ROUND-UP (1): Jazz & the City 2018, Salzburg (Andreas Schaerer solo, Ben LaMar Gay and Jasper Hoiby...)

Audience waiting for the opening concert in SZENE Theater
(venue formerly known as Republic)
Photo credit: Wildbild/ Salzburg Altstadt

Jazz & the City 2018
(Various venues in Salzburg, 17-19 October 2016. Report by Sebastian Scotney)

Some unique factors make Jazz & the City a festival like no other. The backdrop is a stunningly beautiful city which happens to be crammed with music venues of many shapes and sizes, plus many other places that can host music. There is also the fact that, for the past three years since the appointment of Tina Heine as artistic director, every single event in the festival is free-admission.

The view strolling between gigs on Friday night
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

If the locals and the tourists hadn’t fully got that message about everything being free back in 2016, the news is definitely out now. There were several gigs where there were many more people trying to get in than could be accommodated. Audiences can also get into the habit of drifting from one gig to another, which works fine in a large space like the Kollegienkirche but can be an irritation in an intimate room like the Weinarchiv in the Arthotel Blauer Gans. I was in Salzburg for part of the festival, heard a bit, missed a lot, and sometimes couldn't get into things – but I did see and hear one concert which held all its audience completely and right to the end, and is definitely on my personal shortlist for gig of the year...

There is an incredible history of Salzburg as a cultural magnet... and how. I went back to Stefan Zweig's memoirs of the inter-war years Die Welt von Gestern to be reminded of the wealth of artistic people who didn't just pass through the town but went to see him at his house. The festival team has worked with that cultural magnet idea in an interesting way. It invites quite a few of artists to make use of several different performance opportunities. So they don't just get to play in their regular formations, but also do try-outs and "blind dates". A sub-editor at the Salzburger Nachrichten, the city’s main newspaper, tried to explain this concept by topping out a round-up review mainly about Makaya McCraven with a headline that still has my mind completely boggled two days later: "Jazz-Serientäter entfesseln Kräfte" (jazz serial offenders unleash forces).

There were Americans, such as McCraven and Donny McCaslin, whom I caught briefly in an absolutely packed Markussaal. Ralph Towner was on the bill too. There were Europeans from all corners of the continent – I heard some very good reports of Marilyn Mazur's gig. There was a substantial emphasis on vocalists.

Jazz & the City is also a festival where the quality and depth of the UK scene is properly valued, understood and integrated in the offering. For example, I heard Jasper Hoiby in his "blind date" duo with the Chicago-based cornet player, singer and producer Ben LaMar Gay which proved a very well-matched duo. Their gig had been fixed up on the day, but from the outset, with Hoiby providing a slow and solid pulse, there was an impressive assuredness about the collaboration. They played mostly acoustically, yet it felt complete. LaMar Gay had such variation in timbre and attack, it reminded me of the Steve Lacy dictum about all the voices he had at his disposal: "sax can moo meow speak squeak growl...". It was not just an effect. His cornet-playing was almost vocal, and conveyed or hinted at different kinds of emotion. Both players knew exactly how to ratchet up the pace and the energy as well, and there was one particularly joyous passage with Hoiby slapping on the 2 of every bar. LaMar Gay expanded the sound and the emotional palette further with both singing and synth-produced sounds.

Ben LaMar Gay and Jasper Hoiby
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Among the other Brits I missed Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll who had a duo evening at one of Salzburg's "destination" restaurants, the Kulinarium in the Peterstift, just round the corner from the Festspielhaus. Julia Biel was in town too. I did catch two of Kit Downes' five gigs at the festival, hearing the end of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra's monumental opening set in which he was guesting on Hammond, and I also witnessed him working with Swedish (Ethiopian-born) singer Sofia Jernberg. They sent some wonderfully atmospheric sounds echoing round the baroque splendour of the 1707 Kollegienkirche.

I also heard some of the set in a very tricky venue from Yellow Bird, which combines the vocalists Lucia Cadotsch and Manon Kahle. Their work on record and on video is appealing and assured, but the setting in Salzburg made them sound rather tentative. I was also disappointed by the Horns Trio led by Thomas de Pourquery.  They had a lovely hall to work in, but their slow-paced set of three intertwining melody lines just didn't hold my attention. In the same hall a couple of hours later, the Pablo Held Trio were far more impressive and interactive, and traversed many more different moods and paces.

Andreas Schaerer acknowledging the applause
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Amid the myriad impressions of the festival, and of the city, and of a Radio Jazz Research Seminar – report to fillow – my definite highlight was a solo set by Andreas Schaerer. The venue was extraordinary. The building in the Kaigasse 33 has been showing films right back to 1905, when "Frieds Original-Elektro- Biograph" opened. After the building had been bomb-damaged in World War 2, a Roman temple was discovered, and the cinema with its lavishly OTT trompe-l'oeil murals (below) now looks like a permanent tribute to the 1953 film of Julius Caesar with Marlon Brando.

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Marlon Brando as Julius Caesar (?) in the Mozartkino

The concert was a delight. Schaerer's opening Swiss folksong was so vivid, one could hear the echo of the upper Rhone valley where Schaerer grew up. There was humour, there was astonishing versatility and dexterity, there were great stories and jokes, there was an acted-out song in a nonsensical through comical nonsense-high-German, through some vocal trumpet and trombone to beat-boxing, all with his phenomenal vocal range and sense of timing and comedy. Austrian Radio were on hand to record this gig; they were holed out in the cinema's tiny projection room and I look forward to hearing the results. It was nearly midnight when it finished, but the time had flown past. Schaerer knew it had gone well, and that the experience had helped him develop his show. He thanked us for having given him the courage to rely far less on effects pedals and tech stuff generally than he has done in the past. "Next time I might leave all that at home."

For a last word about Salzburg, back to Stefan Zweig: "how rich and colorful were these (autumn) days, as art and the blessed landscape mutually enhanced each other".

Sebastian was the guest of Jazz & the City/ Altstadt Marketing. We will have a second report from Ralf Dombrowski.

LINKS:

Interview with Tina Heine following her appointment in 2016

Opening night round-up from 2016

Sebastian’s Round-Up of the 2016 Festival

Alison Bentley’s Round-Up of the 2017 Festival (Part One)

Alison Bentley’s Round-Up of the 2017 Festival (Part Two)

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