Sebastian attended jazzahead! 2023 in Bremen, and writes about the fair, reflects on the UK presence or lack of it, and reports on a few of the 36 showcases…
A SUCCESSFUL JAZZAHEAD
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In the wrap-up press release for jazzahead! 2023, Sybille Kornitschky, who runs the fair and the festival for MESSE BREMEN, is quoted as follows:
“The main reason to feel good about this year’s jazzahead! is that the participants clearly enjoyed it. Compared to last year, there was a marked change in the mood – it was almost euphoric. The feedback we have received has been sensational. Last year, people were mainly relieved that an event like this could take place at all in the aftermath of Corona. But this time, I saw happy expressions on so many faces, and to an extent that I have rarely seen before – people were showing their genuine appreciation for the concerts, and above all they said they were just happy that they could work properly again! It was also noticeable that many young people were taking part – many attendees were with us for the first time.”
And many participants I have spoken to would agree. Some have even suggested that it may have even been “the best ever”. It is a simple fact that the worldwide community of people active around jazz and music related to it is keen to get together in person. Personal contact rather than constant virtual conversation does have a lot to recommend it, in an activity where trust and understanding and common purposes really are everything. Again and again, one could catch the positive glimmer in the expressions of musicians, managers bookers, festival folk…. as they renewed acquaintance and with one another. The frenetic networking does also sap energy, and by the last day, recurrent themes seemed to include tiredness, confusion, disorientation… But in the main, people do attend an event like this not just to renew acquaintance, but to be open to seeking out new possibilities – and also to check out the music.
COUNTRIES INVESTING IN INTERNATIONAL PROFILE… AND THE CASE OF THE UK
Another interesting section of the wrap-up press release is the breakdown of the trade participants by country from the 51 countries represented. Quoting the release:
“A total of 1,366 main and co-exhibitors were registered – an increase of more than 100 compared with last year. The host country alone accounted for 872 participants, with France (166), the Netherlands (163), Belgium (90), UK (89), Denmark (85), Italy (77), Switzerland (76) and Spain (67) also strongly represented. The USA was also well represented with 77 participants. Some countries were represented for the first time; these include Greece (20), Romania (14) and even Chile (9).”
What of the UK? There is a clear, or rather a severe disparity between the scale of resources which many countries devote – through export agencies – to promoting and exporting jazz when compared with the UK (with the exception of Scotland, which had a stand and a significant presence). The contrast with the almighty scale of the joined-up effort that the UK puts into SXSW (HERE) is particularly stark.
As Paul Geoghegan, the overall boss of Songlines and Jazzwise, has commented elsewhere:
“It’s disgraceful that there isn’t the governmental support for the whole of UK Jazz to have a presence at Jazzahead.”
And yet… the fact that UK jazz musicians can and DO make their mark despite the lack of official encouragement is something one can take real delight in:
I was very pleased to go and hear the only fully UK band appearing as part of the Clubnight, Duncan Eagles‘s Partikel with bassist Max Luthert and Eric Ford. The resourcefulness of our community is limitless. They had arranged it all themselves. Max Luthert was making a glorious sound on his borrowed bass, and this band always delivers quality, energy, empathy.
Other great exposure for UK jazz was in the “Live from Bremen” edition of Alex Dutilh’s “Open Jazz” programme for France-Musique. The programme started with two tracks from the trio of Kit Downes, Phil Donkin and James Maddren, who are on the new album “AKI” from Lucia Cadotsch… and later had a track from Emma Rawicz’s forthcoming debut album on ACT (see our news story). Oliver Weindling has been reflecting on this theme recently (here). There was also a 15th anniversary showcase for Edition Records at the Sendesaal.
THE SHOWCASE PROGRAMME
These are just a few remarks about some of the shows which I went to. If I let my heart rule my head, then the absolutely infectious dynamism of Harold López-Nussa‘s trio with harmonica wizard Grégoire Maret was the most stunning, uplifting and inspiring concert that I heard. That was 45 minutes which went far too fast. I have stored in mind the following words in the jazzahead! blurb: “A new Blue Note album is imminent.”
I also enjoyed the large ensemble led by Finnish-born oud/guitar player Jussi Reijonen. The risk in a large ensemble is that some combination of the difficulty of getting everyone together and the thirst to discover new repertoire means that some ensembles come on stage without having developed a natural sense of flow. So the surprise was quite how completely Jussi Reijonen’s group knew their material and could convey it. Probably the best compliment I can think of is that they were reaching the levels of integration, balance and sympathetic leadership of Eve Risser’s Red Desert Orchestra.
French Armenian Yessaï Karapetian brought an Armenian band and was clearly loving their music making with their range of rhythms and timbres, ensuring that the flutes had the melody, and letting that sound hang in the air, only rarely putting himself in the limelight. But when he did, he gave a brief hint of the scale and range of his own pianism: Yessaï clearly has many more pianistic tanks in reserve.
I also heard Berlin’s Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra. They are an experimental band and what I felt is that they are progressively becoming more atmospheric/ filmic, as if their experiments in timbre now serve more of a purpose than they did. And what a super drummer!
Two solo piano sets caught the ear. Amaro Freitas from Brazil had given a much more acoustic set in Bergamo. Here in a larger hall he was using effects and just making his performance bigger and more powerful. He is a real force. I enjoyed Belgian Alex Koo and I have an interview in preparation. His solo project needs more reflection than I can give it here. The ambient noise in the halls of the Messe didn’t do him favours. Koo needs proper silence to play from…
The imaginative idea to commission German-born musicians living abroad to construct and lead ensembles from the countries where they are based worked really well. Elmar Petzold’s photo of Theo Ceccaldi (above) captures the exuberance of Daniel Erdmann‘s French group. I also enjoyed Ingrid Laubrock‘s Lilith. Laubrock’s own improvised lines sounded to my ears increasingly to remove tonal centres and work like tone rows, yet always with an inner logic, and the band she had brought from Brooklyn was full of future stars stretching themselves and each other to the limit. The Dutch band led by Felix Schlarmann and called “Treehouse” kept their best move to the end, sending us into the warm night air with something distinctly Weather Report-ish.
Overall the range of shows was impressive and I’m sure readers will have plenty of their own favourites – please add them in the comments below!
jazzahead! 2024 is earlier, from 11 to 14 April, with partner country Netherlands
LINK: jazzahead! website