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International Jazzfestival Münster 2020 – Shortcut

International Jazzfestival Münster 2020 – Shortcut Koma Saxo Airelle Besson / Lionel Suarez Duo Pipe Dream (Theater Münster, 5 January 2020. Review by Alison Bentley) What to do in the post-holiday lull after the New Year rush is over? The atmospheric old city of Münster in north west Germany has the answer: a very popular annual jazz festival that had its 40th anniversary in 2019. This was a ‘shortcut’ year where the festival lasts one day; on alternate years it runs for three days. Within half an hour of tickets going on sale this time, 80% had been sold, and as the theatre audience (nearly 1000-strong) waited for the three contrasting bands to begin, their enthusiasm was palpable.

Koma Saxo. Photo Alison Bentley

Artistic director Fritz Schmücker featured bands from Europe: Koma Saxo opened, led by Swedish double bassist Frans Petter Eldh – known in the UK for his work with Django Bates and Kit Downes. German drummer Christian Lillinger’s incredible restless grooves were full of rhythmic subtlety, while Eldh’s powerful playing drew swing and funk together as he pulled strings with visceral force. Three saxes (Mikko Innanen fromFinland; Otis Sandsjö and Jonas Kullhammar, both from Sweden) played in an ever-increasing spiral of energy, like a bebop tune blurred with speed. Another piece brought punk energy to a township groove and the saxes’ free phrases crackled with fervour – a disciplined anarchy. All the members write for the band, and “…they all meld together in this beautiful north European way,” as Eldh put it. Cyclops Dance, by Finnish drummer Matti Oiling, merged with Oysters. (Eldh: “…from the west coast of Sweden, a joyous feeling when you’re eating them, but kind of weird!”) Lillinger put the Northern Lights into sound, with controlled explosions behind the saxes’ angular patterns and wild soloing – riffs were examined from infinite viewpoints. Folk themes floated among drum and bass grooves in The Dream About Alice, with an Ornette Coleman feel. Chords ran round in giant steps, as the melody was disguised by complex skeins of sound. Lillinger and Eldh duetted faster than the speed of sound, slightly out of synch in a disturbing echo. Another piece had a shining flute solo from Kullhammar over big band-like arrangements. A lullaby made famous by Swedish pianist Jan Johansson brought two tenors and bari edging between major and minor, pulled along by the force field of their playing rather than harmonic shifts. Their writing and playing was full of surprise and delight.

Lionel Suarez and Airelle Besson. Photo Alison Bentley

How would a duo follow that? As award-winning French trumpeter Airelle Besson commented, the audience was huge but the stage felt intimate. She and button accordionist Lionel Suarez invited us into their musical world with their skill and emotive playing. Besson’s pieces had folk and jazz elements. From the bright, circling chord sequence of the opening Blossom, to the heartfelt simplicity of the concluding Time to Say Goodbye, her tone was poised and beautiful alongside Suarez’ orchestral fire. “We’re going to snow for you tonight,” she promised, introducing her almost visual Neige, snowflakes swirling in patterns of ⅞ – they’re still in my head. They took turns in playing the patterned riffs and soloing, till chords lay thickly on the accordion, melting in final dripping notes. Suarrez’ pieces seemed to draw more on Latin and Balkan grooves. One had dense chords, bent notes and an impossibly complicated theme, which he played and whistled simultaneously. Other pieces invoked the spirit of Piazzolla and French chanson. In Suarez’ Time Line Besson leaned into the notes, bending her knees, while Suarez looked down at the accordion, as if to see what it would do next –  tricksy rhythms and key changes? The timbre of unmuted but gentle trumpet with accordion was lovely, as triplets and trills stretched intervals with humour and delicacy.

Pipe Dream. Photo Alison Bentley

A Pipe Dream was made real in the otherworldly tones of the final band: four Italian musicians with US cellist Hank Roberts at their centre. He’s worked with Bill Frisell, and the first piece had a slow, open country-rock feel. Roberts sang wordless lines with Filippo Vignato’s trombone over Pasquale Mirra’s ringing vibes. Sometimes Roberts waved his hand as if summoning the notes. All write for the band –  although the compositions were different, the focus on textures gave them a dreamy unity. Giorgio Pacorig’s virtuoso intro to the next piece owed as much to Messiaen as Jarrett. Zeno De Rossi’s drums built grooves imperceptibly, small solo sections from all instruments breaking out of the rock-edged beats from time to time, like Charles Lloyd’s Wild Man Dance Suite. Chords were harmonically tense, but never nightmarish, as Roberts drew Hendrix-like squalls from his cello. Another piece had a smooth surface, but underlying tension. The trombone solo was urgent and complex, the vibes solo surprisingly spiky, and the cello ululating. But a looser piece developed in contrast, with simple rock chords, the trombone tugging notes out of the slow groove, and a euphoric vibes solo. In another, De Rossi almost played a melody on the toms, tuning notes with his elbows, while Mirra played vibes with the stick ends of his mallets, sounding like a celeste. A hypnotic Steve Reich-like piece had everyone playing cross currents of sound, Pacorig’s Fender Rhodes together with the vibes sounding like a marimba; wah wah trombone drawled long notes. In the final piece, Pictures, Roberts sang sweetly, strumming his cello like a guitar, and sliding strings like bottleneck blues, in a thoughtful jazz ballad. The venue’s sound was so good that you didn’t need to think about it, but just be absorbed into the contrasting music. It’s easy to get to by train from London: two hours by Eurostar to Brussels, then another four to Münster, for that next post-New Year feeling.

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