Live review

Jonas Westergaard Trio + Elias Stemeseder/PHILM at Zig Zag Jazz Club, Berlin

“Inside…”Series: Jonas Westergaard Trio / Elias Stemeseder with Philipp Gropper’s PHILM,

(Zig Zag Jazz Club, Berlin. 31 October 2021. Live Review and phone snaps by AJ Dehany)

L-R: Elias Stemeseder, Philipp Gropper, Oliver Steidle. Hidden: Robert Landfermann

The “Inside…” series is as simple as it is flexible. Since 2020 it has allowed an “outstanding artist from the Berlin avant-garde / progressive / experimental jazz scene” to select and present a project. For its second series of “Inside…” you can take your pick from Julia Hülsmann, Max Andrzejewski, Elias Stemeseder, Taiko Saito, Jonas Westergaard, Silke Eberhard, Marc Muellbauer, Lucas Dorado or Julia Kadel…—artists not necessarily from Berlin but who are based in its rich scene. Each night in the series makes the brain fizz with comparisons and contrasts with two separate sets at the Zig Zag Club on the Hauptstrasse in the Friedenau district of Berlin.

Usually a mid-week affair, this Sunday special reaching “inside…”, with Danish bass player Jonas Westergaard and Austrian pianist Elias Stemeseder was buzzing. It instilled the mixture of vibrant enthusiasm mixed with understatement with regard to hype or reputation, scored against solid respect and a belief in the power of art, without a regard to water it down or fear the challenge. It was fun, but difficult music: both sets mixed up composition and improvisation so completely that as a listener you have to try not to overthink it and if you recognise this or that happening enjoy it, but mainly you just listen, and keep listening.

Jonas Westergaard presented a progressive trio of three Great Danes with himself on bass, Søren Kjærgaard on piano,  and Peter Bruun on drums. Bruun is perhaps best known as one third of Django Bates’ Beloved Trio. Similarly to that trio, in this the individual personalities and their interlocking conversations and free-wheeling reconfiguration of material moment by moment, is virtuosic, though a bit more understated; less showily postmodern. The long stucken had sheet music, but kind of in the same way that in the English language the first 300 words make up about 65 percent of all written material (I can’t speak for Danish or German, they may be more florid!). It’s only twelve notes after all, and with really developed musical imaginations, the notes seem almost ancillary. This third stream music was characterised by spaciousness, delicate listening, moments of quietness with a curious agitation accelerating toward an enervated frenetic energy, with a measured pacing that made for a set with a sense of the formal sense of chamber music.

Søren Kjærgaard, Jonas Westergaard , Peter Bruun

Opening the concert, pianist and synth whizz Elias Stemeseder joined powerhouse composer and saxophonist Philipp Gropper’s PHILM trio with Robert Landfermann on bass and Oliver Steidle on drums. Stemeseder’s wiry electronic setup with mini midi and analogue synths alongside the house piano gives him a similar role to Elliot Galvin in Led Bib of late: bringing dark and daunting textures, and rinsing electronic sound clash and sound candy, that crashes and clashes in a fascinating way against the acoustic trio. Philipp Gropper’s hauntingly melodic saxophone playing draws on a fluid twelve-tone jazz vocabulary with a restless and probing sense of bringing and distilling a sixties sense of wonder into something simultaneously old and new. 

The “Inside…” series showcases the formidable talent of Berlin, and it would be a fine thing to see other cities show their wares. It would be tautologous for London to do it given it’s fairly well represented, but there are so many places whose scenes punch way above their weight: Birmingham, Newcastle, Munich, Vienna, Rennes, Valencia…. It’s not so much about an egocentric flag-waving affirmation of place, but a way for places to connect to other places, people to people through a shared language: simple, flexible, difficult, but beautiful. Listen, and keep listening.


AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

LINK: Zig Zag Club homepage

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