Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2023 (Part 1 of 3)

Suedtirol Jazz Festival, 30 June-2 July.

This is the first in a series of LJN’s three reports from Suedtirol 2023. Oliver Weindling writes about the first weekend. Alison Bentley will write parts 2 and 3, reflecting on the rest of the festival.

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La Litanie des Cimes at Suedtirol 2023. Photo Ralf Dombrowski

“Even if you haven’t heard of these musicians before, trust our judgement and give them a chance.”

Joint festival director Max von Pretz made this request as he introduced the first concert of a new era on Friday 30 June – his first as part of a new troika (with Stefan Festini-Cusco and Roberto Tubaro) taking over from Klaus Widmann who ran the festival for 20 years. This consistent philosophy has, for me, made the Suedtirol Festival a ‘must-attend’ annual event. Great music played in a whole variety of locations, often breathtaking and thought-provoking in themselves.

Kid Be Kid and Leila Martial. Photo Ralf Dombrowski

A development since lockdown has been a Base Camp, at Kapuzinerpark, a small park in central Bolzano, where concerts can take place nightly, thus giving a focus. For the first night there, we encountered three contrasting bands:

  • First was the Pindio quartet from Spain, led by Juan Saiz, playing flute, soprano saxophone and tenor. Quite an intense show with a strong interaction between the four instruments.
  • This was followed by a duo of Kid Be Kid and Leila Martial. The former is a singer/pianist/beat boxer from Berlin (see also coverage in Alison Bentley’s report) and Leila Martial is a French singer who adds special effects to a wonderfully inventive imagination and broad stylistic range. It was the first time that they had performed live together. They moved from a slightly tentative dialogue, with one taking a lead and the other accompanying using their various technical skills before they then swapped over. But by the end they had really coalesced and empathised.
  • Finally there was Sinularia, a guitar/bass/drums trio from Berlin – actually from the same collective as Kid Be Kid. Moving rhythmically as one, changing pace and full of surprises (which they themselves call ‘wonky beats’), they kept one on edge with their unpredictability.
Sinularia. Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski

La Litanie des Cimes (translated appropriately as “Litany of the Peaks”), a trio of clarinet, violin and cello, is a great example of fitting various mountain locations to appropriate music. It’s a speciality that this festival has developed over recent years. So this French trio, which merges the minimalist with folk, African and jazz influences, was mesmerising. First in the wood around Jenesien on the second morning, where as in previous years, bands are chosen which has an ability to merge into the trees up there. And then the following day, in the intriguing location of an old mine for silver and lead on in the mountains above Vipiteno/Sterzing, now an outdoor museum. It was a hard life for the miners and somehow this was highlighted by the music of Litanie des Cimes, which almost has a post-apocalyptic vibe. One could imagine them to a soundtrack of a story such as Cormac Macarthy’s The Road! Clement Petit on cello managed to make his instrument sound more than just a cello, including kora. Eloise Pasquier, on clarinet and bass clarinet not just was able to create ripples but also percussive effects. And Clément Janinet, the ringleader on violin, could move from ostinato to melody and all spaces between.

The main evening gig that night was Oliphantre, in the Kapuzinerpark. The recent LJN review from Bergamo gets it right (LINK). Leila Martial showed a range of perhaps 4(!) octaves, and used a most imaginative array of effects to enhance her voice, such as merging voice and pan pipes. She interplays effectively with guitarist Francesco Diodati, a festival regular with new projects almost annually. For us festival regulars, it was great to have them back after first hearing them brought together here in 2019 (as Blackline), through the good offices of Klaus Widmann.

The evening ended with an intense solo drum project by Seb Brun. “Ak Ker” can perhaps be translated as “My home is my castle”. Because that reflects the multiple meanings of the phrase in Breton, from castle through to home. Starting with a simple repetitive beat, it evolved and grew to fill out the room. I’ve heard him solo before, as well as at The Vortex with groups from Coax Collective, and he’s certainly worth catching.

The late night gigs are always amongst the most intriguing at this festival. So it was with ‘t’ on the following night. A project merging piano and tablas as acoustic instruments through the live mixing of Tommaso Rosati, who also gave us imaginative lighting effects. There are robots which add to the capability of Samuele Strufaldi on piano, a bit like a second set of hands at the instrument. It may have been that there were some technical issues with the robot. But this could hardly detract from the band’s attempts to merge new effects with the more traditional.

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