INTERVIEW: Julie Sassoon (Two-night Jazzwerkstatt residency at the Vortex, 24 and 25 Nov)

Julie Sassoon at Regensburg in 2016
Photo credit:Thomas Schreyegg
Ahead of the German label Jazzwerkstatt’s two-night residency at the Vortex, we interviewed British improviser JULIE SASSOON, one of the label’s signees. Sassoon is performing with her quartet ‘Fourtune’ on the 24th, whilst German label mates such as guitarist Uwe Kropinski share the bill. Non-German musicians are also mixed in, with American drummer Tom Rainey and Alan Skidmore taking part. 

Sassoon talks here about the characteristics of her music as well as the Berlin jazz scene. Her husband and long-time collaborator Lothar Ohlmeier also explains the origins of Jazzwerkstatt and the label’s creator, Ulli Blobel. Interview by Gail Tasker:

LondonJazz News: What originally inspired your move to Berlin?

Julie Sassoon: The first thing is that I found London to be too expensive for a musician. My partner, Lothar, is German and he wanted to move back to where his parents come from, in an area I couldn’t imagine living in. He was playing at JazzFest Berlin in 2007, and he was sitting in the hotel afterwards. He saw that the property to rent was about ten times cheaper. I thought, if it’s Germany, it has to be Berlin.

LJN: There seems to be a really good jazz scene over there…

JS: Yeah, I mean when I lived there back in ‘93, I wasn’t aware of the scene. But now, I mean there’s so much happening. It’s very open, not so conventional. Lots of improvisers. It’s a different kind of scene to the one in London. When I think of England, it seems more connected to America. The more traditional American kind of standards scene. When I first arrived here and wanted to have a play with someone, you just got together and literally just improvised. When I lived in London, they’d bring notes with them or tunes. Compositions and standards. I’ve got compositions, but I’m much happier free improvising. For me, it’s a much better way to connect with a musician.

LJN: What are the kind of projects you’ve gravitated towards?

JS: It’s changing. The musicians that I have for my quartet are probably different from the ones that I would have chosen ten years ago. For example the drummer, Rudi Fischerlehner, he’s just a very creative drummer. He won’t do a typical solo. He uses sounds and he creates atmospheres that you’ve never heard before. Menrad Kneer on bass also. They’re all incredible improvisers, but not in the traditional sense. When there’s an improvisation, it’s absolutely unclear what’s going to happen. If it leaves time, if it stays an atmosphere, or if it stays silent. You don’t solo over chords as you would in a traditional sense. It’s literally spontaneous music-making in that moment. And that’s what these guys are brilliant at.

Meanwhile, in the last year, I’ve also had a session with a complete master of improvised music. He’s called Willi Kellers. He’s a drummer who’s played with Peter Brötzmann, Keith Tippet and Marilyn Crispell. We played together, and it was just the most incredible music-making. That, for example, would not have happened ten or fifteen years ago. That’s very much to do with the atmosphere of being in Berlin. We’re bringing out an album next year, with no compositions, literally just pure improvisation. Such a deep connection that it blows me away. I also have a duo with a percussionist who comes from a more classical background, and we play my compositions. She’s called Nora Thiele. When I first came to Berlin, I was playing solo. I played solo at a Jazzwerkstatt concert somewhere. They were so moved by the concept that they asked me to play again, and Blobel came to watch. They’ve been big supporters of me ever since.

LJN: Tell us about this Vortex gig.

JS: I brought out an album with this quartet last year. It was premiered at the London Jazz Festival at the Vortex. It was a wonderful festival, it was packed out. The CDs were fresh, the first ones had just arrived at the Vortex. When I came back, I told Ulli Blobel about it, and he said he wanted to bring Jazzwerkstatt musicians to London. Obviously I’m the connection, because I’ve known Oliver Weindling for many, many years. I used to have albums on Babel when I lived in London. So he got in touch with Oliver Weindling, and they decided on it. Oliver I think had a festival with the Swiss Intakt label earlier this year. It’s something similar.

LJN: What’s the story behind Ulli Blobel?

Lothar Ohlmeier: He was born in the GDR, in the east. He was an organizer of concerts, festivals and stuff. All the people immersed in jazz music, once a week they came to somewhere in East Berlin. A place where there was a jam session or a concert. Everybody would bring their calendars to plan rehearsals and gigs. People didn’t have telephones… something we can’t imagine in the 1970s. Blobel also organised big events in the GDR from around 1976 until 84 with thousands of people coming. In 1982 his biggest event, “the Peitz Festival” was not tolerated anymore and was forbidden by the Government. In 1984 Blobel emigrated to the West. In West Germany doing the same thing, he was busy in the music world. And then in ‘89, the wall came down, and the two parts of Germany came together again. Since then, he always makes a big connection from the old musicians he knows in the East, and the people from the West. That is, I think, his driving force.

VORTEX PROGRAMME

24 November

Julie Sassoon Quartet with Lothar Ohlmeier, Meinrad Kleer, Rudi Fischerlehner
Uwe Kropinski solo guitar
Stefan Schultze with Peter Ehwald and Tom Rainey

25 November 

Vesna Pisarovic with Suspicious Minds plays music of Elvis
Ruediger Krause solo guitar
Alan Skidmore Quartet plays the music of Coltrane


Jazzwerkstatt Special at the Vortex, 24-25 November DETAILS AND BOOKINGS

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