Jazzdor Strasbourg- Berlin-Dresden
(Kulturbrauerei, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin. 9 June 2023. Fourth and final night. Report by Sebastian Scotney)
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The fourth and final night in of the Berlin programme of Jazzdor Strasbourg-Berlin-Dresden 2023 reached exactly the right kind of energetic conclusion with Daniel Erdmann‘s new sextet “Thérapie de couple”.
This sextet gave its premiere performance in Rheims in April and then appeared at jazzahead! in Bremen (that concert is on YouTube, link below). Erdmann was originally commissioned to put together this group and to write the work for it by jazzahead!.
The couple in the title is Germany-France. As Erdmann has written . “We are talking, of course, the engine of Europe, which occasionally gets into a crisis and is therefore always in need of therapy.” The group consists of three players from France: violinist Théo Ceccaldi, clarinettist/ bass clarinettist Hélène Duret, and cellist Vincent Courtois , plus three Germans bassist Robert Lucaciu, drummer Eva Klesse, and Erdmann himself.
There is wonderful variety here, with the possibility to get a big orchestral sound from the whole group, and also to give each of these players – soloists all- the opportunity to rise to the occasion and dazzle. My favourite episode was when the string players were given a completely mad, wild moment to work as an ensemble, to go in heavy. The results I can only describe as something like Bartok on acid. All three are charismatic solo players who project as if their lives depend on it, and bassist Robert Lucaciu is definitely as much a cellist as he is a bassist.
Eva Klesse gives us her unique combination of hyperactivity and complete control. If Hélène Duret can perform the role impeccably of a demure and collaborative ensemble player, forming a reed section alongside Erdmann, when she takes a walk on the wild side – as she did in “Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust,” (the title an ironically tinged quote from Goethe’s “Faust”) you do not want to miss it.
When Erdmann first wrote about how this group was formed, he acknowledged the support and encouragement that he has been given by Philippe Ochem over two decades to build Franco-German projects. And when one thinks of how Jazzdor Berlin has gone so far beyond the stage of an “interesting experiment” to becoming an expected part of the scene – and has had what might appear incredible longevity over seventeen years – it is precisely the quality of work from an artist like Erdmann, and a project like “Thérapie de couple” in particular, which demonstrates the incontrovertible value of this festival. If it helps British readers, one might perhaps consider Jazzdor as a jazz variant on that silly Bob Monkhouse quote: “They all laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well, they’re not laughing now.”
The construction and the contrasts in the early part of the evening were, essentially a clever piece of programming:
First we had “chamber music”, as the programme called it from Aki Takase, Louis Sclavis and Vincent Courtois. So far so serious? Up to a point. There was a lot of playfulness. The pianist stamps her foot. So can the others. A cellist can do improbably slow slides. Excuse me, so can a clarinettist. And once Takase had lobbed a few golf balls (literally) into the piano case, the questions start to emerge as to how serious or how ironic the whole thing is.
One joy of seeing Aki Takase perform is that she has a vast compendium of piano moods – everything from Scottish reels to romantic drawn-out melodies a la Rachmaninov – and you never know what’s next But she also has a way of leaving the audience in doubt whether, when she calls one of her stage companions “Mein Liebling”, she is being sincere or ironic. The capturing of different moods is also a hallmark of Louis Sclavis. He has a vast catalogue of extended techniques for clarinet and bass clarinet (growls, multiphonics, circular breathing and slides). And with Vincent Courtois, to mix metaphors, the heart-on-sleeve melody is in the best possible hands.
The act in the middle was a clever contrast. With humour and energy as the first and third ingredients, the seriousness, the spirituality, the deep groove of Naissam Jalal were just right. And she also knows how to bring an audience in and get the whole room on her side. The French-Syrian flautist/ ney player/ vocalist has touched the right spot with her album “Healing Rituals”. John Fordham loved it – LINK– and has no hesitation in calling it a 2023 album of the year. She attracted the biggest crowd of the week here in Berlin. And she has a very classy band.
Jazzdor now has two nights at Die Tonne in Dresden.
Sebastian was in Berlin as the guest of Jazzdor