Tony Dudley-Evans reports on the huge festival-cum-trade fair that happens in the German city each April.
Jazzahead! is an amazing and overwhelming event. It takes place every year in late April in the attractive German town of Bremen; it combines a huge trade fair for jazz with showcases for mostly European acts plus an element of a festival. It is attended by promoters, agents, media, musicians and in the festival part by quite large audiences.
It is a very useful meeting place for promoters and agents; most of the key European and north American agents and managers attend and one can plan tours and gigs for the future as well as having enjoyable conversations about who is coming up in the various international scenes. There are also quite a number of “give us a gig” people anxious to lay a CD on one. I came back with 41 CDs and was lucky to be checked in on my return journey by a helpful Flybe attendant who was able to ignore the weight of my case.
The British presence has been on the low side in the past and last year there were effectively no British bands in the showcases; this year Led Bib, Laura Jurd’s Dinosaur and Ola Onabule were selected for the European showcases and the British Isles stand was very popular and heavily visited.
I want to focus on two parts of the showcase and festival side, the Swiss showcase and the French club night under the title of the Collision Collective.
Each year one European country is selected as the partner country and has the whole of the Thursday night to present a cross-section of their jazz scene. This year Switzerland was the country, and eight Swiss bands were chosen for the showcase, each playing a short 30-minute set. The Swiss scene is particularly strong at the moment and my impression is that it is one of the most interesting European jazz scenes. It is a very varied scene with centres in the different language areas, German, French and Italian (though most Italian Swiss players tend to focus on the Italian scene) and in the various cities: Bern, Geneva, Zurich, Lucerne. It was suggested to me by Swiss journalists that the strength of the scene comes from a kind of maverick individualism and even a stubbornness; it is also well supported by the Swiss Arts Council.
So there was much to enjoy in the showcase. Cristoph Irniger’s Pilgrim was the band that stood out for me with a nice balance between more mainstream elements and an adventurous build up to a high energy climax. Weird Beard from Zurich played a strong set that drew on various influences and Elina Duni, a singer originally from Albania, but now based in Zurich, drew on her Albanian traditions in a very enjoyable set. I particularly liked the way she interacted with her drummer, Norbert Pfammatter. Another drummer Julian Sartorius played a fun solo set on specially tuned and prepared drums.
The piano trio Plaistow from Geneva take their name from the East London area, and their music is in the groove, minimalist territory reminding me of Go Go Penguin and a little bit of The Necks. Their music builds gradually through repetition and I felt they suffered from the short length of the showcase sets. Luca Sisera ROOFER played a very interesting set that moved between more mainstream jazz with good extended solos and free-er passages, but I was disappointed with pommelHORSE’s set. I had heard and enjoyed their CD, but the live show didn’t capture the same adventurousness and variety.
Elsewhere in the Jazzahead Gala concert I heard and really enjoyed Hildegard Lernt Fliegen, which translates as ‘Hildegard learns to fly’. It’s a sextet built around the amazing vocals of Andreas Schaerer, who can beat-box, rap, move into operatic mode and integrate into the frontline with his imitation of the trumpet. Amazing stuff: catch him with Rom, Schaerer Eberle at Cheltenham this Sunday.
I was a little surprised that two Swiss bands that I have heard elsewhere, Schnellertollermeier, and the band led by Cuban born Yilian Cañizares, whose album Invocacion was reviewed recently on this site, weren’t in the showcase, but I suppose their absence is a sign of the strength of the Swiss scene.
French club night – Collision Collective
The French jazz scene has a large number of excellent new young bands mostly supported by the system of jazz collectives. The Collision Collective night brought together the jazz collectives from Paris (COAX), Lille, Nantes and Lyon. It took place in a great space, a converted warehouse decorated with large panels of interesting photographs. The music was a really exciting eye-opener, full-on and very much “in your face” bringing together elements of rock, “noise” and jazz. It made extensive use of electronics which in each band was accompanied by a loud but inventive drummer. April Fishes from Lyon was for me the most interesting group with Adrian Dennefeld on cello and the ever inventive Sylvain Darrifourcq on drums. I also enjoyed Toc from Lille in which guitarist Ivann Cruz made extensive use of rock and noise, but created an impressive arc-type movement from quieter passages through very loud sections back to a quieter ending. Perhaps the mix of electronics and loud drumming became a little repetitive by the end of the evening, but nonetheless this was a very interesting and revealing session.
Elswehere I heard two very different and very enjoyable piano trios, the first was the German Pablo Held Trio, the second the Bokani Dyer Trio from South Africa.
Tony Dudley-Evans is a board member of the Jazz Promotion Network, jazz adviser to Jazzlines in Birmingham and programme adviser to Cheltenham Jazz Festival.