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Reflections on Jazz Festival Suedtirol Alto Adige 2022

Our main coverage of the 2022 Jazz Festival Suedtirol Alto Adige was done in two round-ups by Alison Bentley. In this extra piece, Oliver Weindling explores the ways in which the 2022 programming reflected on the departure after 39 years of Klaus Widmann

Klaus Widmann, 2019. Photo credit Tim Dickeson

Klaus Widmann first became involved with the Suedtirol Jazz Festival in 1983 when he returned back home to Bolzano from the early stages of his medical career in Vienna. He has been the festival’s director since 2000. This was his last festival, and one programming strand was to explore the close relationships with certain artists which he has developed over the years.

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We saw musicians rising to Klaus’s challenges, whether trying out new and previously untested groupings, or allowing themselves to be inspired by beautiful (and sometimes difficult-to-reach) locations in the mountains.

Perhaps the best expression of this approach was on the final Saturday, when, in the farm museum near Bruneck, a series of duos, such as by Soweto Kinch and guitarist Reinier Baas, was followed by almost all the cohort of festival regulars, joining in a massive groove together.

Soweto Kinch and Reinier Bass. Photo supplied by Oliver Weindling

Something similar continued on the following afternoon: the trio Equally Stupid (Sigurdur Rögnvaldsson on guitar, Pauli Lyytinen on saxophone and David Meier on drums), performed a set enhanced by Soweto Kinch, trumpeter Matthias Schriefl and singer Ani Elif, three more of the close troupe. The backdrop was the Saslonch, one of the most thrilling rockfaces in the Dolomites and the location for what was perhaps the most dramatic gig ever at the festival in 2014, involving Schriefl, some regulars not there for now (such as drummer Lucas Niggli, singer Andreas Schaerer and guitarist Kalle Kalima), climbers and more.

The trio also highlighted another feature of the festival during my time there – a large number of bands without keyboards or bass. The edgy groove of Equally Stupid had previously shown their mettle the previous night. Lyytinen demonstrated a more energetic side to this playing than had been heard in some of his other outings, which had more reflected the timeless and vastness of the mountain landscape.

This had been especially notable during a duo by Lyytinenwith vocalist Niillas Holmberg in Oberbozen. The atmosphere created by the range of Holmberg’s vocal techniques and readings, intertwining with the saxophone, made the gig spellbinding and uplifting.

Also noteworthy at this festival has been the continuing connection forged with the current Austrian scene. The Euregio Collective performed on the second Friday, a changing lineup, mainly of musicians from Südtirol but also from the neighbouring regions and “North Tyrol”, as they call the area over the border in Austria. They added some of the other featured artists, most notably Reinier Baas, by whom a couple of pieces were played. The collective is modelled on the Jazzwerkstatt Collective in Vienna, which has been running since 2004. And the following evening, a sextet version acted as the ‘backing band’ of a gig by Viennese duo, Die Strottern, who sing with brio in Viennese dialect songs of great irony. The difficulty in understanding was more than overcome by the humour and energy, as well as great soloing, such as by saxophonist Clemens Salezny.

Guitarist Peter Rom then rushed off from this gig to a late night gig by Synesthetic4, co-led with Vincent Pongracz. Highly unusual to hear such a band with electronics and strong interplay co-led by a clarinettist (Pongracz), who used extended techniques and circular breathing to great effect. As Synesthetic2, the leaders had performed at the Vortex in 2019. So it was great to hear the additional drive given by Manu Mayr (bass) and Andy Lettner (drums), two of the rhythm dynamos in Vienna today.

Another intriguing Viennese musician to play was Matthias Loibner on hurdy gurdy. There was something very fundamental about his duo with Swiss percussionist/drummer Lucas Niggli at Hotel Ritten in Oberbozen. Niggli is extraordinarily diverse, but with an aural palette and sensitivity to enhance the crazy instrument of Loibner. Loibner himself was able to add computer-generated sounds to his own range, where he sounded like a violin or like a creaky folk instrument. The folk-dance rhythms especially came to the fore when his computer briefly failed and he had to move to a pure acoustic. This also came out when they performed again in a museum dedicated to old farm buildings.

Klaus Widmann likes to encourage new collaborations or search out intriguing line-ups for us. This was clearly done by having us hear the duo of Ani Elif (known particularly for Elifantree) with pianist Seppo Kantonen. Their project had emerged from close experimentation and listening to, for them, different musics during lockdown. In the intimate setting of Stanglerhof, they showed their results. Clearly influenced by early 20th century music, they took us on a musical song cycle, starting with 12th century Hildegard of Bingen. Mesmerising. it will be fascinating to hear it once further evolved.

SiEA on a Mountain Stage in 2019. Photo by Tim Dickeson

Two singer line-ups gave us the perfect aperitivo in the gardens of two of the hotels. At the Laurin The Finnish trio Frank Frank Frank (also including Ani Elif) sang in a variety of languages. Close harmony and energy, way better than the usual early evening bar entertainment! Similarly the following night with the duo of Jelena Kuljic and guitarist Kalle Kalima in the garden of Luna Mondschein hotel. A last minute replacement for the indisposed Edi Nulz, they played much of the music of Kuu, with the intensity of a duo joined by Schriefl. Amusingly, it also included a monologue about the train system, the power of which perhaps reflected Jelena’s ‘day job’ as an actress.

This made us ready for the following night when the complete KUU! gave the the last gig of the festival. Punk, jazz, rock all combined. With two highly qualified additions: Christian Lillinger, one of the most visually thrilling and intense Berlin drummers, and Frank Möbus (known to us as guitarist of Der Rote Bereich).

It made for a storming end of the festival. And a beaming and proud Klaus Widmann. The festival is really a great combination of music paired with special locations. The festival will continue with Max von Pretz in charge. An evolution rather than a revolution.

The stage at Hocheppan Castle above Eppan an der Weinstrasse/Appiano sulla Strada del Vino. Photo credit Tim Dickeson

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