ROUND-UP: WDR3 JazzFest in Gütersloh (Germany)

WDR Big Band at the WDR3 Jazz Fest
Photo credit: WDR/Lutz Voigtlaender


WDR3 JazzFest 2017
(Theater Gütersloh, 2nd-4th 2017. Roundup by Sebastian Scotney)

Just stop reading. If you really want to know how John Scofield got on in his two concerts, or what the new European supergroup of Schaerer/ Peirani / Wollny / Parisien is like as a live experience... go straight to the  top quality video from this festival. They're both in the TV Livestream of the Saturday - the whole 12-13 hours of it (!)  is HERE.

We have had other coverage at LJN too: I also posted some great pictures of the Friday from the official photographer HERE, and translated the thoughts of one of the most thoughtful music writers in Germany, Stefan Hentz, about the Saturday HERE (his German original is there too).

The WDR3 JazzFest is one of the main annual rallying-points for the community around jazz in North-Western Germany. It is the moment when common values are asserted, when people present what is good / best about who they are and what they believe in. For non-Germans the number of speeches and bouquets of flowers they get thtrough might seem excessive, but these occasions do achieve their purpose.

This year's main theme from the speakers was that music in general and jazz in particular have a power to connect and to stand against isolationism. At least three speakers - rightly- made that theme their preoccupation.   Also there is a sense that with the recent German investment in performance stages, the music is in a better place than it has been for a long time.

This Festival (in its sixth year) has its origins as a kind of extension / contextualising for the WDR Jazz Prize (in its thirteenth year). Previous winners are brought back given fabulous opportunities. There were two premieres on the first night, one by Florian Weber and the Dogma Chamber Orchestra, which showed him developing a string-writing manner of his own, pulling away from Bartok and Ravel. Lively polyrhythms, interesting compositional and narrative twists, and a performance which had been thoroughly prepared but seemed very fresh.

In the other major premiere Niels Klein had written music of extreme complexity for the NDR Big Band, clearly writing to suit every player in the ensemble (lovely tuba writing), and also the benefits of proper rehearsal time, but with a big role for drummer Jim Black whose mastery of texture and dynamic and the scale of the presence of his sound were immense.

Also on the Thursday was Louis Sclavis in a two-reed combination (plus trio) with Sylvain Rifflet. All credit to Sclavis, but Rifflet is one of those musicians who proves the point that it can sometimes take more sheer musicality to play the second voice than the leading voice. He was ideally cast.

I also attended the Friday which started with Swedish vocalist Viktoria Tolstoy and her Swedish band with guitarist Krister Jonsson. They were at their best when heading off into alt. country territory. The centrepiece of the festival was the Prize Concert. Two things stay in the mind:

There was an additional prize for "Music Cultures" which was given to a band from Dortmund which incorporates a number of mediterranean music tendencies. The leader is a fine guitarist Andreas Heuser. One of those musicians I definitely want to hear again....

For the main event of the second half of the concert, the works of the composition prize winner, it was the communicative power of the soloists rather than the big band scores that caught my ear. And among those soloists, none was more persuasive than Michigan-born trombonist Andy Hunter whose solo on the last piece was a masterpiece of construction.

Andy Hunter of the WDR Big Band at the WDR3 Jazz Fest
Photo credit: WDR/Lutz Voigtlaender

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