FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Suedtirol Alto Adige 2015, 30th June

Matthias Schriefl. Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2015
(Bolzano. 30th June 2015. Festival Report by Alison Bentley)

This is the second part of Alison's round-up

One of Jazz Festival Director Klaus Widmann’s aims was to bring an international feel to Suedtirol Alto Adige, in the mountains of Northern Italy. People there speak two languages (German and Italian) and every town has two names. Saxophonist Tom Challenger’s Brass Mask added a New Orleans carnival feel, allied with modern jazz.

The sense of anticipation was heightened, as the programme didn’t say where in Bolzano’s centre they’d start playing- you had to listen out for them. Would they be round the next corner? Suddenly, there they were, on a wooden stage, with Theon Cross’ tuba and Nat Cross’ trombone keeping the groove. Dan Nicholls’ Hammond keyboard augmented the sound; later he played percussion. Jon Scott also swapped his drum kit for percussion as they started to march slowly though the street markets in the morning sun.

Brass Mask in Bolzano

They played New Orleans-style tunes, like Just a Closer Walk With Thee and All of Me. Small children and dogs followed, fascinated; shop workers danced in doorways. As they paused in the squares, modern jazz elements came more to the fore. There were Black Indian Mardi Gras tunes (Shallow Water Oh Mama, Indian Red) with scrunchy harmonies, George Crowley’s sax free-ish with hints of Chris Potter. Challenger’s sax called and the rest of the band responded in harmonised riffs, Nick Malcolm and Alex Bonney’s trumpets ricocheting off the high walls of the squares.

The new Jazz Station on Piazza del Grano was the Festival’s workshop centre, reflecting Widmann’s philosophy that jazz should be new and challenging, but not elitist- an intimate space for artists to discuss and demonstrate their art. French singer and performance artist Leila Martial first appeared as a disembodied whisper greeting each newly arrived audience member: ‘Are you here?’ As she emerged from her hiding place, she looped her voice in strange Gollum-like rasps and harmonised swoony long notes. (She later, fascinatingly, talked us though her arsenal of pedals) Her clown persona, complete with makeup and huge buttons, allowed her to experiment with different voices. ‘What do you expect from life?’ she muttered sotto voce, before asking for a volunteer to improvise a (beautiful) duet with her.

Pianist Kit Downes had curated a piano series for the Modern Art Gallery (Museion). Suedtirol (London resident) artist Martino Gamper’s exhibition had retro furnishings and massive glass cases, full of the kinds of artefacts you might have found in a 1970s house. In the middle of the large white room, its glass walls overlooking the huge mountains, was a grand piano- a parody of a living room.

Dan Nicholls, Lauren Kinsella. Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

British pianist Dan Nicholls and Irish singer Lauren Kinsella were in duet. Kinsella explained that they like to ‘work from a small portion of text and see where it leads’, allying jazz and free improvisation to performance poetry and sprechstimme. They used technology (keyboard and pedals) to loop and distort the sounds, a kind of real time musique concrète. Kinsella’s voice was at times pure and folk-edged, with perfect intonation, floating over ostinato piano lines. She could be breathy or harsh, or like an eerie choir. ‘This is a homage to beauty wherever it may find itself,’ she sang over Nicholls’ complex piano, with its echoes of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin. One piece could have been Jarrett playing Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, as Kinsella’s notes and words rose and plummeted. They ended with a gentle Mood Indigo, with elegiac new harmonies.

The stage of the "G7" Great European Jazz Conference had been built over the Parkhotel Laurin’s outdoor pool. It was a truly international gig, with 7 musicians representing 7 countries, conducted by German trumpeter Matthias Schriefl: ‘Real G7 politicians could learn a lot from musicians!’ Each contributed a composition- jazz, rock, folk and free improv jostling together. Icelandic guitarist Sigurdur Rögnvaldsson opened with a gorgeous duet with Irish Lauren Kinsella; her vocal style was cooler in tone than Leila Martial’s impassioned improvisation, with its overtones of French Chanson. The group was bassless but Rögnvaldsson’s octave pedal ably supported Swiss drummer David Meier. Ukrainian singer Tamara Lukasheva’s Solaremi involved her in sweet harmonies with the other singers and a wonderfully inventive improvised duet with Finnish saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, matching each other squeal for squeal. Then it had to happen- Schriefl and Meier finally jumped into the pool below the stage, Schriefl’s euphonium gurgling underwater and the singers responding with suitable watery sounds. Schriefl later pointed out that water carries sound considerably better than air- perhaps next year’s gig will be underwater?

Alison's first report of 29th June

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