Jazzdor Berlin

Kesselhaus, Berlin, Germany
31-05 to 01-06-16

Jazzdor Berlin is a short annual festival celebrating cooperation between French and German jazz that takes place in the hip Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin in a former brewery. It is the sister festival of Jazzdor, the annual festival that takes place in Strasbourg. Both are programmed by Philippe Ochem who was interviewed by Alison Bentley on the London Jazz News site, see HERE.

This year Jazzdor Berlin was celebrating its 10th Anniversary and a number of European promoters were invited to help with the celebrations. Ollie Weindling, Alison Bentley and I were there to represent the UK.

The festival has two main aims, the first is to present a cross-section of the contemporary French scene, the second is to set up a number of French-German joint projects mixing musicians from both countries in bands presenting new work and ideas. The festival takes place over four days with two or three sets a night.

On the two evenings I was able to attend most of the bands were French and I missed an interesting collaboration between the Ceccaldi Brothers from France and Christian Lillinger and Ronny Graupe from Germany that came on Day Three. I won’t attempt a full review of what I heard, but rather present a few reflections on the French bands I heard. Alison Bentley has posted a very full review of Day One HERE and will be writing about the rest of the festival in due course.

What struck me very strongly was how the French bands were drawing on both contemporary classical music and rock music, often in the same piece.

Bernard Struber (Photo © Mathieu Schoenahl)

Bernard Struber (Photo © Mathieu Schoenahl)

The opening night’s highlight was the performance of Bernard Struber’s La Symphonie Déjouée (which means ‘foiled’ apparently). Bernard Struber is a guitarist and composer based in Strasbourg and the extended work written for a 10-piece band was premiered at the sister festival in Strasbourg last autumn.  It is a hugely ambitious and mostly successful work that moves between quite detailed writing for the ensemble and solo features for its members, all French apart from the Ukrainian singer Svetlana Kochanas.  The writing and the mood of the pieces seem to draw on influences from early classical music, Bach and Haydn as well as the more contemporary Messaien, but there was also a feeling of Frank Zappa’s music.  Pianist Benjamin Moussay and bass player Bruno Chevillon were very impressive in the solo sections.

A similar mix of influences was apparent in Dominique Pifarely’s Quartet that features Pifarely’s impressive soloing on violin. For me, the most exciting set came from Sylvain Rifflet’s Mechanicsa quartet with saxophone (Rifflet himself), guitar (Philippe Gordani)flute (Joce Mienniel) and percussion (Benjamin Flament). Here the influences were from the minimalist composers, Philip Glass and Steve Reich, as well as the maverick Moondog. There was a movement between quite extensive repetitive ensemble passages and the solos, but all presented with a rock energy that gave the music both its excitement and its distinctive character.

Joachim Kühn (Photo © Saschia Rheker)

Joachim Kühn (Photo © Saschia Rheker)

Much more in the current jazz mainstream, i.e. movement in and out of tunes, was the duo between veteran German pianist Joachim Kühn and French saxophonist Emile Parisienplaying just the soprano saxophone. There was very strong interaction between the two players, each pushing the other into interesting different directions. It was also interesting that written material was the basis for this interaction rather than free playing and that there was a strong empathy between the two players even though I believe this was the first time they had played together.

This use of influences from classical and rock music in French and many other European bands creates a blend that is fresh and accessible without losing complexity and distinctive qualities. The drawing on classical music but presented with the improvisation of jazz and the attitude and power of rock seems to be where we are at today and one of the many ways forward for the music.

Tony Dudley-Evans is jazz advisor to Jazzlines in Birmingham and programme advisor to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Categories: Live review

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