(Forth night of Jazzdor Strasbourg- Berlin, 7th June 2012. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
This trip to Berlin is leaving me with some unanswerable questions. On the U2 tube train this morning, I kept glancing at one particular passenger, and the more I looked, the greater my uncertainty became as to what his or her gender might be.... then, later, I found myself sharing an S-Bahn compartment with part of the cloud of rheumatologists which has descended on Berlin this week for an international congress? Might they be the reason why I've suddenly started snuffling?
I guess it must be time to ask an easier question. So, I put it the team organizing this festival, why is Jazzdor called Jazzdor? Because - it turns out - they started promoting in the 1980's, in a Strasbourg venue called L'Ange d'Or. And because "Jazz a L'Ange d'Or" became inevitably telescoped into Jazzdor. The name now covers the range of promotions which the Strasbourg-based organisation does. They do find the name slightly embarrasing, they told me, because it carries the unintentional implication that the stuff which rival promoters might glitter less than gold. "For better or worse, we're stuck with it", they told me.
Tonight was the closing night of their four night festival. A fourth triple bill presented as its centrepiece a proper, joyous festival band led by legendary Paris-based Swiss drummer Daniel Humair , his "New Reunion" Quartet. It featured some happy sparring between two highly inventive and well matched front-line players, Vincent Peirani on accordion, Emile Parisien on soprano and tenor saxophones, with exemplary support from (yet another!) very fine French bassist Jerome Regard. Peirani in particular caught the ear. I don't think I've heard another accordionist capable of dialoguing, blending and games of hide-and-seek at breakneck pace quite like Peirani, and I'm now very tempted to try out the album by him I've just Googled
The first act was a sextet project facilitated by Jazzdor, which combined three students from the Jazz-Institut Berlin (where the course leader is the bassist Greg Cohen, who featured a couple of years ago in a trio led by Julian Siegel) with three students from the Conservatoire in Strasbourg. My ear was caught by two of the French players. Pianist Tom Georgel played a Monk-inspired solo which went to interesting places, while tenor saxophonist Musina Ebobisse (he has a Camerounian dad) played his solos with conviction, imagination, and above all a sense of freedom. This was a high-pressure gig for these students, but those who make their mark are never the ones who "get it right", rather those that are prepared to break loose.
The final band of the night was guitarist Marc Ducret's band "Real Thing #1", a French-Danish quintet. Effectively it is a concerto setting with Ducret as protagonist. He is a powerful and assertive presence, hardened by being a figure in the New York downtown scene. His - in the part of their set I heard - was always the key voice in his band. He dialogues with it /them, he's in permanent motion, goading, provoking. The achievement of the quartet, fine trumpeter Kasper Tranberg, subtle voices from the lower register Matthias Mahler on trombone and Fred Gastard on bass saxophone, plus a drummer previously associated with Django Bates, Peter Bruun, was to stand up and knock back the challenges. The sheer scale of Ducret's playing is such that a big band or a symphony orchestra would not be too powerful a unit for him to pit himself against.
So, in summary, what have the French brought to Berlin? They always bring "un certain je ne sais quoi", (not necessarily in the sense of Yvette Guilbert's Madame Arthur - there's plenty of that in Berlin anyway, as I reminded myself on the U-Bahn this morning). At one point during Daniel Humair's set, they did, quite literally, bring an "Ooh La La". It was sung by a member of the band.
What else then? On a personal note this festival has allowed me to meet fellow writers like the other blogger who has been doing overnight reviews, Philippe Meziat of Jazzman/ Jazz Magazine, and also Bruno Pfeiffer of Liberation one of the liveliest writers about jazz anywhere in Europe.
But this festival has brought a lot more. It has drawn attention to a number of strong individual voices from the French scene. It has put together imaginative collaborations across the Franco-German divide. Above all it has shown what can be learnt from the openness of mind to such collaborations. Who knows, on current recessionary trends, and factoring in the isolationist bias of our politicians, London could (I'm joking) one day be re-named.... Retrograd.