Inntöne Festival 2021
(Diersbach, Austria. 30 July-2 August. Festival Report by Oliver Weindling)
To be able to go to a festival where there seems to be little restriction (as all the work to prepare and keep to regulations has gone on behind the scenes) is a joy. A programme, carefully put together as ever by Festival Director Paul Zauner, with a diversity that really makes one feel that we are guests on his family’s farm. A wide range of hearty food, local beers and specially selected wines where we all sit happily in the farmyard exchanging our views on the music just heard, or anticipating that which we haven’t heard yet! Inntoene has form here: it was the first festival where Gregory Porter played in Europe and, more recently, Jazzmeia Horn in 2017 .
The main concerts now take place in the field outside, giving us enough space to distance easily and enjoy the woods around. The sound is exemplary. But it makes us more dependent on the weather. Which this year was even less on our side than last year.
In terms of the programme, it is, as ever, a mix of the special discovery and giving youngsters the chance to shine along with some of the great experts.
Zauner says that he just books the programme that he wants! But somehow some themes come through. This year, there was a significant representation of French musicians (ranging from Michel Portal with Lionel Loueke, the Belmondo brothers with Eric Legnini and the singer Camille Bertault with Austrian pianist David Helböck), elder statesmen (such as saxophonist Gerd Dudek and Portal, both aged 85), guitarists (others of whom included the mesmerising 7 string singer-guitarist Yamandu Costa) and new vocal discoveries: not just giving a first platform to Luca Manning at a major international festival but also the chance for us to hear 22 year old singer-trombonist Rita Payes Roma, and the power soul-inflected standards of Paulette McWilliams, doing her first gig in Austria at the age of 72, with Nat Adderley Jr. Unheard as a leader for all too long, but for a long time collaborator with Luther Vandross, which meant for a great combination of skill and communication.
The first night was bookended by two of the real highlights of the festival. It started with Michel Portal on bass clarinet with Lionel Loueke on guitar and Orisha on drums. Beginning with the standard, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, it mainly focused on the music of Portal and Loueke, so having very strong North and West African influence in the groove and melody. Portal’s playing is as powerful and imaginative as ever playing off the colour and talent, vocal as well as on guitar, of Loueke.
Bill Frisell, playing in trio with Thomas Morgan and Rudy Royston, performed an intense and personal set – songs as diverse as ‘Live and Let Die’, ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ and ‘We Shall Overcome’. A particularly appropriate song as he had to contend with a break enforced by thunder and lightning. Fortunately, he was able to return after about 30 minutes – at midnight to a few hundred well-prepared people still there. It somehow galvanised him all the more as he showed his great prowess and interplay in such an unassuming way that we all felt drawn into his circle and could appreciate every nuance. The encore of the Beatles’ ‘In My Life’ expressed it all, both in terms of the choice but also the manner of its execution.
UK musicians are also usually an important part of the festival, with some great recent shows. This year, however, the quarantine restrictions acted as a barrier. Luca Manning ended up as the only UK representative at the festival, with Fergus McCreadie sadly pulling out at the last minute. Originally billed as a sextet, Manning had had to pare it down to a duo with Jay Verma, because of these difficulties of travel. Even to the extent that, to avoid quarantine getting to the festival, he had received special Austrian government permission to perform ‘in the interest of Austria’! They performed a set of new original material, very personal and heartfelt, though with a slight cheekiness that we expect of Luca. He even moved over to the piano and ukulele at times. He certainly justified the effort to get him over, both of the festival, but also his own as I had been in touch with him at the airport to reassure him.
The Inntöne Festival has really established itself as one of the main cornerstones of contemporary jazz, in the German-speaking world. Long may it continue.
Categories: Live review