REVIEW: Opening Concert of the Berlin Jazz Festival / Eva Klesse Quartet

Opening Concert of the 2014 Berlin Jazz Festival
Photo credit: © Matthias Creutziger / Berliner Festspiele

Opening concert / Eva Klesse Quartet
(Haus der Berliner Festspiele, 30th October 2014; review by Nicky Schrire)

The 50th Jazzfest Berlin kicked off last night in front of a full hall of appreciative jazz-goers. Artistic director Bert Noglik, whose third and last festival this is, introduced multi-instrumentalist and contemporary jazz artist Elliott Sharp. Sharp had been commissioned by the 2014 Festival to create a soundtrack for Martin Luther King’s historical 1964 visit to Berlin where King held a speech in honour of the late John F. Kennedy at the Berlin Philharmonie.

The promising opening of bell-like, close interval tones from Sharp on tenor saxophone, Alex Harding on baritone saxophone, Terry L. Greene on trombone and Dave Hofstra on tuba, really captured the musical sound of King’s southern upbringing in Atlanta, Georgia in a striking and evocative manner. Once drummer Don McKenzie and vocalists Tracie Morris and Eric Mingus (son of Charles Mingus) entered the fray with lyrics (some spoken, some sung, some growled) and counter-rhythmic undertows, the music became more of a cacophony of sound. With clear breaks in between movements, a brief bout of projected visuals by R. Luke Dubois, and Sharp moving to electric guitar and effects while Hofstra played minimally on the electric bass, the work came to a close as it had started - with melody and harmony.

Eva Klesse at the BerlinJazz Festival 2014
Photo Credit: Ralf Dombrowski


After this somewhat challenging opening set, it was something of the sublime to hear the sophisticated subtlety of German drummer Eva Klesse and her quartet.
Opening their set with an evocative, slowly brooding ballad Orphelia, the scene was set for an hour or so of transcendent music. Orphelia showcased the group’s attention to balance and nuance with a piano-bass dynamic reminiscent of that between Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen and his many pianists. Later unison bass and piano segments underlined this comparison - a technique effectively executed by Munich pianist Philip Frischkorn - also the composer of this tune, it turned out - and bassist Robert Lucaciu.

A rising star on the German jazz scene, Klesse herself is a quiet yet forceful presence. She began most of the evening’s repertoire using brushes. It was a notable choice because it quickly became a sound, an approach that we, the audience, associated with her. Whether a ballad or a song requiring more energy (like Klesse’s composition Nie Wieder, which was fiery even with the thud of full force brushes) she never used them in a typical manner. Highly percussive and adventurous in seeking out a variety in colours, it was clear she had no intentions of being discreet, but she clearly favours the timbre they create. When she did progress to sticks the transition was seamless and a fluid move, only to aid the song and never as a means to increase volume.

This was the modus operandi of the ensemble and their performance-they never utilised loud, flashiness, to win over listeners. Tasteful and displaying a sophistication beyond their years (they are all in their mid to late twenties), there was a controlled yet exploratory nature to every intention. Often breaking down into collective improvisation, seeking out new sonic ideas and building soundscapes, they never strayed too far or for too long into alien territory. With such elegant melodic content, they would return to the theme and play out the tune with clarity. Alto saxophonist Evgeny Ring was responsible for much of the melodic delivery but he also managed to introduce subtle tension into his solos-creating dissonance that piqued our interest without breaking the spell he’d woven throughout the song itself.

There was a definite overall minor sonority to the music of the quartet but it didn’t create monotony. On the contrary, it highlighted the musicianship of the players and their cohesive vision. The compositions were uncluttered, a sense of purpose to every note and arrangement choice. Everything in its right place. These are serious musicians who clearly adore the jazz medium, particularly improvisation as a vehicle for listening and sonic exploration, and who play without ego. The result is one of simmering beauty.

Eva Klesse / drums
Evgeny Ring / alto saxophone
Philip Frischkorn / piano
Robert Lucaciu / bass

LINKS: Preview of Elliott Sharp's Foliage- Apr 2014

Review of Elliott Sharp's Foliage at the Vortex- April 2014

Round-up of 2013 Berlin Jazz Festival (English)

Round-up of 2013 Berlin Jazz Festival (German)

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