain and Portugal, the “Iberian Connection”, takes centre stage. (Previous festivals have focused on France, UK, Austria and Italy, Benelux, Scandinavia, Finland and Iceland.)
Award-winning Menorcan pianist Marco Mezquida is the presiding spirit. The Festival encourages musicians from various countries to work together. Mezquida leads 14 musicians, mostly from Spain and Portugal, in the opening concert (in Bolzano/Bozen’s Walterhaus,) including Mexican bassist/singer Fuensanta Méndez. Musicians from previous years are often invited back, and Reinier Baas (guitar) and Joris Roelofs (clarinet) join them from the Netherlands.
Concerts are grouped around four towns and surrounding areas, carefully matching music to venue- from ancient buildings to the angular shapes of modern architecture. If you miss an artist you like, you might catch them in another town on another day. The festival has grouped concerts into four ‘Citylines’ to help negotiate your way round the list of gigs. German and Italian are used in Südtirol/Alto Adige, and each place has a name in both languages.
There are 35 gigs in Bolzano/Bozen. Most are in walking distance of the centre, and one of the Festival’s pleasures is strolling from gig to gig through the old streets, surrounded by towering mountain peaks. Public transport is plentiful, too, and there are special Festival shuttle buses.
Mezquida brings his jazz reworkings of the composer’s music in his Ravel’s Dreams trio (Museion Modern Art Gallery, 29 June) Later, he’s in a duo with singer Celeste Alias in lakeside Hotel am Wolfsgrubenersee (Ritten / Renon), with a moonlight-themed set. On 30 June, his trio with a flamenco guitarist is at the medieval Hocheppan Castle, clinging to the mountainside. There’s a series of late-night gigs in the atmospheric cellar of an old brewery (Batzen Sudwerk/ Ca’de Bezzi), including Portuguese piano trio symph, with their “electronically alienated” instruments. (1 July). The “complex musical universe” of French duo Watchdog (2 July) is followed (3 July) by the experimental Jazzlabs, with musicians from France, Italy, Norway and Denmark as well as Spain and Italy. Drummer Stefano Tamborrino joins Festival regulars, vocalist Leila Martial and guitarist Francesco Diodati, in Blackline. (4 July)
Many gigs are outdoors, in striking places. There’s prog jazz from Nostalgia Progressiva at the Parco Semirurali (1 July) and jazz rock in the leafy Palais Toggenburg garden from French/Italian band, Matteo Bortone’s ‘Travelers’ 1. On 3 July at 2000m, singer Claire Parsons (Luxembourg, UK) and guitarist Eran Har Even (Israel) will be in sight of three mountain ranges at the Felturner Hütte/Rifugio Feltuner. On the same day, there’s a “jazz hike” near the rose-coloured crags of the Rosengarten to hear Little Rosie’s Kindergarten featuring Euregio Jazzwerkstatt, a 13-piece Viennese band (with Südtirol-born bassist Ruth Goller representing the UK.) Food and excellent local wines are available there- and also at Lake Caldara on 2 July, with baritone sax quintet Barionda.
Since it all began in 1982, the Festival has spread further out. Brunico/Bruneck has 12 gigs. The Beatroot Street Ensemble (29 June) and the UK’s Perhaps Contraption (6 July) play marching through the town. Zambian singer-pianist Thandi Ntuli is with her (mostly) Swiss band Let There Be Light at Getränkeladen Harpf Bottiglieria on 3 July. Catalonian singer Magalí Sare is with a duo then quartet (30 June) at a ski resort.
Bressanone/Brixen has 10 gigs; for example, at the Alperia Hydroelectric Power Station (29 June) there’ll be João Mortágua ‘AXES’ with four saxes and two drummers. In Erhardgasse/Via S. Erardo, Spanish singer Lucía Martínez (& The Fearless) turn spaghetti Western soundtracks into modern jazz. On 4 July in Maria-Hueber-Square are Austrian quintet chuffDRONE, set up by three female sax-players. Merano/Meran has 3 gigs, including “unique soundscapes” from Portuguese Trance Trio in the Ost West Country Club.
Hats off to the organisers who make everything work so smoothly. There are helpful people around to help you get from gig to gig. A 20€ Jazzpass allows seat bookings on the shuttle buses, ticket reductions and reservations (though many concerts are free,) and food and wine discounts. Fly, or take a train, to Verona; then another hour’s train ride takes you winding through the mountains to Bolzano.
LINK: Südtirol Jazz Festival