(Schwaz, Austria 6-8 August 2020. Review and photos by Oliver Weindling)
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The Outreach Festival has now been going for 28 years. Taking place in Schwaz, just outside Innsbruck, a town famed for its medieval silver mine, it has combined a summer school and festival. Run by trumpeter Franz Hackl who, although now mainly resident in New York, is committed to giving something back to his home town and also helping future generations. His own interest in jazz dates back to the founding of the Saudades agency in Schwaz itself, meaning that Hackl was exposed to musicians such as Chick Corea, Egberto Gismonti and John Scofield playing warm-up gigs there in a small cafe on their arrival before touring Europe.
Any review of a festival or gig in these coronavirus times has to look at how the festival has adapted to at least overcome the fear of spread of the illness. First, Franz Hackl had to fight the local mayor, who attempted to cancel the event 8(!) times. Also, he was unable to get hold of his American collaborators, an important part of the concept, both as performers and educators. However, they ‘joined in’ by composing music that was premiered on the last evening. (Meanwhile the summer school itself has moved online.) The streaming was the embryo of a big success, with more than 4500 watching online.
The three bands each night performed three short sets each in rotation without interval, to get round some of the local Covid restrictions. But WOW! Wasn’t it great to turn up and hear live music? Likewise for the musicians: almost all had not done gigs since March, let alone had the chance to play with others. So even the slightest blemish is forgivable. We were all seated in such a way as to create adequate space and almost all wore masks. It thus felt pretty safe.
The programme had been set up ahead of the restrictions, so perhaps the continuity seemed a bit lumpy at times. The ability to respond to short sets by the musicians, once they got over the initial shock, improved as the festival developed. Some would have been better if they hadn’t been interrupted – such as a perfectly-formed quartet of saxophonist Reiner Witzel and featuring Richie Beirach, continually a musician of drive and imagination. Nevertheless, the duos on the first two nights worked well and seemed like a power ‘amuses gueules’ between the bigger line-ups.
Thursday’s programme though hung together perhaps best. Benjamin Schmid is a violinist of distinction, not just in the jazz sphere. His duo with tuba player Andreas Martin Hofmeir was a pairing of virtuosi, such that the wide sonic gap between the two instruments was filled by our imaginations bringing the harmonic world together.
It was great to hear Led Bib again. By being able to focus on the music from their last album, Elliot Galvin has now really brought his own voice into a group that has been together for over 15 years. And by adding the vocals of Sharon Fortner, it broadened the sonic and compositional palette.
Woody Black 4 was a clarinettist’s dream band. One ordinary clarinet and three bass clarinets. It avoided the risk of getting too bass heavy through use of extended harmonics and similar, but perhaps suffered from seeming a bit too studious behind music stands.
As well as Reiner Witzel with Richie Beirach, another more ‘classic’ jazz pianist was Peter Madsen, resident in Austria for over two decades, who brought his Austrian CIA Trio. Great playing and especially of some Elvis Presley! On the second day also, Dennis Brandner on saxophone collaborated with bassist Matthias Pichler (whom we have seen in London at different times with guitarists Wolfgang Muthspiel and Hannes Riepler). The bass playing in particular was mind-blowing and a version of Kenny Wheeler’s Kind Folk will linger in my memory.
On the last day, there were two larger special projects. One, from Lukulule from Hamburg and Thorsten Wilrodt featured dance and spoken word integrated with a horn section backing. There was also a particular commission by Swiss composer and soprano saxophonist Daniel Snyder, entitled Mozart in Manhattan. The p.a. sound made Snyder’s soprano at times too overpowering but you could hear echoes of Ellington and Gil Evans as he took some Mozart arias and tunes, some more well known than others, and made them appropriate for 2020.
A final tip, especially for brass players! Franz himself is not just a great trumpeter (actually a past pupil of Lew Soloff) but also a trumpet maker in a business, Hacklmusic, started by his father (now 81 and still working all day, every day). They have their own little tricks, such as an instrument which also uses wood to adjust the timbre and sonic range. A visit to their workshop is fascinating.
Overall, it was therefore for many reasons a special weekend. Meanwhile, inspired by the constraints and opportunities of the performance concept, it’s one that Franz Hackl thinks, at this stage, he wants to evolve. To hear music for real again but also to be able to enjoy great Austrian food, the fresh mountain air and the beautiful town centre was special: Franz dug for silver and found gold.
LINKS: Outreach Festival website
Categories: Live review
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