Oliver Weindling (Vortex/ Babel) reports from Gütersloh, where broadcasters WDR3 and Oesterreich 1 have just broadcast their 50th Jazz Night.
With a population of 96,000 in the middle of Germany, may not immediately sound like a place to hear good jazz, but that's just as true of many smaller towns. The answer though is "Why not?" No-one questions towns/villages like Cork or Marciac. But Gütersloh is actually the home of one of the leading companies involved with music, Bertelsmann (as well as Miele and a British army base), and there is a 3-year old theatre crying out for good music, which WDR3 use regularly.
And this is what they got last weekend. Although technically it was a dry run for the WDR3 Jazz Fest for 2014, musically it was anything but! This evening was also programmed to be a celebration of the 50th collaboration of all-nighters between WDR3, the region's broadcaster, and Austrian radio (ORF). So there was a focus on musicians from both areas. Musicians united by a common language - jazz. First up was GLOW, an extended version of the Pablo Held Trio with Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel and saxophonist Johannes Enders. It took time for the extra musicians to blend completely with this trio, which is itself playing nearly 100 concerts a year. They opened with a reworking of a haunting melody by Manuel de Falla and continued with material by pianist Pablo Held. The trio was able to move between a musical empathetic group in its own right to being a springboard for the imaginative interplay with Muthspiel and Enders.
Next was a quartet of Azar Lawrence to which was added two Austrian guests Clemens Salesny and Klemens Pliem. The show was a tribute to John Coltrane with perhaps too much reverence to the original quartet rather than reinterpretations. Fortunately the Austrians pushed the the rhythm section hard, where for me, Benito Gonzalez picked up a string Latin inflection. They seemed be so steeped in the originals that, enjoyable though it was to hear, one never seemed quite to get some of the Americans' personalities to assert themselves or get fully transported spiritually.
Finally the WDR Big Band premiered a suite of six new compositions of Bob Mintzer, Dedication, reflecting particularly his new home in L.A. The sinuous melodies sounded like transcriptions of saxophone solos, then merged contrapuntally with the other band sections. With the WDR Big Band performing with bezazz and perfect tightness, it was a great way to end a long evening - 5 hours - but which had passed relatively fast. Mintzer held back on playing until the end.
- Pablo Held will be back in the U.K. in November/ December, in part reflecting an ongoing friendship with Kit Downes.
- Wolfgang Muthspiel will be in the studio in May, recording for ECM with Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade.
- The drummer for the Pablo Held Trio, Jonas Burgwinkel, has a new quartet including Julian Argüelles, and will also be recording soon. A magnificent drummer, he will be playing a solo set at the 2014 festival.
- Next year's WDR3 Jazz Festival in Gütersloh will be from 31 January to 3 February 2014.