Moers Festival 2016

Various venues
13 to 16-05-2016

Moers Festival takes place in a small German town near the Dutch border and is rightly considered to be one of Europe’s leading festivals for jazz and broadly defined contemporary music, i.e. electronica, alternative rock and pop, and other related musics.

It is quite deliberately named the Moers Festival rather than Moers Jazz Festival as the programme includes a number of interesting alternative (genre-less?) bands. For instance on the first night we had a solo performance from Sam Amidon, a performer who clearly knows his jazz, but is very definitely in singer songwriter territory. He was there partly because Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson couldn’t be there as a result of illness, but Johannsson’s group, a duo with cello and guitar + percussion+ voice, was there to play their End of Summer piece, a wonderfully atmospheric composition that is essentially a soundtrack to film made in Antarctica and South Georgia. It is a beautiful, slow-burning, ambient piece that integrates the gentle sound of the instruments with the sounds of the sea, the penguins and other animals on the shore.



This plus the rather disappointing “fun” and crowd-pleasing set from the No BS Brass Band led to doubts about the edgy and contemporary nature of the festival, but these were soon put to rest by an excellent set in the club venue by the Swiss trio Schnellertollermeier. For me, this group is one of the most effective groups in Europe at integrating elements of jazz and rock into a whole; their set is constantly inventive moving from slow build ups to very intense full-on passages, and contrasting the slow development of ideas with sudden changes of direction that reminded me of the Wayne Krantz Trio.

The rest of the programme that ran through to Monday evening, as it was the Whitsun holiday weekend, had 21 gigs in the 2,000-capacity main venue, plus morning sessions in the neighbouring School of Music, lunchtime sessions in the Stadtkirche church and midnight sessions in the Rohre club. It is difficult to go into detail on all these concerts, so I will focus on those that really struck me

Angelika Niescier

Angelika Niescier

In many ways the morning sessions are the most fun; musicians playing elsewhere in the programme are put together in small groups for short totally improvised sessions and, as ever with this type of event, some wonderful and surprising events take place. I particularly enjoyed a session with German saxophonist Angelika Niescier with two Cubans, Yasser Morejon Pino and Ruy Adrian Lopez Nussa, the bass player and drummer respectively from the Harold Lopez-Nussa piano trio. The background of the two Cubans brought something very different and special to the improvising of the saxophonist, and all three clearly enjoyed finding ways of interacting with each other. Also impressive in these sessions were two Norwegians, vocalist Nathalie Sandtorv and drummer Ole Mofjell. They played their own set in the Rohre club with strong and seemingly occasionally slightly angry interaction between the two,  and also appeared in different configurations in the Morning Sessions. Ole Mofjell was part of the Birmingham Trondheim Student Exchange a year or so ago, and I believe this duo with Nathalie Sandtorv is coming to Birmingham in the autumn. One to look forward to!

It was great to hear Cassandra Wilson on good form, very much a member (as a guest) of the Harriet Tubman group performing their new Black Sun project, rather than as a leader in her own right. The group features guitarist Brandon Ross, who used to act as Musical Director for Cassandra, as well as Melvin Gibbs on bass guitar and J.T. Lewis on drums.

Equally impressive and stimulating were two different approaches to the integration of Cuban music and jazz. The Harold Lopez-Nussa Trio with the bass player and drummer mentioned above played a really swinging set full of energy, drive and great rhythms,  whereas David Virelles’ Mboko brought out a more contemplative side of Cuban music with inventive, thoughtful piano solos from Virelles and almost spiritual interjections from Roman Diaz on vocals and percussion. It’s interesting that the Lopez-Nussa trio are still based in Cuba, while Virelles has relocated to New York.

Warped Dreamer

Warped Dreamer

Other highlights were Warped Dreamer, a new-ish band with two Norwegians – Arve Henriksen on trumpet, vocals and electronics, Stian Westerhus on guitar – and two Belgians – Jozef Dumoulin on piano and keys, Teun Verbruggen on drums. Stian Westerhus also played a solo set at the Stadtkirche church; I have heard Stian’s solo set on two or three occasions and it was interesting to hear how the set has changed, mostly through the addition of wordless vocals that add to its variety. I was also struck by how the opening sequence on guitar sounded like a church organ in the acoustics of the Stadtkirche.

Finally Amok Amor showed again that they are one of the hardest hitting groups in Europe (they played at mac last autumn) and the Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble impressed with a great mix of contemporary arrangements and big band sound.

The festival strikes me as being a great success; it presents a programme full of interest and surprises that does not rely on big names but nonetheless draws huge crowds. For the whole of Saturday and Sunday the main auditorium was packed with over 2,000 people for bands that might not attract more than 200 people elsewhere.  The festival has developed a reputation that facilitates the engagement of a large audience with unknown bands at the forefront of developments in the music. This led last year to the festival being awarded the Europe Jazz Network prize for the Most Innovative European Festival. So it was surprising to learn on the final day that the Artistic Director Rainer Michalke has offered his resignation in an attempt to bring to an end battles over funding with the local government authority.

  •  You can read more about this HERE 

Categories: Live review

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