Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige
Jun 30-Jul 9 2023. Round-up by Alison Bentley
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Our round-up of Suedtirol 2023 is in three parts. The first weekend was covered by Oliver Weindling. Alison Bentley has covered the remainder. This is the first of her two reports.
Mountains surround you in the Italian city of Bolzano/Bozen. (in the Suedtirol names are in German and Italian.) The Festival organisers match venue with gig carefully: the mountains affect the way you experience the music, and perhaps the way it’s played too. The “base camp” is in the Parco Cappuccini Park, a walled grassy space with Medieval-style tents to keep out the sun and rain, where you can buy food and local wines. Many evening gigs took place on the raised stage with a dramatic mountain backdrop.
Singer/pianist KID BE KID from Berlin took total command of the stage. (Jul. 2) Like Alicia Keys, she played classically-influenced grand piano with R&B beats- all improvised, from old-fashioned Moog sounds to EDM bass drops. Her voice was lighter and breathier than Keys’, but still soulful in the evening’s sultry heat. She got the audience to sing long notes to back her, as she whooped freely like Bjork. Another piece nicely contrasted delicate vocals with beatbox backbeats and eerie piano overtones. Naked Times, about “being honest to others and to yourself,” had quavery synth notes and spiky, emotive Satie-esque piano. Gospelly jazz chords introduced an anti-love song. Synth sounds created vapour trails behind the high throaty voice. Move was a positive song with a tricksy time signature, about bringing change. She tapped her face to make rhythmic sounds. Hold my Hand was full of dreamy glissando piano while News Feeds invoked Herbie Hancock, interspersed with a 4 on the floor club vibe. The encore with its dubstep influences got the audience singing- and we didn’t want to stop.
The following evening (Jul 3) Norwegian drummer Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity took to the same stage, their music as stormy as the weather. His solo picked up the sound of the heavy rain on the tent. Swedish bassist Petter Eldh played freely, while Kjetil Mester (Norway) played Coltrane-ish gravelly baritone. The sax’ vibrato grew more throaty, more Albert Ayler, as the time shifted around, with neat bass and sax unison riffs. Eldh moved freely along the bass’ neck but always returned to the root, everyone slightly out of sync with each other. Mester moved to tenor in another piece with an impossible time signature and an incredibly full drum sound, all urging each other on to ever freer phrases as lightning lit up the mountains. The Ironically titled Acoustic Dance Music started with a wild flash of slap-tongued tenor, bass and drums chasing each other into very fast swing. In a piece by Eldh, the restless bass circled round Mester’s clarinet trills; grooves slipped together with the huge presence to compete with the storm. In Boogie, the baritone eased sounds from the maelstrom in a lopsided Afro-Latin feel, till an Ornette Coleman quirky melody emerged. The storm joined in.
Early the next evening (Jul 4) the music was given a sense of otherness by incredible views from high up in the mountains. Bassist/vocalist Ruth Goller (from Suedtirol, living in London) and US saxophonist/vocalist Dan Kinzelman (living in Italy) had a three-day residency at the Stanglerhof restaurant and performed a long seamless piece with many stages. Goller’s high clear voice and electric bass harmonised with the keening sax, full of reverb. She leaned into her bass, and Kinzelman swung from side to side with intense vibrato. The bass roamed the chords, sometimes played more like a guitar, the electronic effects like an aura of energy. Kinzelman sang too, with melancholy long harmony notes. He moved to clarinet, thickened with effects, as Goller scraped the bass strings with a rocky distorted timbre. “No-one can take this away from us now,” they sang. In a change of mood, his tenor cut through the insistent bass groove with oriental scales. Goller crouched on the floor, looping effects, till they were left with just breath sounds- cries and whispers. Her voice sounded natural and folk-edged, as Kinzelman’s bass clarinet played deep notes underneath, in a mix of punky defiance and vulnerability.
Back in the Parco Cappuccini later that evening were French trio NOUT with Swedish guest saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. The angelic Rafaëlle Rinaudo’s delicate harp burst into flames with thrash metal. Gustafsson duetted on flute with main flautist Delphine Joussein, a dreamy lull before the storm, blending folk and free jazz, with shades of Eric Dolphy. Blanche Lafuente’s drums came in freely, in a prog rock mode of alternating between acoustic folk and hard rock. A big rock blast (with dry ice, of course) subverted traditional sedate ideas of women playing harp and flute- almost mischievously comic, but musically very serious. Joussein’s fast cycles of notes had bright overtones, evoking forest sounds with the harp, till baritone and drums crashed vividly in. Sometimes, the harp was played like a bass, or strings slapped like a guitar. A slow rock pulse with military drum rolls became a double time kind of samba. Theatrical orange spotlights coloured a rock scream and harp distortion- it could almost have been Led Zeppelin, as effects on flute sounded like a rock guitar. Crème Brûlée brought a cymbal rush to dreamy harp and free sax squeals then broke anarchically into a big Club groove.
In total contrast (Jul 5) were French guitarist Antoine Boyer and harmonica-player Yeore Kim (from Korea, living in France.) Among the mountains, surrounded by fruit trees and vines, was the Brennerei Roner Distillerie; its spacious atrium provided a good acoustic for the duo’s mix of standards and originals. Boyer opened with two original chord-melody guitar pieces, blending gypsy jazz with Spanish classical. Kim joined him in Sous le Ciel de Paris, her tone and wide range strongly recalling Toots Thielemans. She bent the notes expressively in Metheny/Haden’s “Our Spanish Love Song”, while Boyer’s Django Reinhardt-style work on Autumn Leaves was superb. The harmonica sounded like a bandoneon on one Piazzolla-esque original, and more like Metheny’s guitar synth on another. Their jazz version of McCartney’s Blackbird was virtuosic, while their “romantic moment” was a sweet rubato Playing Love (Morricone.) What sounded like a speedy Hermeto Pascoal tune turned out to be their composition, followed by an upbeat swing “Love me Tender” and a standing ovation.
Later that evening in the Parco Cappuccini, Danish guitarist Teis Semey told us that, being Danish, he hadn’t seen a mountain until he was 15. His Amsterdam-based Quintet opened with a “fake Danish folk song” had free bass (Jort Terwijn-Netherlands) and drums (Sun-Mi Hong- Korea) drawn together by horn lines. The electric guitar had a Frisell feel, while gorgeous sax and trumpet tones emerge from the melee. (José Soares- Portugal; Alistair Robert Payne- Scotland.) The electricity in the air wasn’t just lightning, as a rockier piece developed a skipping time signature behind Soares’ detailed notes. The guitar’s reverb had overtones of Marc Ribot, and Hong’s drum solo was powerful. A tune written for Semey’s sisters had a more indie rock feel, with strummed guitar. The cymbals frothed into double time swing, and the trumpet had a Hubbard-like timbre. In another piece, the bass double stopped in a resonant solo intro; silvery cymbals brought in an indie groove. A gorgeous guitar solo, double time, melted into gooey sounds. In Fleshy (“Almost danceable!”) had a grandiose start with quirky harmonies, gentle drums, walking bass, and changes of tempo. It was an intriguing gig, mixing jazz and rock, freedom and taut arrangements.
In the morning, (Jul 6) we travelled to Pippo’s Mountain Lodge by cable car, looking down at the clouds. Keyboard-player Shuteen Erdenebaatar (German, Mongolian-born) led her German Quartet.. In In a Time Warp, her glowing Fender Rhodes sound had a little Herbie Hancock stirred in. The bass solo notes (Nils Kugelmann) glided in and out of each other, blurring together to create a cloudy sound- there seemed to be no barrier between musicians and instruments, and the arrangements sounded very natural. Olden Days was a sweet ballad with a gentle backbeat (Valentin Renner). Anton Mangold’s alto had a smooth soulfulness. Another serene piece (inspired by the Bavarian Alps) had an In a Silent Way vibe, with flute trills and arco bass, developing into joyful 60s/70s funk. In Page no 7,671, she showed how expressively she could play, accentuating some notes and smoothing over others. Mangold’s soprano solo was also beautifully-phrased, keeping you listening. In the funky Rising Sun, he burst into edgier harmonies. In the cross-rhythmed, Corea-like Ups and Downs, we had a natural light show, as clouds drifted behind the band like dry ice, the sun shining through. In the emotional I’m Glad I Got to Know You, with its Jarrett-like feel, the clouds lifted, and there was a sense of the music’s transience.