Live reviews

Outreach Festival 2023, Schwaz, Austria

Outreach Festival,
(Schwaz, Austria, 3-5 August 2023. Round-up and photos by Oliver Weindling)

Anja Om Plus. Photo by Oliver Weindling

Franz Hackl is the mastermind behind the Outreach Festival – this was the 31st edition. His particular skill is in digging for genius and bringing a lively selection of music to the surface. Perhaps, in a way, he is building on the heritage of Schwaz (near Innsbruck). Silver has been mined there since 1491.

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The approach every night, initially forced on it by Covid restrictions in 2020, is for there to be a rotation of three bands each night. All play three mini-sets of 20 minutes passing the ‘baton’ to the next group. It makes for long nights, with little break between 8 p.m. and midnight. But at least one can take short time outs in the bar, where it’s possible to watch on a screen.

The miniset concept creates a unique link between the bands. This was noticed each evening as the musicians stayed on stage and seemed to adapt their sets accordingly through listening.

There are actually three strands to the actual festival which merge successfully and organically. Every evening, early, there is a concert by local groups in the shop window of the Hackl family trumpet workshop. Particularly notable was the 11 piece Sam Siefert Ensemble. Contemporary jazz replacing the traditional Tyrolean village bands?

A particular element of the evening programme is the use of the teachers from the Academy which has taken place in parallel, for younger students, since 1993. Many of these are from New York and are carefully selected by Hackl. So each year, they have the Outreach Academy Orchestra, with these musicians as the core, such as John Clark, on French horn, Dave Taylor on trombone and Hackl himself. It also includes bassist Clemens Rofner, one of the leading musicians on the younger Vienna scene, who is co-artistic director for the festival. Musical director of the orchestra is Gene Pritsker who manages to conduct, play guitar, rap and even dance along.

The large ensemble of the Orchestra on the second night, was followed on the third by the Worlds Beyond Orchestra, an ensemble from Switzerland, playing the music of Daniel Schnyder, who also played soprano saxophone. Incredible assurance from the young string players, and Schnyder had the good fortune of being able to use musicians such as Hackl, Clark and Taylor as soloists. The version of ‘Karachi’ in particular managed to merge the energy of Bollywood with Schnyder’s sophisticated mind set.

Laura Jurd and James Kitchman

As well as the larger ensembles, the other nights included intriguing bands from Vienna and Munich, as well as our own Laura Jurd.

She brought a new band, with James Kitchman on guitar, Tom Herbert on bass and Corrie Dick on drums. Three continuous pieces, with a catchy groove and seamless interplay between them all. It proved quite a highlight.

And it contrasted well with the groups from Vienna. It’s a scene with quite a bit of surreal humour, perhaps looking back to the cabaret tradition which was always strong there, but mixed with some psychological angst – appropriate for the country of Freud! Lineups are often not expected jazz lineups, but perhaps that gives them more flexibility to ‘shock’ us with what they play.

On the first night, partnered with Laura Jurd’s quartet was the group Anja Om Plus, a five-piece a capella vocal group led by singer Anja Obermayer, which was full of emotion and spirit. They fitted well together.

Siegmar Brecher of Edi Nulz

The other Austrian groups were equally thought-provoking, in that their music in no way matched what might have been anticipated! Sketchbook Quartet, which used saxophone, bass clarinet, guitar and drums could well have an acoustic chamber ensemble. But the music was much louder and mesmerising. Equally surprising was Edi Nulz. The music of Julian Adam Pajzs (guitar), Valentin Schuster (drums) and Siegmar Brecher (bass clarinet) is, similarly, nothing like any ‘classic’ jazz forms. They reach into rock as much as jazz. They keep us on the edge of our seats.

We also had two bands from Munich, just a couple of hours up the road. There was the quartet of pianist Luca Zambito, perhaps the closest to a ‘straight’ contemporary jazz quartet over the course of the weekend. LBT though played a sort of acoustic techno, which reflects that they started playing on the Munich club circuit. The energy and interplay of the bass and drums is offset by seemingly more thoughtful piano from Leo Betzl. They had come from a rock festival to play at Outreach. So they managed to get even the generally quiet audience of the festival dancing by the end of the third night. A great way to end the festival.

And allied to an appropriate programming is the choice of an artist in residence. This year, it was Ernst Caramelle, who, although born nearby, has pursued much of his career in New York, especially as he seemed to need to escape the Austrian art scene which, in the immediate post-war years, was incredibly conservative. His art is inspired by jazz musicians, and collaborating with Steve Lacy in particular. It is diverse stylistically and in the use of materials, as it’s more about an attitude than a specific artistic strand. He himself takes a quote from Dave Brubeck: “You have to have discipline to reach freedom.”

Every year, the festival has a theme. This year it was “Icons of Unorthodoxy: Unified by Diversity – Unexpected Kindness”, regarding jazz as a model of empathetic rebellion, where authenticity and collaboration should not be hampered by usual social norms. The weekend was an ample demonstration of how that can truly happen.

LINK: Report on 2022

Categories: Live reviews, Reviews

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