Cologne Jazzweek 2022
(Various venues 13-20 August. Report by Tony Dudley-Evans)
Cologne Jazzweek, only in its second year of existence, offers a model for a successful city-based jazz festival. Rather than focusing on the big names, the festival, under the artistic direction of a team led by trombonist Janning Trumann, has a healthy mix of local, national and international artists, and brings together no fewer than fourteen venues across the city. There are young artists, groups from other countries via the NICA Exchange scheme, and also an artist in residence.
This report only covers the period I was there, from Tuesday 16 to Friday 19 August. The overall impression is of a scene in Cologne with excellent venues well supported by audiences of all ages and with a healthy gender balance. The Stadtgarten is an ideal venue with a cafe that seemed busy the whole day, and three well appointed spaces, the main seated Saal, Jaki the standing club, and the Green Room, the outside venue surrounded by tall trees and with a retractable roof that operates considerably faster than the one at the tennis in Wimbledon. The Loft is another fine venue, situated at the top of some very steep stairs and with a capacity of about 100. Two concerts were in the more formal setting of WDR’s very comfortable concert hall, the Klaus-von-Bismarck Saal. The festival also used other venues, including the more traditional jazz club, King Georg (pronounced GAY-ork).
It was clear from the size of the audiences at all the venues visited that the festival plays an important role in reminding people about the clubs, and helping to build up attendances throughout the year after the summer festival.
The Loft Programme
Drummer Savannah Harris appeared in three concerts acting as an informal artist in residence; two of these were in The Loft. She acknowledges a strong influence from Tony Williams, and her trio with pianist Mike King and bass player Or Bareket playing in The Loft inhabited the territory of jazz of the late 1960s Blue Note label, adventurous but not avant-garde. Harris allowed plenty of space for King and Bareket, but overall this was a nicely integrated trio.
In the trio with Cologne based saxophonist Angelika Niescer and cellist Tomeka Reid, Savannah Harris responded more openly to Niescer’s intricate compositions and forceful soloing. This was another excellent trio performance with Reid as ever creating rhythmically dense melodic lines on the cello. Harris also appeared in the Stadtgarten Saal in Petter Eldh’s Projekt Drums but that was outside the period of the visit.
Cologne-based vocalist Anette von Eichel presented a sophisticated programme of songs from her Inner Tide album, but allowed plenty of space for her excellent group with Sebastian Sternal on piano, Henning Sieverts on double bass and Jonas Burgwinkel on drums.
The Klaus von Bismark Saal at WDR
Anthony Braxton appeared with his Lorraine Trio featuring Susana Santos Silva on trumpet and Adam Matlock on accordion. The group normally interacts with the SuperCollider program, but this seemed not to be working. The focus was therefore on Braxton’s compositions for the trio; there were quite a few of these, always dramatically signalled by Braxton, and which led into passages of free improvisation in which both Santos Silva and Matlock excelled. The overall sound and approach was one of contemporary classical music, and there was some post-concert discussion with colleagues about the validity of jazz critics reviewing this music.
This was followed by the amazing Bassmasse for 23 double basses and two woodwind players. This was composed and conducted from the bass by Sebastian Gramss, and featured Cologne-based bass player Dieter Manderscheid. Manderscheid retired earlier this year as Professor of Bass at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln (Cologne University of Music). For a time he was the Head of the Jazz Department there, and he is an absolutely pivotal and universally respected figure in the Cologne’s musical life. This special and unique concert in his honour was a good way to celebrate his legacy: the formal role of bass professor at the university has just passed to the most illustrious of his huge legion of former students, bassist Robert Landfermann, who was born just a few kilometres south of Cologne, was formed as a musician in the city, and has most recently been teaching in Mannheim.
Gramss’s piece began gently with Manderscheid soloing over the bass choir, but gradually the sound built up to create an amazing and unique sonic experience. The variety of the piece is its strength; at times all the basses were bowed (con arco), at others all were plucked (pizzicato), and often there was a mixture of the two. In one section an interesting rhythmic pulse was created by half the choir playing bowed and the other half playing pizzicato, and one player tapping out the beat on the body of his bass. At one point the ensemble broke down into a quartet of basses before the whole ensemble was joined by Frank Gratkowski and Wollie Kaiser adding sounds of the bass flute, the bass clarinet and the contra bass clarinet to the mix.
The Statdgarten Programme
In the Stadtgarten’s two smaller venues, Jaki and The Green Room, highlights were provided by the NICA Exchange programme, an offshoot of the year-round Nica Artist Development programme. The NICA programme is named after Baroness Nica (Pannonica de Koenigswarter), the mentor to many players of the bop generation, notably Thelonious Monk. It offers career advice and playing opportunities to selected players from Cologne and district, and in the Cologne Jazzweek presents a number of bands from partner organisations across Europe. Sadly, this year’s NICA Exchange Programme did not include any artists from the UK.
In Jaki, Stadtgarten’s stand up venue, the Sun-Mi Hong Quintet, led by Amsterdam-based Korean drummer, a participant in the NICA Exchange programme, impressed a large and enthusiastic young crowd with its drive and energy, combining elements of free jazz with more traditional approaches.
Outside in The Green Room was another NICA Exchange programme band, the Amalia Umeda Quartet led by the Polish violinist, played a set that integrated elements of folk music into their overall sound. The Charley Rose Trio from France featured Rose on saxophone, often using pedals to manipulate the sound; overall this set did not seem to settle well (previously reviewed here).
The final set of the week in Jaki presented a new band led by American but Berlin-based drummer Jim Black called Jim Black and The Shrimps (not part of the NICA programme). Again a large standing audience reacted very positively, even whooping during solos, to the intricate rhythms created by Black and bass player Felix Henkelhausen, and the high energy lines played by the double saxophone front line, Asger Nissen on alto, and Julius Gawlik on tenor.
In the main hall, the Saal, saxophonist Isaiah Collier & The Chosen Few presented music with a focus on spiritual jazz clearly inspired by Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. There were many exciting passages, and some excellent solos from the whole group (Jordan Williams, piano, Jeremiah Hunt, bass and Shekwoaga Ode, drums) but the set lacked light and shade.
The Cologne Jazzweek has a really well thought-through formula, has the community of local musicians and the year-round venues at which they play as its heart, and is undoubtedly a festival to watch.
Tony Dudley-Evans was the guest of Cologne Jazz Week
LINK: Cologne Jazzweek website