|Lauer Large at Schaffhausen 2014|
Oliver Weindling reports from the 2014 Schaffhausen Jazz Festival in Switzerland:
The Schaffhausen festival is anything but what you would expect from a prosperous town by the Rhine, about an hour from Zurich, whose main attractions are a range of characteristic buildings, a great waterfall, a castle, and the fact that it is near to one of the best fish restaurants in Switzerland. For the past 25 years, under the benevolent eye of guitarist/ director Urs Röllin, the festival has grown to be THE major annual showcase of contemporary Swiss jazz. Urs himself is an exceptional guitarist but for this festival, he sits more in the background, masterminding the event. The music takes pride of place.
Switzerland has a population less than London, so it's too easy to underestimate the music it produces. People might want to write it off as creatively lagging, but it isn't. Think back to the likes of George Gruntz and the still active Franco Ambrosetti from an earlier generation. Furthermore, in recent weeks alone, we have had, at the Vortex, Vein with Greg Osby, and Urs Leimgruber at Mopomoso, while Christian Weber stood out when débuting on bass with Michael Wollny's trio. Irene Schweizer is still one of the great improvisers worldwide and it's worth checking out recent ECM releases by Colin Vallon and Elina Duni.
The musicians performing all feel very much at home relishing the chance to play to a supportive audience. To the extent that their introductions are almost incomprehensible in their Swiss-German dialect even to their colleagues from nearby Germany. Concerts mainly take place in the Kammgarn arts centre, with impeccable sound. Over the 2 days that I was there (out of 4), I heard bands with quite a variety.
Andreas Schaerer, known from the band Hildegard Lernt Fliegen (Hildegard Learns to Fly) as a vocalist of imaginative technique here demonstrated a much more intense and personal project: cleverly using the The ARTE Saxophone Quartet, in existence since 1996 and which has toured with the likes of Tim Berne. Added to this was Wolfgang Zwiauer on electric bass, though his presence was perhaps less essential. Schaerer showed off his vocal range to the full, a section using click technique being especially arresting.
Christy Doran has been a stalwart of the Swiss scene for many years. Here he showcased a new version of his New Bag. Bassless through using keyboards and drums, while Sarah Buechi, who has training at the Karnataka College of Percussion, provides essential addition on vocals. Was it me or did I recognise something of Corin Curchellas? I also detected a strong influence of 60s spirituality? Friday night ended with Rusconi. Stefan Rusconi's trio has been making waves throughout Europe over the past few years, and performed at the Swiss showcase at the London Olympics. As a piano trio, they have the energy of a group such as Phronesis. However, they are increasingly experimenting with other instruments to extend the variety and texture of their set, such as more vocals and all of the band, at various times, picking up a guitar. Intriguing to see how this will develop.
Two of the sets on Saturday had strong elements which encourage us to keep a watchful eye (and ear) out.
Samuel Rohrer is a drummer who has a sense of sound like some of the best, such as Steve Argüelles or Seb Rochford. Based in Berlin, I have always been impressed by his playing, be it in his own group which he co-leads with Daniel Erdmann, as a "sideman" in a quartet led by Julie Sassoon or as the original drummer in Colin Vallon's Trio. Here he performed in a duo with clarinettist Claudio Puntin. Judicious use of electronics helped sweep us through an hour very fast. The absence of bassist Skuli Sverisson was hardly missed.
Finally was Johannes Lauer's big band, Lauer Large. There has been a move over recent years to take German Alpine folk music and integrate it in a non-kitschy manner. Matthias Schriefl (who was also part of this band) has done it, in a group which I heard last year at Inntöne and reviewed for LondonJazz News, Lauer is even more subtle, partly through elements of the line-up such as two guitars, two tubas and congas/cajon as well as drums. It took some time to develop and perhaps at times initially seemed a bit repetitious. But the evocation of the alphorn lament was very potent. It felt very much as if it was a soundtrack that needed visuals to give it a real stand-out element. Also, unfortunately, Lauer's introductions were difficult to catch and he didn't point out who was who in the band. Henning Sieverts had an extended bass feature and Ronny Graupe on guitar had moments to admire.
One plan of ours at the Vortex for the longer term is to have a festival of the innovative Intakt label, now celebrating its 30th birthday. As well as the circle around Ingrid Laubrock in New York and that around Schlippenbach in Berlin, the label has a wide range of great Swiss musicians, starting with Irene and working on from there, such as Omri Ziegele and Lucas Niggli. So at that time, which is perhaps nearly 2 years away, it will be exciting to show off more of Switzerland's best and most interesting.