PREVIEW: John Hughes Multiphonics at the 2015 Elbjazz Festival (29 and 30 May)

The former fishing-boat MS Stubnitz during the 2014 Elbjazz Festival
Photo courtesy of Elbjazz

“It can change in any direction. It can change the moment. There is an enormous amount of risk. That's the most appealing thing for me, that it's not safe. There are no guarantees. But at same time the musicians who really are able to do this have spent an enormous amount of time, and study, and self-study, to develop their own voice on their instruments” 

The free-improvising American bassist JOHN HUGHES, who lives in Hamburg, is looking forward to running stages on the Friday and the Saturday of the Elbjazz Festival in Hamburg as part of his Multiphonics series. Sebastian spoke to him:

The Elbjazz Festival in Hamburg in late May is in its sixth year. It is a popular event, not least because it gives the public access to spaces in the harbour to which are not open during the rest of the year, notably the Blohm and Voss shipyard. That opening-up has a symbolic value, to the extent that the citizens of the port city are able, briefly, to reclaim it, one of the reasons why the festival is very popular.

While much of the festival programming is of deliberately crowd-pleasing fare, the festival team have extended a invitation for the second time this year to a free improviser based in the city, the American-born bassist John Hughes.

Hughes moved 16 years ago to Hamburg from Baltimore where he had lived for six years, and where the abundance of music had been life-changing for him. “That was where I became a musician,” he says. Then came a move to Europe: “I was spoiled by Baltimore, and had a very romantic notion of what jazz was in Europe. It wasn't true at all. I realised pretty soon that there wasn't much happening in the Hamburg jazz scene that interested me,” he laughed.

Faced with that situation, Hughes started organising concerts in Hamburg. In the past two years his series attracted the interest of the city's cultural authorities, and the organizers of Elbjazz. “Tina Heine (Director of Elbjazz) already knew about me as a musician and just approached me. She tries to present local musicians who are organizing things on the local scene.”

The two days of residency during the festival are part of the “Multiphonics” series which Hughes runs in Hamburg.

Both of the stages during the festival are on boats. On the Friday the stage is on the MS Bleichen, which is more of a theatre setting, with seats in rows. On the Saturday it's the MS Stubnitz. "I performed there at Elbjazz last year," says Hughes. It is an old fishing boat and the stage is down below in the hull . You can either go down and be at the level of the band, or stand up above where the bar is and look down in to what was probably the space where they would load the ice and the fish."

Hughes is pleased with the commitment Elbjazz have shown “To have an entire stage from 6pm pretty much till midnight is something else. I'm pleased that there is the stage, rather than this flipping the channel type thing where there's one band and then something completely different.”

John Hughes. Photo credit: www.butschinsky.de


And who is performing at Multiphonics at Elbjazz? Hughes gave three examples of people who will be playing during his residency:

- “I was able to invite one person from overseas. I chose Joe Morris, the guitarist. He is first and foremost an incredible musician who has been active in free jazz and improvised music for a very long time. He teaches at New England Conservatory in Boston and has written a book Perpetual Frontier. He has been able to put together some real insights into the music and into the scene without writing a huge volume."

- "First person opening up the first night is a young Danish saxophonist Mette Rasmussen . She played in a previous series that I set up before Multiphonics. I was really blown away. She is one of a kind I have never heard anyone so young play with such conviction and knowledge of what had gone before. I like her sound.”

- “And there's Chris Heenan, he'll be starting off the Saturday at 7pm. I met him in New York many years ago at "Improvised and Otherwise" in Brooklyn. His primary instrument  these days is contrabass clarinet. It's not an instrument you bump into in jazz very much in jazz.... One of the aspects of free music is that people are trying to extend their sonic palette.

LINKS: Full programme for Elbjzz 2015
Elbjazz Festival website
Our round-up of Elbjazz 2013

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