Live review

Jazzdor Festival 2021, Strasbourg

36th Jazzdor Festival – Opening Weekend

(Cite de la Musique, Strasbourg. 6 and 7 November 2021. Round-up by Sebastian Scotney)

There is a provocative confidence about the way Philippe Ochem programmes the Jazzdor Festival.

Underlying this 36th edition – judging by the concerts on the first weekend that I attended, see also round-up of the first three concerts – is an implicit theme that putting on live music events can improve communication across borders (starting with Strasbourg’s closest border, just a few kilometres away, with Germany), and also across cultures, languages and differing experiences. This is not about safe programming. Watching things being created in front of you is not going to be predictable or safe. The message is that risks are there to be taken.

These themes have been elegantly riffed upon (in French) in a beautiful piece of writing by veteran critic Francis Marmande in Le Monde (LINK), who describes the programming as: “A whole art around giving surprises: to juggle, enlighten, invent combinations and formulae, a game played with nerves, time and music.”

Eve Risser’s Red Desert Orchestra / Eurythmia

Eve Risser. Photo copyright Peter Bastian

Eve Risser’s Red Desert Orchestra / Eurythmia


For me the main event was always going to be Eve Risser’s new work for large ensemble, and it was indeed was the culmination of Saturday’s programme. I had attended the remarkable premiere of her White Desert Orchestra in La Courneuve in 2015 (link to review under this section); her impact on the European scene and her significance within it have continued to grow in the intervening years.

The twelve-piece ensemble which performs Eurythmia is one of two projects where Risser has combined musicians she enjoys working with from the French scene with West African musicians. And ‘enjoy’ is the mot juste. This special event was something of an emotional homecoming for Risser, who grew up in nearby Colmar and whose family were out in force.

Eve Risser’s persuasive leadership always seems to start with the kind of encouraging and empowering smile which Peter Bastian’s picture (above) captures so eloquently. The driving, rocking, infectiously appealing rolling force of the djembes and balafons in this band is like a tide to be carried on, but they are far from the only voice. Tatiana Paris on guitar and Risser’s long-standing ally Fanny Lasfargues are both just fabulous in this context. German trumpeter Nils Ostendorf has free rein to introduce some other-worldly electronics. Risser favours busy textures and collective mayhem, but there is also delicacy, and she absolutely knows how to set the context for each and every one of her soloists to shine.

There has been a write-up of the performance at the jazz festival in Nevers a couple of days later, which refers to the audience getting up on its feet and dancing. That must have been a different hall from Strasbourg’s more staid all-seater Cite de la Musique. And thinking again about this music, and how physical it is, the wish to get onto one’s feet feels understandable and natural. I was pleased to learn that this work is due to be recorded next month; this is music above all that should be heard. Note to self: start thinking about best-of lists for 2022.

The applause after Eurythmia. Phone snap by Sebastian Scotney

LINK: The 2015 White Desert premiere

Michael Wollny Solo

The breadth of Wollny’s inspiration in his solo set was, as ever, staggering. Tori Amos immediately followed by Paul Hindemith’s brother Rudolf? Why ever not. And then one remembers the range of his activity beyond solo piano, the scale of what he is capable of, the number of contexts in which he thrives. Awe-inspiring stuff. I recently had the privilege to write extensively about that theme recently, in an English-language portrait of him commissioned for his website HERE.

Luise Volkmann. Photo credit: Adrien Berthet/ Jazzdor

Julia Kadel’s ‘Idiome Uni’ Quintet (premiere)

What stays in the mind above all from the debut performance by a newly-formed Julia Kadel Quintet “Idiome Uni” was the sheer presence and richness of the alto saxophone sound of Luise Volkmann. I am hoping some reader will know where it has been best caught in a recording. Simples, I definitely want to hear more of that sound!



Baldwin en Transit ( Stéphane Payen, Mike Ladd…)

Jamika Ajalon. Photo credit: Adrien Berthet / Jazzdor




This was a case of a work genuinely being created on the spot by three instrumentalists and three speaking voices. The composer and saxophonist Stéphane Payen and his top flight instrumental cohort of guitarist Marc Ducret and violinist Dominique Pifarely sounded for all the world as if the subtle and intricate music was all fully scored for them. Wrong. Completely wrong. Payen showed me the musical ideas and cells and suggested voicings they were working from, and there are all kinds of improvisational strategies at play. Which is a testament to the quality of the musician. And that’s just a fraction of the story: Mike Ladd, Jamika Ajalon and Tamara Singh were interpreting, reacting to, re-imagining and updating texts by James Baldwin to reflect racial realities in 2021. There are more performances planned, and this will be a fascinating project to see as it evolves.

L-R: Pifarely, Payen, Ducret. Ladd. (Facing away from camera, Ajalon and Singh). Photo credit: Adrien Berthet / Jazzdor

LINK: Jazzdor website

Opening night review of Jazzdor Strasbourg 2021

The Jazzdor Festival in Strasbourg continues until 19 November.

Categories: Live review

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