Live review

Festival Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin-Dresden 2022

The Jazzdor festival in Berlin – this was its 14th edition – has a reassuringly clear sense of its mission and the ideological context in which it wants to work. Sebastian writes:

San at Jazzdor Berlin. Photo credit Steffi Marcus

SUMMARY

Run from Strasbourg, the festival sets out to foster new collaborations, notably but not exclusively between France and the Berlin scene. The lesson to be learnt, and to be experienced in real time at the performances at the Kulturbrauerei in Prenzlauer Berg, is that musicians tend to broaden their horizons through new collaborations, particularly when they combine with people from other countries.

That whole idea of “Völkerverbindung” (connecting peoples) is a well-known cultural trope in Germany. The message is clear: musicians – and indeed people in general – should find the act of going beyond a border as natural and inevitable as do the people of Strasbourg, a city whose tall and proud Notre-Dame cathedral is visible from Germany, less than 7 kilometres away.

This “14th Festival Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin-Dresden” – of which I attended all but the opening night – could have chosen just to renew and reinforce that familiar mission after the enforced two-year pause. But time spent away has clearly given the programmers a green light to be more experimental. As Philippe Ochem’s introduction states: “this year’s programme is more than ever a search for ‘the other’, in the face of which we can discover something new about ourselves.”

The stand-out concert was the one on the last night given by a quintet consisting pianist Florian Weber, saxophonists Ana-Lena Schnabel and Daniel Erdmann, plus bassist Joachim Florent and drummer Edward Perraud.

There was one completely new element this year: ‘Dresden’. Plans were hatched before the pandemic to work in partnership with the Tonne Club in Dresden, in order to enable some of the bands making the journey eastwards from France to be able to play at more than one venue in Germany. Those plans finally came to fruition.

Another constant is that Jazzdor has always been at the forefront of France’s programmes to develop younger and lesser-known talent, notably through the “Jazz Migration” scheme, but through other contexts as well. In some cases these bands didn’t yet have the presence and the level of professional performance energy needed to make an impact in a cavernous hall.

WEDNESDAY 8 JUNE

Yuko Oshima, Jazzdor Berlin. Photo credit Steffi Marcus

The act which left the strongest impression from the second night was the central one of the three on the evening’s programme, “San.” Here we witnessed a new three-way collaboration among musicians of Japanese origin. Taiko Saito (vibraphone) and Satoko Fujii (piano) have worked together as a duo and made a well-received album, but the addition of the tremendously lively and positive-spirited, Strasbourg-based drummer brought a new dimension; the joy that all three musicians found through this collaboration was palpable. Yuko Oshima is known to those familiar with Jazzdor, having been alongside Eve Risser in the duo Donkey Monkey. This Berlin performance had a massive dynamic range, as all three players went from the faintest of touches on percussion or a waft across the strings of the piano to the full-on elemental, overwhelming noise of all three together. Taiko Saito also has a fascinating “talking drums” approach to the vibraphone. Saito’s tune introductions were joyously matter-of fact and epigrammatic. The last two tunes, for example, were called “Freedom” and “Strawberries.” What more could one want from the summer?

The first act of the night was the trio of saxophonist Matthieu Bordenave with pianist Florian Weber and bassist Patrice Moret, who made a well-received trio album for ECM, La Traversée released in 2020, and the live set mostly revisited its thoughtful chamber music world. It was interesting to hear Florian Weber fitting so well in this context. It also set the scene for him to show on the Friday evening quite how much more he has to offer.

I also heard the opening part of a set from the Julia Kadel “Idiome Uni” Quintet, previously heard in Strasbourg last October (brief review here). Kadel has a strong band around her: Luise Volkmann on saxophone, Maria Reich on violin and viola, bassist Ivan Gélugne and drummer Emmanuel Scarpa. I didn’t hear the whole set, but the strongest part I heard was Kadel’s impassioned plea in French for tolerance and mutual listening.

THURSDAY 9 JUNE

Claudia Solal. Photo Steffi Marcus

The Killing Popes are a Berlin-based band who have taken the experimental jazz-rock legacy of bands such as Polar Bear and added more – make that a lot more – elements into it. Not just synths and mind-bending odd metres, there is always a lot going on. As one writer has explained: “mashing together electro-jazz, art rock, hardcore and club music into upbeat and twisted music.” The band put out a well received album, Ego Kills (Clean Feed), and involves two Berlin-based Brits, Dan Nicholls and Phil Donkin.

For their Jazzdor set, as leader Oli Steidle explained, they would play their normal repertoire and then be joined by two French artists who would “creep forwards”, the charismatic Marc Ducret guitarist, and later the vocalist Claudia Solal – who just happens to be the daughter of one of the greats of jazz, pianist Martial Solal. What a fascinating singer! To draw attention to the fact that she has a fully roadworthy Mariah Carey whistle register in her vocal armoury feels reductive. Presence, diction, musicality, a fully engaged way of taking on every word and every note she sings. More, please!

The Killing Popes. Phone snap.

The other Thursday acts included one of the Jazz Migration bands, Suzanne. I had heard them at the “Rencontres AJC” and loved the delicacy and the listening, but this venue felt slightly too big for their highly developed small-scale presence. There was also a performance from Swiss-based Matthieu Mazué’s trio and Michael Attias from the New York free scene. Attias has been praised for his authenticity and his “unshowiness”, Mazué is developing his craft, and has a predilection for circling round and analysing a rhythmic cell, as in the composition “Monolith 1”. There was clear purpose here, but I found myself wanting more of the sense of surprise…

FRIDAY 10 JUNE

Friday Quintet. Phone snap.

The second band of the Friday gave the most involving and effective performance of the whole festival. A quintet of pianist Florian Weber showing far more range than we had heard on the Wednesday, plus powerful young alto saxophonist Ana-Lena Schnabel, the huge expressive range of tenor saxophonist Daniel Erdmann, with two very powerful and individual rhythm players, bassist Joachim Florent and drummer Edward Perraud had chosen a varied programme of one composition from each member, and they ensured total commitment to each other’s writing. Deutschlandfunk Kultur recorded the whole programme; I can’t wait to hear it again.

The evening programme had opened with the ‘Baldwin in Transit’ programme I had heard in Strasbourg, with music composed by Stephane Payen. Being able to compare the two, I simply noted that this work was far more generously received in Strasbourg than here in Berlin. The Berlin jazz audience doesn’t like being lectured to and some of the Friday night audience clearly felt uneasy with the barrage of dense slam poetry in English, French and occasional Dutch. Musically, as tends to be the case with Payen, we were in the best hands. We could relish the poetry of Dominique Pifarély’s violin playing, and the addictively glorious French flute sound of Sylvaine Hélary. The closing act was Nout, led by flautist Delphine Joussein, a deliberate juxtaposing of the elegant and the punk-ish.

A fifteenth edition of Jazzdor Berlin-Strasbourg is planned for 2023.

Sebastian’s trip to Berlin was sponsored by Jazzdor

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