REPORT: ACT Label 25th Anniversary Celebration Day and Gala Concert in Berlin

The end of the ACT Family Band Gala Concert
Photo credit: ACT / Gregor Hohenberg

ACT 25th Birthday Celebration and Gala Concert
(Konzerthaus Berlin. 2nd April 2017. Report by Sebastian Scotney)

"You have moved me deeply and made me profoundly happy," said ACT founder Siggi Loch to the assembled musicians at the end of a day in celebration of the label's quarter-centenary. "And", he added, "I have no idea how I am going to be able to sleep during the next ten days".


The audience at the Konzerthaus
Photo credit: ACT / Gregor Hohenberg

The ACT Berlin day at the Konzerthaus was in four parts, culminating in a gala concert by the 'ACT Family Band'. The date marked precisely twenty five years and one day since the label issued its very first CD – by Klaus Doldinger – in 1992. It has, since then, produced more than 500 albums and, as was noted, has thus been present on the scene to document and to influence a quarter of the hundred-year history of jazz itself.


Siggi Loch holding the Heinz Sauer / Michel Wollny
duo album in the opening introduction


1pm: INTRODUCTION

The first event was a lunchtime talk by Siggi Loch, serving as an introduction to the day. The story he told is of a label which grew out of a passion for jazz from once, as a teenager, hearing Sidney Bechet. He told of how, once he had taken the plunge, it was a case of one thing leading to another. He gave several examples of how musicians who had come into the orbit of the label had then recommended others, and so both the story and the strategy of the label have evolved. He spoke with particular affection of a duo album by veteran Heinz Sauer and pianist Michael Wollny, and with strong emotion as he remembered the unforgettably awful moment when he learnt of the tragic death of Esbjörn Svensson in 2008.


Torsten Goods
Photo credit: ACT / Gregor Hohenberg

2pm: THE YOUNG GERMAN JAZZ CONCERT

One of the main strands in what the ACT label does is to provide a platform for jazz in Germany, and in particular for young musicians. An early highlight of the day was a very convincing set from singer/guitarist Torsten Goods. He cites George Benson but, hearing Goods' confident voice and his utterly convincing yet apparently laid back way of shaping a song, a musician who kept coming to mind as I listened was Van Morrison. Goods (born Gutknecht – his stage name was apparently the idea of Les Paul) has not just a strong voice but also a wide repertoire. He described the past year as a year of fate, during which he has suffered from illness – but he seemed in superb, confident form.

The act with the tough task of opening the proceedings was the Wasserfuhr brothers whose recent album with Donny McCaslin and Tim Lefebvre has been well received. They were followed by an intense short set from Natalia Mateo.

Three Fall with Melane (centre)
Photo credit: ACT / Gregor Hohenberg

The trio Three Fall of bass clarinet, trombone and drums work with the German-Congolese singer Melane and produce a surprisingly complete and satisfying band sound. Their lively set was extremely popular with the audience, and much talked-about in the corridors afterwards...

Siggi Loch presenting a bouquet to Youn Sun Nah

4.30pm: Double bill – Youn Sun Nah / Ulf Wakenius and Tears for Esbjörn

The now long-standing duo of Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius started off the proceedings in the main hall. The Korean singer showed the contrast between her most fragile – singing an introverted These Are My Favourite Things with her own playing of the thumb piano to accompany her – and her most forceful – in an extended Momento Magico. All of the artists thanked the label and its founder but Youn Sun Nah went one better and thanked all seven employees of the company individually and by name.




Two sons of Esbjörn Svensson taking a curtain-call
Noah (drums) and Ruben (guitar)

The afternoon concert segued into a tribute to Esbjörn Svensson, with Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala as master of ceremonies and musical lynch-pin. It brought guests such as Polish violinist Adam Baldych – "I couldn't not be here – even with my broken leg" – and a large number of Swedes. At one point there was a not just a Landgren (Nils) on stage but also a Lindgren (saxophonist Magnus) and a Lundgren (pianist Jan). Swedish singer Viktoria Tolstoy was also there; her association with ACT is that she was singing with Svensson's trio at the time the pianist was starting his highly fruitful relationship with the ACT label.

This Swedish bias is understandable, given the fact that the ACT label is the most successful exporter of Swedish jazz. The whole set was underpinned by the masterly bass playing of Lars Danielsson. The climax of the set was 'Dodge the Dodo,' for which Esbjörn Svensson's sons – guitarist Ruben guitarist and drummer Noah – took to the stage.

The exterior of the theatre with the ACT posters between the concerts

8pm: GALA CONCERT BY THE ACT FAMILY BAND


The main event was a gala concert, MC'd by Nils Landgren and with a programme chosen by him and Michael Wollny. There were any number of entrances and exits, but most of these musicians left their mark. Is there a combination where the participants have as much fun as a duo of bassists? Dieter Ilg and Lars Danielsson struck the right balance of entertainment and pathos. For sheer manic energy, there was nothing to match the duo of Joachim Kuhn and Emile Parisien in full flow.

Nils Landgren was an urbane and witty MC. He had a selfie moment with full house lights up – presumably that was planned. And when the moment came for Out of Land to enter, Landgren showed quite how well he knows to work a German crowd: he asked the audience to give them "the kind of warm welcome that only Berliners can deliver". So as a point of pride, and to prove the point, they duly obliged.

Another high energy highlight was drummer Wolfgang Haffner's duet on Sing Sing Sing with Michael Wollny. The coup de grace was We Are Family, in a sing-off led by Ida Sand, bringing a happy, upbeat, musically satisfying day celebrating the label-as-family to a rousing close.


Loudly welcomed and much appreciated: Out of Land. L-R Michael Wollny,
Emile Parisien, Andreas Schaerer, Vincent Peirani


FULL LINE- UPS

Young German Jazz

JULIAN WASSERFUHR- trumpet
ROMAN WASSERFUHR - piano
MARKUS SCHIEFERDECKER - bass
OLIVER REHMANN - drums
TORSTEN GOODS - guitar /vocalist
NATALIA MATEO - vocalist
THREE FALL & MELANE
LUTZ STREUN - saxophone/ bass clarinet
TILL SCHNEIDER - trombone
SEBASTIAN WINNE - drums
MELANE - vocalist

Double bill - Youn Sun Nah / Ulf Wakenius and Tears for Esbjörn

YOUN SUN NAH - vocalist
ULF WAKENIUS - guitar

IIRO RANTALA - piano
JAN LUNDGREN - piano
VIKTORIA TOLSTOY - vocalist
ADAM BAŁDYCH - violin
MAGNUS LINDGREN - tenor sax and flute
LARS DANIELSSON - bass
MORTEN LUND - drums
and surprise guests

GALA CONCERT BY THE ACT FAMILY BAND

NILS LANDGREN - trombone / vocalist
MICHAEL WOLLNY - piano
JOACHIM KÜHN - piano
IIRO RANTALA - piano
CÆCILIE NORBY - vocalist
IDA SAND - vocalist
ULF WAKENIUS - guitar
ANDREAS SCHAERER - vocalist
NGUYÊN LÊ - guitar
EMILE PARISIEN - saxophone
VINCENT PEIRANI - accordion
ADAM BAŁDYCH - violin
CHRISTOF LAUER - saxophone
DIETER ILG - bass
LARS DANIELSSON - bass
WOLFGANG HAFFNER - drums
ERIC SCHAEFER - drums

Sebastian does freelance translating and writing for ACT.

The ACT25 celebrations will be featured by BBC Radio 3's Jazz Now - TX date yet to be announced

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