FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: International Jazz Festival Münster 2017 (Germany)

Theater Münster - Photo: International Jazz Festival Münster

International Jazz Festival Münster 2017
(Theater Münster, 6th 8th January 2017. Round-Up Review by Sebastian Scotney)


Münster’s Jazz Festival, held once every two years, is the first European jazz festival of the year. In its early days it used to be annual, it would bring in the crowd-pleasers.  These days Festival Director Fritz Schmücker is blessed with audience that is both supportive and open-minded. With the resources from the city of Münster and a range of partners and sponsors he is able to put together a bold, fascinating and often challenging programme, and yet the festival thrives.

This year, with the outside temperature dropping at one point to minus 8, the festival's comfortable single venue, Theater Münster with its two stages felt warm and very welcoming indeed. The sense that the audience during this Festival is on Schmücker’s side was palpable. Münster is a cultured, university town, and the Saturday in particular had sold out very quickly after going on sale.

Emprical who opened the festival taking their applause
L-R: Nathaniel Facey, Tom Farmer, Shene Forbes, Lewis Wright
Photo credit Ansgar Jolle/ Int Jazz Festival Münster

This crowd really loves applauding. At one point Schmücker was quietly declaring in his introduction what a coup it had been for him to put on the uncompromising avant-garde trio of Slovenian/ Dutch-based pianist Kaja Draksler, Swedish bassist Petter Eldh and German drummer (and subject of a recent TV profile) Christian Lillinger, and the hall just burst into spontaneous applause. In mid-announcement.

There was a mixture of the known and established and the very young and very new. Venerating the greats of the past was a mainly French group Brotherhood Heritage, celebrating the music of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, with one non-French member, Chris Biscoe. They gave the sell-out-Saturday a rousing conclusion.

Another icon from the past was which brought that sense of connection and drew an appreciative response was the Dutch ICP Orchestra (Instant Composers Pool), with its extrovert drummer Han Bennink. Cellist Tristan Honsinger did his theatrical mime act. Joris Roelofs was making his deburt with the band. And there was also a poignant round of applause when Ernst Glerum announced that the orchestra would be going to re-perform the concert at the home in Holland where the orchestra's inspiration and creative lodestone Mischa Mengelberg now lives in the dark fog of his Alzheimer's. That moment given to remember an individual who is alone, lost, trapped served as a reminder of how lucky the rest of us are to gather together, with our senses and minds intact, our ears open for the shared experience.

The sax section of Brotherhood Heritage
L-R: Laurent Dehors, Chris Biscoe, Francois Corneloup


British interest was mainly centred on two acts.  Emprical proved a very suitable opening act, setting both a positive tone and a very high standard. Alexander Hawkins’ new quartet with Elaine Mitchener, bassist Neil Charles and (Ulster) drummer Steve Davis played a contiguous set in which not even the Münster crowd could find any slots to applaud. But, as they do. they showed their strong appreciation when the opportunity came at the end of the set.

Elaine Mitchener (centre) with Alex Hawkins and Neil Charles

The Festival awards a musician with local connections, and this year it was the turn of drummer Eva Klesse, born in the region, and her extremely tight Leipzig-based quartet, which was praised so highly on this site just over two years ago HERE

But to me everything else on offer stands in the shadow of just one concert, a particularly happy and extremely well-received gig by Alison Miller's Tic Tic Boom. The Münster Festival scored the unique distinction of presenting the European premiere of this band in a six-piece format. Schmücker explained at the closing press conference how his careful sleuthing had led him to invite this band. He had been won over by the playing of violinist Jenny Scheinmann as part of a Bill Frisell group at the Saalfelden, Festival. and had started researching her other projects. It was the album Otis is a Polar Bear (very little reviewed, THIS an exception) which made them his must-have for this festival.  .

The album is indeed extremely persuasive. It shows their range, from Klezmer, to Satie-ish vexation, to gloopy nostalgia to full-on serialism. Miller's switch-back compositions are far from simple. And as a live band, spurred on by the leader/ drummer's irrepressible energy, joy and precision they are an irresistible force. There isn't a weak link anywhere, all six are ego-less ensemble players and also soloists of flair, immense resourcefulness and often humour. A moment to treasure was a solo from pianist Myra Melford - probably on the tone-row inspired tune Staten Island when she subjected audience to a fully-loaded fortissimo barrage of Boulez and Barraqué. The Münster audience didn't recoil, or show meek, polite approval. They responded to the jagged aural assault with a massive, unforgettable roar.

Allison Miller
Photo credit and (c)Ansgar Bolle / Int Jazz Fest Muenster


(*) This concert will be transmitted by WDR3 at 8pm German time on 13th Feb. The full list of broadcasts is: 

Friday 10 Feb 8pm

Terrasson/Belmondo/Bekkas
Jacky Terrasson – p, Stéphane Belmondo – tp, Majid Bekkas – guembri, oud, voc
Eva Klesse Quartet
Eva Klesse – dr, Evgeny Ring – sax, Philip Frischkorn – p, Robert Lucaciu – b

Monday 13 Feb 8pm

Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom
Allison Miller – dr, comp, arr, Jenny Scheinman – viol, Kirk Knuffke – cornet, Jeff Lederer – cl, Myra Melford – p, Todd Sickafoose – b
Brotherhood Heritage
Michel Marre, Alain Vankenhove – tp, Jean-Louis Pommier, Simon Girard – tb, Chris Biscoe, Laurent Dehors, François Corneloup – cl, sax, François Raulin – p, arr, Didier Levallet – b, arr, Simon Goubert – dr


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