Shuffle is the fifth edition of the biennial Luxembourg Jazz Meeting, a vital showcase of the vibrancy of the Luxembourg scene. A labour of love, in 2020 the three-day festival stands as a symbol of a small country’s resilience and resourcefulness. AJ Dehany spoke to artists and organisers to get a picture of a people ticking all the right boxes.
Neimënster, Luxembourg City
Jazz has been a liberational music from its inception. The music found its distinctive voice pushing against the structures of society, from systemic racism to public indifference. While lockdowns have kicked away many musicians’ livelihoods, the community has responded in characteristically lively fashion. Across the scene, creative responses to the restrictions of the pandemic have taken many forms. Edinburgh Jazz has moved online, and Newcastle’s TUSK Festival has embraced the chaos and expanded to a whole two-week extravaganza. November’s London Jazz Festival is taking a combined approach to streaming and performance in person, and several outdoor festivals are following the lead of recent exploratory modified editions of Austria’s Outreach Festival and Gaume Jazz Festival in Belgium. In late November, Luxembourg’s Shuffle Festival will present a programme of twelve concerts over three days taking place in the Neimënster arts complex. It’s a showcase of Luxembourgish talent with an engaged audience of professional guests and regular jazz lovers. Guitarist Greg Lamy says of the festival’s determination to survive safely: “I think it’s quite courageous to maintain it, for us musicians it’s essential, to maintain our activity.” His trio with trumpeter Flavio Boltro will perform new material from their album Observe the Silence, the release of which has been delayed until 2021. “I like this festival because it takes place in the old part of the city, it has a special atmosphere, and also it’s an opportunity to meet each other, to discuss and share our ideas/music and present them.”How can they go ahead with such an ambitious programme of live music? Festival organiser Laura Varache explains: “Luxembourg is a really small country, so the reality here is completely different from bigger countries such as France, Germany, or England.” Restrictions have been less severe than elsewhere, and the government has instituted free global population testing to create a realistic picture of the national situation. Masks are mandatory, but since May public spaces have opened up, with appropriate social distancing and a commendably respectful public attitude. “People are really willing to go to concerts, exhibitions and so on; there is a lot happening in the whole country, life goes on here!”In that spirit, drummer Michel Meis’s quartet has been enjoying a round of dates in Germany performing material from their first album Lost In Translation. He is looking forward to Shuffle, where they will be joined by French violinist Théo Ceccaldi, guest musician on their second album, due for release in 2021 after 2020 impacted on him as it has with everyone: “As with all musicians, all my concerts were cancelled or postponed. It’s still difficult now to make plans or think about a career strategy, as we don’t know what the future brings. Especially touring abroad and traveling is not easy. But I hope for the best and try to make the best of the situation. I also have to admit that I enjoyed the lockdown and the post-lockdown a little bit, as it gave me the time and opportunity to concentrate on myself, be creative and work on new compositions.”
Tele-Port!. Photo credit Gerard Beckers
Quartet Tele-Port!, who only debuted at the 2019 London Jazz Festival, has found its activity interrupted at an early stage in their development. Drummer Jeff Herr says: “The impact is massive, both on the financial/social and the creative side, but stage time is quality time and whilst playing you somehow forget about the special circumstances.”Keys player from Tele-Port! Jérôme Klein will also be performing with his group KLEIN. He echoes his bandmate’s sentiment: “Being able to play in front of ‘real people’ and catching back up with the actors of the music industry gives us a lot of hope, which we need in these strange times.” His ambitious approach to live performance is undiminished, and with KLEIN we can expect something special at Shuffle: “We try to see the whole as a ‘show’, that’s why we integrated a whole light concept for example. Even if our compositions reflect a certain mood and melody, there is a lot of improvisation during the set, making every concert a little different. The venue Neimënster, an Abbaye in the Old Town of Luxembourg, is a beautiful setting. You can expect very different vibes with a panoply of projects all different from another.”Drummer Benoit Martiny describes the Neimënster venue complex he has played at many times in the last 15 years: “The venue has a few stages, a bar-like setting, a concert room, and they hold open air events on their huge square in between buildings. The place used to be a prison until the mid-eighties and way before that it was a monastery. The buildings are old and beautiful, and it is located in the ‘Grund,’ which is one of the most beautiful places in Luxembourg City.” Festival full line-up:Friday 27 NovemberKleinGreg LamyPascal SchumacherBenoit Martiny BandSaturday 28 NovemberMichel MeisClaire ParsonsReis Demuth WiltgenTele-PortSunday 29 NovemberRetrospective 4tetJambalKid Be Kid (DE)
“I believe that investing in culture and art is investing into a more open and creative society,” says Benoit Martiny. Pianist Michel Reis commends the respect and enthusiasm from all the different organisations: “The Ministry of Culture, the export office music: LX, Focuna, Oeuvre Nationale de Secours Grand-Duchesse Charlotte, the Sacem Luxembourg to just name a few, are all working in a very efficient way to help artists develop their careers.”Retrospective 4tet and Jambal are two precocious groups of impressive young players introducing themselves at Shuffle. The former’s sixteen-year-old trumpeter Daniel Migliosi is inspired by the support they as a young group have received: “We were very well integrated into the scene from the start. We can see this in the performances that we have already been allowed to have. Perhaps this is also because the scene in Luxembourg is quite small and intimate. Such festivals enable us to get in touch with other great musicians and to seek inspiration from them.”
Retrospective 4tet. Photo credit Kary Barthelmey
There is a broad consensus that Luxembourg has handled the pandemic crisis well. Financial support from the Ministry of Culture has helped, the Philharmonie de Luxembourg has engaged musicians in online concerts, and Neimënster itself has promoted online “Crazy Quarantine” sessions (in which both Retrospective 4tet and Jambal have participated). Cultural centres have managed to maintain their activities albeit with a reduced capacity. “So for the moment,” says Greg Lamy, “and in the short term one of the roles of the festival like Shuffle is to maintain contact, show that the musicians are still active and creative in their field.” As Daniel Migliosi says: “It just feels so good to play in a band again!”The festival is organised by music:LX and neimënster, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Sacem Luxembourg.AJ Dehany is based in the UK and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.ukPP Feature/Interviews are part of advertising packagesLINKS: Find out more about the festivalListen to Shuffle’s Spotify playlist to discover the Luxembourg jazz scene