REPORT Enjoy Jazz Festival (Heidelberg, Mannheim, Ludwigshafen, Germany)

Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matt Garrison at Enjoy Jazzz
Photo credit Henning Bolte


Enjoy Jazz 2016 – International Festival for Jazz and More
(Heidelberg/Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, October 20 – 25. Report, photos and DrawNote (*) by Henning Bolte)


Setting the Context

Unlike the fast-forward conveyor belt  of musical acts whizzing past in a short period of time, which is usual for a lot of jazz festivals, ENJOY JAZZ is spread over a longer period: six weeks in October and November. Moreover it is a regional festival spread over five cities in two federal states (Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland Palatinate) and 24 venues.

The main bases are the attractive university city of Heidelberg on the river Neckar and the twin cities Mannheim, on the right bank of the Rhine and Ludwigshafen (left bank), a main part of the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Area with its population of some 2.4 million people.

Its most important industrial company is the chemical production of BASF (Badische Anilin & Sodafabrik) in Ludwigshafen, the world’s largest chemical producer employing more than 122,000 people, with over 52,800 in Germany alone. The cultural program of BASF engages with the festival in various ways (providing venues for example), as it has done for several years. However, the main sponsor of the festival is software provider SAS (Statistical Analysis System) based in Heidelberg .

Through its presence over several weeks, and these links, the festival manages to be neither a flash-in-the-pan nor an outlier. It builds on a higher degree of cultural participation fostering it by the way it is organized and arranged. It attracts audiences to single, one-off musical events, which sell well ( even when there are competing shows on the same night). It is a multi-disciplinary, multi-stylistic and multi-genre affair in a multifaceted context varying from industrial and business zones, high tech knowledge in combination with a rich and old academic tradition, with for its backdrop scenery and a river and mountain landscape which can evoke the German romantics. A good example of the building programmes to lure in the substantial academic and scientific communities in the area is the series Tunnel-Effekt referring to a phenomenon in quantum mechanics.

And part of it all is a rich jazz legacy in this region: the regional public radio (SWR, formerly SWF), was and still is famous for its jazz programmation - ruled and shaped by renowned jazz pioneer Joachim Ernst Berendt for 40 years who also contributed to the rich recording catalogue of the world famous MPS label. Thanks to the strong post war presence of American troops one of German’s internationally most renowned jazz musicians, pianist/vibraphonist Karl Berger (1935, Heidelberg), founder of the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock together with Ornette Coleman, got his on stage education in clubs of this area and the neighbouring Frankfurt.

Five concerts as a cross-section

Considering the length of the festival a slice out of it has to be chosen to visit, attend and to report on. Five concerts chosen are:

-The Jack DeJohnette Trio
-The Timeless Trio of Gérard Pansanel
-Matana Roberts
-John Potter’s Amadores Pasados
-Julia Hülsmann.

(Two shows unfortunately had to be cancelled in that period, the solo-recital of Swiss pianist Colin Vallon and Peter Schwalm’s “The Beauty of Disaster” featuring Eivind Aarset and Sophie Clement.)

Jack DeJohnette

Jack DeJohnette’s drumming is like a force of nature, akin to a strong tropical rain shower. The continuity of his career over the last 50 years is extraordinary and he is still involved in a series of vital groups. The group he is touring with at the moment has a strong connection to John Coltrane who was born 90 years ago – a reason for a concluding this year’s festival with a Coltrane tribute by Archie Shepp featuring Reggie Workman, Jason Moran, Nasheet Waits and Amir ElSaffar.

The trio with Matt Garrison (1970), the son of Coltrane’s bassist Jimmy Garrison, and with Coltrane’s son Ravi Coltrane(1965) both on the same instruments as their fathers, carries along some portion of the Coltrane legacy and is a strong family affair due to their personal relationships. Coltrane and Garrison are musicians in their own right, with their own path and voice, clearly differing from their fathers’. Also in this group Garrison is exclusively playing electric bass guitar, which steers the music in a special direction giving it a stronger electric character. Correspondingly high were the expectations and dasHAUS in Ludwigshafen sold out and packed mainly with older jazz aficionados who came to enjoy from the great master’s connection to the great master via this binding element.

It was a respectful reminiscence to a wider range of historical styles, melted into this trio’s characteristics and possibilities. Unfortunately this was not supported by the sound balance of the hall, which was frequently too loud for listeners to get much of their nuance and interlocking energy. Coltrane who frequently used the soprano/sopranino besides the tenor sax played in service of the varied music whereas Garrett had a strong tendency to virtuoso ostentatiousness. Nonetheless their music with the coltranesque The Wise One as a central piece fulfilled the expectation of the audience. The threesome made the circle round with Charlie Parker’s Segment as encore. Master Jack beat the pouring rain outside again, Coltrane played impeccably and Garrison’s electric bass went down many byways, which was not really beneficial to Parker’s piece.

Gérard Pansanel Timeless

One of the twinned cities of Heidelberg – since 1961 - is Montpellier, a university city of 560.000 inhabitants in southern France situated on the edge of the Rhône delta area known as Camargue. The partnership is among others materialized in the Montpellier Haus also running a cultural program. It is one example of the festival’s efforts to involve local/regional actors in the program design. As a result this year the Timeless Trio of Gérard Pansanel (1952) from Montpellier was invited for a festival appearance at the Karlstorbahnhof venue in Heidelberg.

Guitarist Gerard Pansanel (1952), a musician with international multi-genre experience, played full house with his two young fellow musicians Rémi Ploton (organ/electronics) and drummer Joël Allouche. The trio started their set super quietly, with some remarkable soft drumming and a very personal style of merging organ sounds and electronic treatments. It delivered a unique carefully shaped soft electro-acoustic sound somewhere in between traditional acoustic and electronic ambient. It was especially surprising when Pansanel fully joined in with a Scofield type of electric guitar articulation, which first felt a bit odd but very quickly worked surprisingly well with wonderful turns, expansions and layering. Gradually they expanded and worked towards a climax in a beautiful arc increasing intensity of volume, speed and other crucial elements although they remained quite a time on a low level of expanding and ascending, sometimes too cautious or too long-winded. Just before it was too late they started to play in a less controlled more unbuttoned way, ending up with a longer cheerful (calypso) loop and a happy encore.

Matana Roberts
Photo credit Henning Bolte 


Matana Roberts Coin Coin chapt. III

The appearance of Matana Roberts at the festival had been long awaited and longed for – with good reason, it turned out. Roberts, calling her work panoramic sound quilts is known for dissolving fossilized imaging, stereotypes, automated patterns of perception and categorization in a highly captivating, freeing and slightly mysterious, crossfading flow of sound and vision. This multidimensional flow with irregular spread of bright repetitious chants invites and offers freedom (and safety) to gently surrender to a multidimensional real new experience. In real at Mannheim’s venue Alte Feuerwache it was traveling, traveling on an energetic circular flow, in a swishing and crackling ether, through a fetching colourful space of sound, traveling in a regenerating stream of forgone times regained, a stream leavened by sorrow and joy, fused and con-fusing, filled with humming and invigorating vital voice, voice, voice. Of all appearances I attended it had the deepest impact, caused the longest lasting strong flashbacks.

John Potter and Amadores Pasados
Photo credit Henning Bolte


John Potter (Amadores Pasados)

The Heiliggeist church in the centre of the old city of Heidelberg was the location where British tenor John Potter, former member of renowned, now disbanded Hilliard Ensemble, Anna Maria Friman (vocal, fiddle (Trio Mediaeval), Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman (lute) performed “Amadores Pasados”, a growing collection of new Early Music the first edition of it was released in 2015 on an album of the same name on ECM.

The two-lute line-up was an utterly exceptional as well as delicious affair, especially because all started with the delightful tripartite title piece Amadores Pasados by John Paul Jones (the one-time musical brain of Led Zeppelin): Al son des los arroyuelosNo dormiaSo ell encina. Its clarity and the entwining of the two lutes, it was something … .“Al son des los arroyuelos”: the sound of running water of a mountain creek with afar echoes of the archetypical “Bella Ciao”; "No sleep", a beautiful Kapsberger like piece and Zor enzima, a piece with a buoyant waltz feel. It opened lots of magic and beautiful associations. There was so much more in the diversity of the program (Peter Warlock, Tony Banks (former Genesis keyboarder), Peter Pope, Arvo Pärt, Sting, Gavin Bryars). The doubling of voice and lute rendered a bright as well as delicate sound in the church space. And, it sounded like both, old and new, in a fascinating balance and captivating transonant qualities – the realness of sonic fiction. It became a highly focused and delightful affair with lots of inner and outer smiles.

The ensemble is working on new pieces a.o. another piece by John Paul Jones, Blake Lullaby. In the concert short and longer pieces, simple and more complex pieces alternated. The whole thing would be even more of a winner if pieces were more interwoven by improvised transitions/a recurrent motif. It would cut off ritualistic applauding, generate longer stretches of attentive listening and decrease the onset of the feeling of too much of the same.

SWR Jazz Award: Julia Hülsmann

Pianist Julia Hülsmann won the annual SWR Jazzpreis, a prestigious award of venerable tradition dating back to 1981 when renowned jazz instigator Joachim E. Behrendt (1922-2000) was head of the jazz department of Südwestfunk radio in Baden-Baden (1947-1987) in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg. SWR (Südwestrundfunk), a regional public radio station of the two federal states Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland Palatinate, presently supplies 10 jazz programs every week.

The prize is jointly awarded by SWR radio and the (neighbouring) federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Hülsmann is the fifth female awardee in 35 years (earlier there were Ingrid Laubrock (2009), Aki Takase (2002), Sybille Pomorin (1988), Gabriele Hasler (1984)). The awardee is chosen by a jury under the chairmanship of the head of the radio’s jazz department, now Günther Huesmann, who since 1989 also has been the author of the continuation and complete revision of Berendt’s famous standard work "The Jazz Book" dating originally from 1952. The other nominees were saxophonists Angelika Niescier and Silke Eberhard as well as drummer Christian Lillinger. The award ceremony with Rhineland–Palatinatian minister of culture, Konrad Wolf, and the concert of the awardee took place as usual as part of ENJOY JAZZ Festival in DasHaus venue in Ludwigshafen.


Drawnote of Julia Huelsmann by Henning Bolte


Hülsmann is an in-demand musician and composer with numerous commissions for prestigious festivals link interview. Internationally, Hülsmann has made a mark with her albums on the ECM label with her trio augmented by British trumpet ace Tom Arthurs and for the recent Kurt Weill album Clear Midnight (2015) also by German-American vocalist extraordinaire Theo Bleckmann . Clear Midnight.

The strong affinity of Hülsmann’s work with singers (a.o. Rebekka Bakken and Roger Cicero) and with poetry and literary work was accounted for in the concert. It started with a duo of Hülsmann and Norwegian singer Torun Eriksen and continued with Hülsmann’s longstanding trio of of bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling with a program ranging from musical renditions of Shakespeare sonnets to interpretations of pieces by Randy Newman and Canadian singer-songwriter Feist.

Hülsmann’s music combines the constructivist with the ethereal. With intriguing harmonic figures, and a sometimes muffled piano timbre, her pianism has the effect lightly dancing above the firm ground of Muellbauer’s bass and Köbberling’s tidal drum work. Her music is rather sparing and essential than abundant. It shows a kind of understated clarity and a certain homely quality.

I would have expected a lean and soft-toned vocalist to fit into this context, whereas Torun Eriksen proved to be quite the opposite: a straight voice with a clear emphasizing (or now and then overemphasizing) sturdiness. This was a discrepancy which I felt remained throghout. I was in a minority : it delighted virtually all of the audience.

The purely instrumental second part of the concert was of a different order. All virtues of Hülsmann’s art and her trio’s playing came to fruition in the performance rendering originals as Der Mond (Hülsmann), The Last One Out (Muellbauer) and interpretations of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, Kauf dir einen bunten Luftballon (Profes/von Pinelli) and Randy Newman (“The Same Girl”) with Feist’s (“The Water”) possibly as the most fitting and enriching one in the trio’s musical universe.

Conclusion

Among the seven program elements there are four that fit the jazz mould (DeJohnette, Pansanel, Vallon, Hülsmann) and three of the category miscellaneous (Schwalm, Roberts, Potter). The performance of Potter’s group was a highly sophisticated, freeing and entertaining (in the best sense) play with musical possibilities of different genres and different epochs. The other two are integrated audio-visual works of no canonical form or format but only Schwalm’s work, characterized as ‘dark ambient drift’, was part of the tunnel effect series. That might be attributed to the fact that in Schwalm’s work recognizable known elements are recast whereas elements in Roberts' work are used in a cut-up way and its unity come into being at a high degree as a joint projection of performer and listener-watcher. Roberts' work indeed revealed as the most advanced and at the same time most beguiling of the five attended performances. It was also the most autonomous and sociocultural and political work. Considering these characteristics and the all over experience the “enjoy”-maxim turned into a sensible reality.

The sun setting over the Neckar at Heidelberg
Photo by Henning Bolte


(*)DrawNotes are non-edited drawn notes made spontaneously in real time during the performance

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