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Südtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige 2021

Oliver Weindling reports from the Südtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige 2021 (25 June – 4 July), and picks five concerts which he particularly enjoyed

Night in the Kapuciner Park. Photo credit: Günther Pichler / Südtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige

The South Tyrol Jazz Festival combines amazing locations in the Dolomites with equally high quality music, searching out the unexpected from across Europe. In putting together a festival this year in just two months, the impact of the pandemic was virtually imperceptible. How the team led by Klaus Widmann, with strong support from Roberto Tubaro, Max von Pretz and Stefan Festini, manage to keep this going at such a high level deserves total admiration.

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I have picked out five choices to give a flavour of what the organizers have been able to achieve. There is an even longer list of those I have not been able to include, such as the exciting commission for the local Euregio Collective or the electronic pyrotechnics of Zero Years Kid from Berlin. And frequently in locations that take your breath away (often because of the altitude!).

As ever, this was an exciting, thought-provoking and thrilling few days in the sweltering heat of the Dolomites, where all, from musicians through to audiences are treated with the greatest respect.

New generation of Italian Jazz (Bonbonniere Auditorium, 28-29 June)

Silvia Bolognesi – Photo credit Günther Pichler / Südtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige

Over two mornings we were able to hear a showcase of six Italian bands showing, as ever, how strong the European scene is, in a nice new concert hall in Bolzano. Generally, all had something to say, though whether there was any type of ‘uniqueness’ is hard to say for most. One of the more interesting to me were the piano trio of Francesco Orio. The music was primarily based from a detailed study of Gregorian chant, though even ending with a tune by Arnold Schoenberg. Such choice of core material is becoming less surprising than it might have been, given that musicians like Bruno Heinen have flirted even with Stockhausen! But the links of these musical genres across the centuries even to popular music like the Beatles came to mind, with a timeless melodic fluidity. Bassist Silvia Bolognesi perhaps stretched the concept of a ‘new generation’, though she was working with young musicians. With recordings on 33 Records, and a memorable gig at the Vortex with cellist Tomeka Reid a few years ago, she has a strong physical presence and charismatic personality. Here she based the majority of her material on a tribute to traditional blues singer Bessie Jones. Taking influences from the likes of Art Ensemble of Chicago and Roscoe Mitchell, she created a programme easily summarisable in the phrase: ‘Serious fun’!

Black Sea Songs (Kapuciner Park, 29 June)

Black Sea Songs. Photo credit: Francesco Ippolito / Südtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige

The festival has now found itself a stable evening base in the Kapuciner Park/ Parco Cappuccini, a small park in the centre of Bolzano, where this and a few others of my favourite gigs took place. A cosmopolitan background and a slightly unusual line-up brought one of the most focussed and intensely moving performances of the festival. Coming out of Amsterdam, the vocals were undertaken by Sanem Kalfa (of Turkish heritage) with Joachim Badenhorst on reeds and George Dumitriu on viola, originally from Romania. So two out of three were from countries bordering the Black Sea. By having a group of instruments which overlapped in sonic range it gave an added ability to interplay, helped by their different timbres. Somehow the countries round the Black Sea were treated as a homogeneous group of peoples culturally overlapping. This was achieved by not saying specifically from which country songs came from, though we could have told that from the language in which they would have been sung. Even if they are many miles apart geographically.

Guy Salamon Group/ Abacaxi (Kapuciner Park, 1 July)

Guy Salamon Group in the Piazza Maria Hueber (Bressanone). Photo Credit: Francesco Ippolito / Südtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige

Guy Salamon is an Israeli saxophonist living in Amsterdam. And this is where he met his other band members, though from cosmopolitan backgrounds. (Indeed, a couple of them had managed to escape Scotland!) What made this ensemble so memorable is their joie de vivre and companionship. A true ‘team’ co-ordinated by Captain Guy and invigorated by his personal imagination. A whole variety of styles was packed into an hour. Much of it really felt like a soundtrack to imaginary silent movies. I look forward to the results when Salomon finds the right filmmaking partner!

Very different from the other band that night, Abacaxi. Parisian guitarist Julien Desprez led a band which built upon the jazz rock tradition of the late 60s and early 70s, bringing with it a sense of perspective and 21st century attitudes. The musicians are part of the COAX Collectif, which started at around the same time as the Loop Collective in London, with a similar sense of cohesion. Desprez has built a reputation for developing an intriguing sound world. So it was great to hear him develop it with the driving rhythm section, of bassist Jean-François Riffaud and drummer Francesco Pastacaldi (whom, incidentally, we have heard in London with Jean Louis). They have taken as a foundation a mix of 60s funk and fusion, filtered through the electronics available in 2021 and today’s attitudes.

András Dés Rangers (Jenesien (3 July), Würzjoch (4 July))

András Dés Rangers. Photo credit: Günther Pichler / Südtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige

The drummer/leader András Dés has a curiosity to work out the sonic capabilities of less usual things to hit, such as milk churns or rocks. Rather like Han Bennink or our own Paul Clarvis. Meanwhile the rest of his band could take, as second nature, the polyrhythmic complexities of Hungarian folk to give energy and organic form. It made it wholly appropriate for them to play in the woods of Jenesien or in the alpine meadows of the Würzjoch, where they split into two duos before joining up inside the mountain hut. The final unification gave a fitting and exciting end to the travels aurally and physically of the festival.

LINK: Festival website

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