Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige
(Jun 30-Jul 9 2023. Round-up Part 3 by Alison Bentley)
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As well as stunning mountain locations, this festival uses brilliantly contrasting venues below ground that can feel more like traditional jazz clubs. In the basement of Bolzano/Bozen’s Waaghaus, (Jul 3) a newly-restored silent film from 1926 was being shown. (‘Mit dem Motorrad über die Wolken’ by Lothar Rübelt.) Set in the Dolomites and interpreted for us live by Italian guitarist Francesco Diodati and Austrian drummer Alexander Yannilos, it meant we could experience the mountains in a jazz club atmosphere. The musicians had only met the day before, and had only seen clips of the film, so their response to the film and each other was wonderfully spontaneous. We followed a road movie through the mountains, often shot from the seat of a motorbike, as a group of young people climbed ever higher into the peaks on their state-of-the-art bikes. The urgent pulse of guitar and gentle cymbals evoked the momentousness of the mountains. A peaceful scene of a hotel reflected in a lake called up electronic scrabbles over soft mallets on toms, then busy buzzing sounds as the speedometers and the sense of danger on hairpin bends increased. As the protagonists stopped to contemplate a peak, the guitar played long calm chords with a volume pedal, and the drummer manipulated bell tones electronically– a sense of mystery. However high the bikes climbed, there was always a higher peak. The guitar tremolo and rolling drums increased their intensity with the suspense- would they make it up the very steepest of mountain tracks? An inspired matching of film and musicians.
Korean drummer Sun-Mi Hong’s Amsterdam-based Quintet (Jul 3) was due to play in Bolzano/Bozen’s amphitheatre Parco Semirurali, open to the elements. A dramatic mountain storm meant the organisers had to improvise a last minute alternative- a modern concert hall in the depths of a nearby school. The drums opened, sonorous and stately with mallets, an Afro-Latin feel with an Eastern cymbal sound. (Although Hong doesn’t deliberately draw on Korean influences.) Dreamy trumpet (Scottish Alistair Robert Payne) and tenor (Nicolò Francesco Ricci) slid over the soft hip hop. The bass solo (Italian Alessandro Fongaro) followed the open modal chords beautifully. Another piece had sax and trumpet sparking angular phrases off each other, with broad piano ripples. (Chaerin Im– Korea) Everyone played the plangent melody- including the drums. The descending bass line fell then jumped back up only to fall again. The trumpet solo drew clear shapes over the pixilated background of free bass and drums. Another piece featured grand piano with gospel-edged chords. The horns pulled the notes from the centre and harmonised them. The piano solo had ruminative, spiky rhythms- intriguingly Ligeti-like. Escapism’s piano trills created shimmering overtones, taking us into her world. Trumpet and sax squeals embellished Hong’s gentle brushes like a dawn chorus. Blind had darker harmonies, tenor playing a sweet theme over gentle piano chords, with superb drumming as they exploded into double time. Letter with No Words (from her father finally supporting her “fight to be a drummer”) was understated and meditative as the slow burning energy increased.
Bolzano/Bozen’s Batzen Sudwerk Ca’ de Bezzi hosted the late night gigs in its atmospheric cellar. In KRY, (Jul 3) Austrians Alexander Yannilos (drums) and Philipp Kienberger (bass guitar) laid down the grooves for Iranian clarinettist Mona Riahi. No 1 had long bass guitar notes moving into bumpy clarinet synth sounds, like an EWI. Later, you could hear the clarinet’s natural tone but it was still enhanced over the driving groove. As the clarinet improvised, it was hard to tell which instrument was producing which sound but it didn’t feel important. The second piece (No 3) was fun, with a funky feel, the bass stalking behind light lively clarinet. Twit was full of synth swirls immersed in fabulously inventive drumming and arpeggiated bass.Riahi’s piece I Am My Body was prefaced by a poem, which gave it context. A spacious, beautiful melody unfolded over slow funk. Later, sticks scraped on cymbals with thundery drum beats; the bassist scratched the strings high on the neck. The clarinet floated on top of a big menacing synth groove.
Getting to see DUO IN人 (Jul 4) was like a jazz journey to the centre of the earth. Bunker H had been a WW11 air raid shelter, with labyrinthine paths hewn into the rock under the mountain. Rock falls and graffiti were lit by coloured lights, and Korean drummer Sun-Mi Hong and Scottish trumpeter Alistair Robert Payne were bathed in red light at the back of a cavernous space. Hong’s percussive sounds reverberated along the tunnel; the trumpet at times had a breathy tone more like a flugel. The drums were melodic with a variety of deep tones, contrasting with the trumpet’s rhythmic yearning scales. (“It’s beautiful here but it really scares me,” he said.) He made unearthly sounds with his hand in front of the bell; Hong played lots of tiny percussive beats like scree falling down the mountain. Payne played as if soloing over chords in his head, referencing older trumpeters, like Woody Shaw and Clifford Brown. The cymbals were like stalactites dripping as Payne walked back into the red light.
Late that evening, back down in the cellar at Batzen Sudwerk Ca’ de Bezzi, Sun-Mi Hong was improvising with Austrian bassist Lukas Kranzelbinder and Iranian clarinettist Mona Riahi. Kranzelbinder has talked about the importance of repeated grooves and phrases to build energy. He’s studied Moroccan music, and the drums responded brilliantly to his earthy grooves; long electronically-enhanced clarinet notes brought them together. The drums played a samba feel across the beat with bubbling clarinet sounds. A bass solo was meditative, played like a kalimba; in the next phase he played an actual kalimba. The clarinet and drums settled into patterns with a mesmeric, Steve Reichian vibe. Alistair Robert Payne and José Soares guested with them on trumpet and sax on the last piece, all crescendoing into a funky groove.
The next night in Batzen Sudwerk Ca’ de Bezzi, (Jul 5) Brussels band Don Kapot were improvising with fellow Belgian Fulco Otterwanger, describing their music as a “mix of krautrock and jazz.” Viktor Perdieus’ bass sax made tongued sounds; Ottervanger‘skeyboard synth was full of effects; Giotis Damianidis’ (from Greece) bass guitar strutted in with a bouncy riff; Jakob Warmenbol’s strong bass drum beat upwards through the floor. They played a series of asymmetrical time signatures, cerebral but fun, as a basis for improvisation throughout the gig. Perdieus moved to bamboo clarinet in a slow minor prog jazz piece, with overtones of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. Ottervanger changed to guitar, with vocalisations somewhere between Robert Plant and Kate Westbrook. Perdieus played a blues on harmonica, and later Ottervanger played a keyboard solo that sounded like metal guitar. Damianidis sometimes strummed the bass behind synth splurges.
It was a dazzling range of bands in well-chosen venues.