Live review

Saalfelden Jazz Festival 2021, Austria

Art is about what can be done, not just what is allowed to be done. The 41st Saalfelden Jazz Festival, which took place in Austria from 16 to 22 August 2021, relied on the communication of a handful of main musicians who, in different configurations, experimented with the very edges of the genre. Report by Ralf Dombrowski (*).

Christian Reiner. Photo: Ralf Dombrowski

The vocalist, actor and dadaist Christian Reiner, artist-in-residence at the internationally renowned Saalfelden Festival, was involved in five different projects, ranging from a more text-oriented forest recitation to the wildly expressive free-acting quintet, “Five”. One performance saw Reiner helicoptering fragments of words intuitively into a 16-metre long sentence, which were simultaneously printed by the bookbinder Fuchs, the owner of the venue. The saxophonist Angelika Niescier made a guest appearance in a sextet reimagining of Beethoven, and later performed in dialogue with the pianist Alexander Hawkins. Christian Lillinger sometimes drummed with Christopher Dell and Jonas Westergaard, sometimes with Craig Taborn and Elias Stemeseder or Kaja Draksler and Peter Eldh, as did Lukas König, who also performed with bassist Shahzad Ismaily in Irreversible Entanglements and in a trio with the spoken word artist Moor Mother.

Angelika Niescier (as), re: BTVHN. Photo: Ralf Dombrowski
Moor Mother, Irreversible Entanglements. Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Multiple appearances like this were partly due to the confusing situation the organisers were in – because of rapidly changing public health regulations, they always had to have a plan B up their sleeve. This year, Mario Steidle, Daniela Neumayer and their team had weeks instead of months to prepare, and still managed to put on 63 concerts at 14 venues, from the Nexus and the Stadtpark to hiking trails and mountain huts, more than half of them with free admission. Through careful planning, they made sure not to let the organisational aspects – including QR codes and contact tracing – dominate, but put music, art and fun at the centre.

Christian Lillinger (drums), Elias Stemeseder, Craig Taborn (keys). Photo: Ralf Dombrowski

But there were also popular concerts by the Viennese Nino and Il Civetto in the Stadtpark, as well as polished, funny projects like Edi Nulz, The True Harry Nulz and Kuhn Fu VI. The trio Hang Em High, with drummer Alfred Vogel, played with free rock associations in the Otto Gruber Halle, newly opened for the festival, and Marc Ribot‘s Ceramic Dog roared through a programme of modified garage sounds. Finally, there was plenty of quiet, free and delicate music to be heard, from the duo of pianists Sylvie Courvoisier and Kris Davis to David Helbock‘s new trio.  

Sylvie Courvoisier, Kris Davis. Photo: Ralf Dombrowski

The 41st Saalfelden Jazz Festival showed what can be done – even in complicated times – when organisers, musicians and audiences work together: a week of culture, fun and community with more than 10,000 concertgoers over seven days of performances, and a perspective that looks beyond the week in August.

(*) English version by Izzy Blankfield

Links: International Jazz Festival Saalfelden

Original article in German at Jazzzeitung

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