Live review

Jazz & the City, Salzburg – Part 2

Jazz & the City, Salzburg – Part 2
(Various venues in Salzburg. 19-20 October 2019. Round-up by Leah Williams)

New Orleans songstress Mykia Joven was the literal poster girl for Jazz & the City this year, her regal face adorning all the brochures and posters. On her fourth and final gig of the festival, which was in the resplendent setting of the Kollegienkirche (one of the city’s most beautiful churches), she admitted that she’d felt both “excited and anxious” seeing herself plastered all over the city. Judging by the fact that the festival app (a real marvel of a thing for receiving alerts about up-to-the-hour goings on) alerted me the night before that her gig at intimate restaurant K+K am Waagplatz was so full they recommended you go elsewhere and that this dauntingly huge church space was packed to the rafters, she needn’t have worried.

Mykia Jovan and band at Kollegienkirche (Photo: Leah Williams)

Along with keys player Jonathan Winfield and backing vocalists Kei Slaughter and Spirit McIntyre, Mykia’s smooth, rich vocals and soulful sound – which undoubtedly owes much to the musical heritage of her home city – filled the church’s grand acoustics, bringing groove, depth and thought-provoking lyrics to the appreciative audience. There was a pretty healthy dose of ‘inspirational talk’ as well, centring around being true to yourself and striving for your dreams – a bit too TED-talk for my tastes but it appeared to be well received by the majority. Being an afternoon gig in this tourist hotspot right in the centre of the old town had a different feel from the gigs I’d been to the day before, with lots of people clearly simply stumbling across it and lots of families and children enjoying the music as well. This really is a festival where it’s not just about who you see but where you see them.

The one and only of the festival’s ‘blind dates’ I managed to catch was in cosy cafe Jetlag a little off the city’s beaten track. It was worth taking a risk on this less mainstream venue as the vibe was entirely different. Warm and informal, it was the perfect setting for the audio production skills of Dan Nicholls and drummer Ludwig Wandinger. Now, considering they play in Liun + The Science Fiction Band together, I’m not sure this date was quite as blind as I’d understood the format of these events to demand. But nevertheless, for the setting it worked well. You could easily have believed yourself simply hanging out in some mates’ living room while they spontaneously tinkered with their midi keyboards. With the casual atmosphere came the flip side in that it seemed to be considered background music by some and there was quite a lot of chatter and socialising. This didn’t seem to bother the artists but the slightly experimental, textured soundscape they were creating would really have required silence and perhaps a beanbag to lay on and close my eyes for me to really get into it.

Interest piqued though, I went to see the Liun + The Science Fiction Band gig later that evening, where Dan and Ludwig joined vocalist Lucia Cadotsch and saxophonist Wanja Slavin. I was immediately impressed by how tight and intricate the rhythms were with an immediately impactful sound that suddenly made the seated setting seem very unfortunate.

However, although this project is the brainchild of Lucia and Wanja, for me something about the vocals didn’t quite work and instead I found it distracted from the exciting ebb and flow of the three instrumentalists. The highlights of the gig for me were when Wanja was taking the lead on sax, playing exciting riffs and melodies in dialogue with the beats and synth combination.

Rolf Kühn and Lisa Wulff. (Photo © Ralf Dombrowski)

Saturday’s high point turned out, perhaps unexpectedly, to be the much-anticipated Rolf Kühn gig. Of course, a lot of the hype had been based around the fact that he turned 90 last month and so this was a birthday celebration as much as anything else. And there was a spark of curiosity to hear him live – how will he sound? Look? But even if you take his age and long, revered career out of the mix, it was simply a great gig filled with interesting, mesmerising interpretations of songs from his latest album Yellow + Blue, recorded with the same quartet. Traditional in all the best senses of the word, no-one was trying to reinvent the wheel here, but there was still a sense of subverting the expected and pushing the clarinet from its legato depths to its staccato angularity, keeping the audience enthralled.

There was clearly a lot of love and mutual respect on stage too and it was clear that pianist Frank Chastenier, bassist Lisa Wulff and percussionist Tupac Mantilla were loving every moment of working with the legend. And they were all very much up to the task. A couple of truly special moments were when Rolf and Tupac engaged in a playful dialogue, where Tupac joined Rolf at the front of the stage and used only his own body as a very effective percussive instrument that had the audience whooping and cheering. Then there was the encore of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now played in a quietly beautiful manner by Rolf and Frank on piano. The perfect way to end the evening.

The final event of the festival on Sunday was in fact a film screening of the recent Stephan Lamby documentary about the Kühn brothers at the historic Mozartkino cinema. Unfortunately it was in German and so I didn’t get a chance to see it, although I will definitely be searching out a subtitled version soon and we have a separate review of the film here.

These are only a handful of what was on offer and, from London-based talents Rob Luft and Elina Duni to Swiss pianist Marie Kruttli’s trio, there was enough exciting music to have filled a week at least.

The final day of the festival saw musicians invited to the iconic Mirabell gardens for a free-flowing jam session. Almut Kühne held an impromptu workshop followed by an active tour around the gardens with her new set of mini-Almut followers creating fun havoc.

Tobias Ennemoser, otherwise knows as TubAffinity, was another excellent and supremely fun character who held court for over an hour in one garden corner treating music lovers and unsuspecting tourists alike to his unique blend of tuba and electronic dance beats. At one point he was joined by two contemporary street dancers. Were they there for the festival or had they simply jumped in? I guess it doesnt really matter and thats the beauty of it.

Other young musicians who’d been involved in the festival drifted in and out jamming together in a quite lovely autumnal kumbaya way very worthy of the Sound of Music setting. A great way to sign off another hugely popular and successful festival curated by artistic director Tina Heine and team.

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