Review: Wei/Contet; Kornazov Horizons Quintet ; European Saxophone Ensemble - 3rd night of Jazzdor Strasbourg -Berlin

Berlin Hauptbahnhof
Wei/Contet; Kornazov Horizons Quintet ; European Saxophone Ensemble
(3rd night of Jazzdor Strasbourg - Berlin. 7th June 2013. Review by Sebastian Scotney)


“Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train”. If the city of Berlin could speak, it would surely want to utter these words - the  title of a 1998 film by Patrice Chéreau - because the 2006 multi-level Hauptbahnhof, designed by Buro gmp, is the most spectacular place to arrive in this city - as I did for the first time earlier this week.

As you emerge from the train, you find yourself looking straight out at the Brandenburg Gate, from which President Obama will be making a speech in just eleven days from now. The bustle of the steel-and-glass station serves as a reminder that people are also arriving here every day from any number of places across the vast contiguous European land-mass.

That theme of Berlin as arrival-point from anywhere in Europe ran right through last night's Jazzdor programme. It was particularly true of the last of the evening's three sets, which brought the twelve young saxophonists of the European Saxophone Ensemble, now in its fourth incarnation, and guests. The contribution of Antwerp-born Luc Mishalle and his team at MET-X to this complex project is quite something: they first negociate the labyrinth of European funding each year, then commission new works, audition/ recruit all the players, and organize the logistics of concerts in six countries, all against the clock, because the funding is project-based. This year's core twelve-piece ensemble (a sopranino, two sopranos, an alto, three tenors , two baritones and a bass – quick teaser video HERE) comes from new fewer than ten different countries.

Frenchman Guillaume Orti has taken over the artistic reins this year from Cezariusz Gadzina . His is a diminutive presence but his leadership is highly effective, his beat is crystal-clear, and the young players respond to it very well indeed.

Miriam Dirr (sopranino saxophone) of the European Saxophone Ensemble.
Jazzdor Strasbourg Berlin 2013. Photo credit :Mathieu Schoenahl

There were a range of compositions, including the theatrical pieces Intimate in Public, by Will Menter, and Scopa, by André Vida - photo above. This was a night for collaboration, for ensemble-playing, for playing across rather than out, a context in which it is difficult for individuals to shine. However, in a brief solo in the last piece, Lithuanian bass saxophonist Dovydas Stalmokas stole the honours, for me at least.

Dovydas Stalmokas (bass saxophone - right) -European Saxophone Ensemble.
Jazzdor Strasbourg Berlin 2013. Photo credit : Mathieu Schoenahl

In his profile Stalmokas says: “I play the bass, because I couldn’t get a bigger one !”. His is a presence and a voice on a rare instrument, a name to watch out for. There was also a compelling tenor solo from Federico Pascucci . Others tuned up but never got their chance to stand out: guest ensemble players from the Jazz Institut Berlin included that most impressive of young tenor players in Germany Nils Wrasse (reviewed last year HERE).

Wu Wei (sheng), Pascal Contet (accordion). Jazzdor Strasbourg- Berlin 2013.
Photo credit Mathieu Schoenahl
The two earlier shows were also well contrasted. The first set paired Wu Wei a Berlin-based free improviser on the sheng, the erhu and the Mongolian morin khuur (quite a back -story!) with French accordionist Pascal Contet. The crowd loved thieir sonic explorations, and the 3000-year old sheng is a crowd-stopper.

The centrepiece set, led by Bulgarian, French-based trombonist Gueorgui Kornazov brought his full-toned, joyous playing to the fore, as well as the playing of two top players from France, saxophonist Emile Parisien, and above all wonderfully fluent and engaging top-class guitarist Manu Codija.

As Festival Director Philippe Ochem said in his introductory remarks, it was a night to celebrate the "cosmopolitisme de cette ville".

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