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Cologne Jazz Week 2023

Cologne Jazz Week 2023, the third edition of the event, consisted of around 60 events. Tony Dudley-Evans was there for the final three days, and here is his report.

Michiyo Yagi and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten. Photo credit: Niclas Weber/ CJW

Cologne Jazzweek is an excellent example of how to make a week-long festival in a city work effectively.  It uses various venues, and most are easy to access.  It provides a wide range of music and a cross section of all that is happening in jazz today.  I have focused on the more adventurous events, but there are also plenty of more mainstream concerts in the programme.

It is also worth noting that the UK scene is reasonably well represented with gigs for Tom Ford, Percy Pursglove playing in Wanja Slavin’s Libelle group, Ruth Goller and Skylla as well as her other guest appearances.   Also performing were Lauren Kinsella , Alina Bzhezhinska’s HipHarp Collective and Kit Downes playing with Ben van Gelder.

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Ruth Goller’s Skylla. Photo credit: Niclas Weber/CJW

Wednesday 16 August (Day 5):

My first day was notable for two different approaches to free improvisation. The Loft venue – the year-round venue which mostly presents up-and-coming bands – hosted a night of improvised music with two groups, one of Danish musicians from the ILK Collective, the other a group of German musicians from the CJW Collective, while in the Jaki venue at the Stadtgarten complex the Dojo duo – Michiyo Yagi on 17- and 21- string kotos and Tamaya Honda on drums – played with special guest bass player Ingebrigt Haker Flaten.

At the Loft it was very definitely improvised music rather than free jazz with the emphasis on sound rather than melody or rhythm. Saxophonist Lotte Anker played short phrases on tenor and soprano saxophones, and occasionally created a different sound by scraping the edge of the saxophone bell with a bow; similarly, Carl Ludwig Hübsch created a variety of sounds on the tuba, also scraping the edge with a bow.  Marlies Debacker mostly strummed strings inside the piano, and Etienne Nillesen created his own range of sounds on what was described as an éxtended snare drum´, which involved him playing just the two sides of the snare. The quartet created an attractive group sound that evolved gradually over 45 minutes; there were no particular variations in pace and the piece reached a natural conclusion.

The CJW group presented a similar set, again focussing on sounds, but using electronics to augment and manipulate the sounds. Qarin Wikstöm created wordless vocals, modified by electronics, while Jonas Engel on saxophone similarly used electronics to create a range of sounds, at one point switching to trumpet, but played with a saxophone mouthpiece.

The Dojo set at Jaki  was much more intense; beginning with a highly rhythmic collective improvisation with Yagi on the larger 21 string koto accompanied by high energy playing on bass and drums.  She then switched to the more atmospheric 17 string koto and a vocal in Japanese.  This was followed by a further intense collective improvisation with Haker Flaten occasionally beating the body of his bass rhythmically.  This was an exciting set that had the standing audience cheering and whooping.

Michael Shakwoaga Ode of I AM

Thursday 17 August (Day 6):

The day began with a special concert to pay tribute to the trumpet player Udo Moll who died suddenly earlier this year.  He was clearly a popular figure in Cologne, and the concert featured two large ensembles.  First up was the Simon Rummel Ensemble, an eclectic group featuring a recorder and violin as well as the more usual jazz instruments.  This created some interesting textures in the ensemble passages, but, overall, this seemed a rather low key performance hampered by the shortness of the set at about 35 minutes,  It was not possible to stay for the second set before leaving to catch the TRAINING duo with special guest Ruth Goller.  This set which took place in the Bumann & Sohn club in the alternative part of town, was a highlight of the festival.

TRAINING, a Berlin based duo of Max Andrzejewski on drums, and electronics  and Johannes Schieiermacher on saxophone and electronics have received funding to enable them to play with a series of guests; with Goller they have devised a method of composition whereby the first writer only passes on the last few notes of their piece to the second writer who likewise passes on only the last few notes.  This process creates idiosyncratic pieces that lend themselves well to group improvisation.  In performance there is a wide dynamic range from full on free improvisation to more measured passages featuring the compositions.  The music was just right for the club venue and won over a large audience.

On to I AM, the duo of saxophonist Isaiah Collier and drummer Michael Shakwoaga Ode, also in a club venue in the alternative area. In a previous review of Collier I was critical of the group sound with the drums over-dominant.  The duo format sounded promising with the possibility of recreating the duels between Coltrane and Elvin Jones.  The gig actually started with Collier on piano and and then on loud hailer over pounding drums.  Good to create variety, but Collier is no McCoy Tyner.  Things improved considerably when Collier picked up the soprano saxophone and then the tenor to play high energy spiritual jazz strongly influenced by the modal jazz of Coltrane’s My Favourite Things period.  The music is exciting, but it is always at breakneck speed, and one begins to long for a gentler passage.

Violeta Garcia. Photo credit: Niclas Weber/ CJW

Friday 18 August (Day 7)

The French group Nefertiti whose name shows their affinity with the music of Wayne Shorter played a set with German trumpeter Frederik Köster as part of the NICA exchange programme run by the Stadtgarten venue.  Köster clearly enjoyed working with the French quartet, and took the music in various different directions which enlivened the rest of the group.  

Dave Douglas launched his new quintet at the festival playing music from the recent Songs of Ascent CD.  The group has James Brandon Lewis on tenor saxophone. Marta Warelis on piano, Nick Dunston on bass and Joey Baron on drums, a group whose individual locations in Europe and USA suggest that this may be a touring group for European tours and festivals.  Douglas’ compositions are his interpretation of the Biblical Psalms and have something of the passion and beauty of those Psalms. They are compositions into which solos and duets from the members of the quintet are interwoven. The result is a collective approach and sound, but with space for the soloist; it is thus far from the head  plus solos format, but nor is it free jazz, although the solos especially from Warelis and Lewis do go ‘out’ in interesting ways.

The final set of the festival was played by a group called Headless Society with guest cellist Violeta Garcia from Argentina.  This was an octet which created a maelstrom of sound with two loud drummers, two equally loud keyboard players, tenor saxophone, cello, guitar and electric bass, all improvising together to create a wonderful blast of sound with a strong rhythmic pulse. It was fascinating to anticipate how they would find a way to finish, and at various junctures the music would reach a climax that seemed a natural point to finish, but, in fact, continued into another phase.  Eventually it just stopped!

LINK Full CJW 2023 programme

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