ELBJazz Festival 2013: Hamburg, Germany, May 24-25, 2013
May 24-25, 2013
Attending a multitude of festivals each year, there's always the challenge of finding the hookthe thing that makes a festival different from any other. When it comes to Hamburg's ELBJazz Festival, now only in its fourth year, it's easy. A harbor town on the Elbe River, located just 70 miles from the North Sea and with over 10 million containers passing through its port each year, the idea of holding a festival that doesn't just take advantage of its proximity to a harbor front but, instead, utilizes that harbor front by putting performance venues outside in the shipyards where ships are being builtas well as in a fish market that is used as an auction point for incoming catches from the North Seais the kind of unique concept that has made it a go-to destination for jazz fans, and attracted upwards of 15,000 people across its two-day run.
The brainchild of Tina Heine, ELBJazz couldn't be a success on the strength of location alone, but with a program that truly provided something for everyonefrom left-of-center acts like guitarist Mary Halvorson, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach to more accessible acts like singer/pianist Jamie Cullum, saxophonist Joshua Redman and Caravan Palace ELBJazz has, in just four short years, made a name for itself on the international jazz festivals scene.
Arriving to an unusually cold and rainy Hamburg two days before the festival, there was also an opportunity to attend the 2013 Echo Jazz Awards: a televised, glitzy award ceremony that, under the ECHO umbrella, which also has annual shows for pop and classical music (ECHO Jazz being in its fourth year this year, just like ELBJazz), it was certainly done in style. There was a red carpet where the jazz stars arrived for photographs and a couple of intrepid fans who had pictures of literally every artist arriving in an alphabetized file folder, running up to them as they went to enter the building to get them signed. It's hard to know how much a signed photo of Joshua Redman will command on the market, but watch out for it on eBay; who knows?
Performances by Cullum, Redman, German group [em] and others made it barely tolerable for the press, which was not given seating in the hall, but rather a tent outside the Fischauktionshalle, where a small (no more than 32") widescreen television and speakers allowed journalists to watch the event in the comfort of 8 degrees Celsius (and dropping) temperatures, as well as the chance to take a photo of the award winners, who came to the tent after receiving their awards. Well, at least it was dry, as outside the rain was coming down, which it did for all but one of this five-day stay. Journalists were invited inside to the after-party, where it was possible to meet German winners like pianist Florian Weber, pianist Michael Wollny (of [em]) and guitarist Giovanni Weiss, as well as Americans including saxophonist Kenny Garrett and Benin-born/US-based guitarist Lionel Loueke.
With ACT winning the Label of the Year award, there was a noticeable absence of artists from Germany's ECM Records on the list; while the award-winners for Echo Jazz 2013 were certainly deservingone, in particular, being violinist Adam Baldychit seemed odd that the 44 year-old label was completely unrepresented. And perhaps that was one of the signs that the award show was, while advertised as completely open where artists can submit their work for consideration by a juryit certainly appeared heavily weighted in certain areas, with others almost totally absent. And if it was difficult to follow the programwhich was (understandably) almost entirely in Germanit was still, somehow, a ceremony that may well be a great thing in its recognition of jazz as an art form as deserving of this kind of attention as any other, but could stand to be a little less posh and a little more raw and edgy.
Throughout the three days of the ELBJazz Festival, it was a wonderful treat to be taken around the city, courtesy of the city, to not just see the typical tourist sites, but to get a real feel for everything from urban living in the heart of Hamburg and the history of its port industry to a look at one of its most impressive, opulent churches, the huge lake in the middle of the citycreated centuries ago by damming the Elbe River and now a lovely, body of water, surrounded by lush greenery and flowers, perfect for jogging, walking your dog, or just looking around and appreciating some of the city's most impressive (and expensive) mansions, many of them former consulates but now private homes. All the more impressive is the fact that this lake is so large that the entire country of Monaco could fit into it.
Hamburg, a Harbor City in Transition
ELBJazz: An Introduction
ELBJazz Day 1: Joshua Redman/Jason Lindner/Jakob Bro
ELBJazz Day 2: Trilok Gurtu/Nils Petter Molvær/Jan Bang Punkt Live Remix
Hamburg, a Harbor City in Transition
One of the first noticeable points about Hamburg is its skyline: there is none. The city has strict rules prohibiting the building of anything that would obscure the many church steeples that are peppered throughout the city and, with the exception of a Radisson Hotel that really sticks out like a sore thumb; there isn't a single skyscraper to be found. Hamburg is also, by European standards, a relatively young city, having been largely destroyed by a fire in May, 1842. From the perspective of its architecture Hamburg is not much older than North American cities like Ottawa, Canada, and even Allied bombings in World War II, while damaging some of the city, ultimately missed much of it, thanks to a massive thunderstorm that kept the bombers from flying over certain areas of townincluding the massive and impressive Town Hall, which is, curiously, home to both a municipal and state governmentcurious, because Hamburg, like Berlin and Bremen, is a state as well as city.
For North Americans, German cities also reflect something that rarely happens back home; in the downtown core, where real estate must surely be at a premium, there are huge squares like the one abutted by the Town Hall; spaces so large that no self-respecting North American city could avoid filling up that space with more buildings.
Hamburg, for a city of 1.8 million, largely avoids feeling cramped. In areas like HafenCitya new development for the ultra-rich that includes some impressive and unique buildings like the Marco Polo towera condo apartment building where apartments go for somewhere in the vicinity of 14-16,000 Euros per square meterand the still-in-progress Elbphilharmonie, a building that, by tying an old warehouse on the bottom with a brand new glass structure on the top that will house two theatersone, seating about 2,100, the other, 900luxury apartments and a Sheraton hotel, has already run up a tab of one billion Euros, and it's sure to have overages, given it's only partly completed, with its opening date set for 2017.
Still, taken into the building, after donning construction boots and hardhatand signing a waiver that absolves the site of any responsibility, should anything go amissit was hard not to be impressed at the design of this important new addition to the Hamburg arts community. A six-story escalator (not finished) that actually curves so that the top cannot be seen from the bottom and vice versa, is just one of the extraordinary design features; the glass on the outside with its various curves and design to prevent greenhouse warming is another; a floor that will allow people to walk completely around the building (inside or out) and provide perhaps the best view of the entire city of Hamburg outside of the Hamburg Eye Ferris Wheel, yet another.
What's most impressive is the main concert hall; utilizing a design that places the main floor audience and three levels of balcony completely around the stage, the entire hall is acoustically isolated from the rest of the building by a sophisticated series of large metal springs; word has it that when the Queen Mary ship blows its horn in the port below, it will not be heard in the hall, nor will music in the hall disturb those in the hotel or apartments. And with acoustics designed by renowned sound expert Yasuhisa Toyota, with a sound reflector on the ceiling of the hall, every seat may not be the same with respect to its view of the orchestra, but every seat will experience the same quality sound. An impressive concept, as are the numerous large, cantilevered staircases throughout the building, and the rather innovative idea of making a building under construction a tourist site, four years before its official opening.
Nearby, a visit to a project called Re-Rite, situated in what will be the parking lot for the ELBphilharmonie, allows visitors the chance to feel what it's like to be in the middle of a large orchestra. Beyond surround sound, a number of screens with various orchestra sections that have chairs and a copy of the musical score provided the televised performance displaying a number to identify where in the score the music is at any point in timegive some, like a young woman who was clearly a music student, the chance to actually follow along.
And what better piece to choose to give the visitors a real idea of the breadth and mass of a full symphony orchestra than Stravinsky's popular ballet, The Rite of Spring, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year after it was first performed in Paris on May 29, 1913. Captured by 29 cameras situated throughout the orchestra to provide real perspectives of what it's like not to watch an orchestra but to be in the orchestra, the sound was crystal clear, powerful and totally enveloping. There was a room where, with instructions from an onscreen percussionist, visitors could play along with the score on a large drum, a tambourine and a gong, and another room with iPads set up with headphones, providing the opportunity to learn something about each instrument and hear samples to both understand what it sounds like and how it fits with the overall combination of instruments that make up a symphony orchestra.
If all this affluence reflects a city that is very affluent, the Schanzen and Karolinen districts of Hamburga city that is, in fact (or, at least, in part) an island in the Elbe River (the largest of its kind in all of Europe)it provided an opportunity to experience a more urban kind of living at a more affordable (but still, by North American terms, very expensive) level.
These areas may not be glamorous, but they were funky and appealing, with a store including the famous Herr von Eden shopa prestigious clothing designer whose prices may have seemed a little steep (around 600 Euros for a suit), but whose designs were so distinctive and hip that musicians and others in the arts often shop there, and nowhere else. Initially designed for slim fits, the 20 year-old store has now begun facing the reality of the expanding girth of some of its longstanding clients, and there are now designs for those less svelte.
It wasn't all high end. There was a shop where some of the best in track suits, sweats, running shoes and other more casual fare could be had for very reasonable pricescertainly cheaper than those found in stores like H&M and Abercrombie & Fitch, and mostly of equivalent or better quality. The streets in these neighborhoods were narrow, with the three-to-four stories of apartments above the shops with funky little balconies where flowers and other decorations gave each a distinct style. A music store specializing in vinyl but with a smaller stock of CDs was also unique in its general focus on German rock in general but local, Hamburg fare in particular. It seems that, until recently, Hamburgers had written the fact that The Beatles first got their start there out of the history books but this has recently been corrected, and the city seems once again proud of that particular heritage, and books that trace the Hamburg music scene over the last 50 years now dedicate significant footage to the Fab Four's early years at various city clubsmany along the now-famous Reeperbahn, from 1960-62their triumphant return as full-fledged stars in 1966.
One of the major differences between HafenCity and residential areas like Schanzen and Karovtiertel is the activity; as the day progresses and evening approaches, the streets in HafenCity are largely empty, its residents comfortably situated in their homes, while Schanzen and Karovtiertel become busier and busierclearly places where nightlife still exists, and in a big way.
There are many other things that make Hamburg unique; the renowned Mojo Club, which only recently reopened its doors and where the ELBJazz after-party took place, is a remarkable structure that, like the new ELBphilharmonie, is acoustically separated from the ground in which it resides, to ensure that the deep, throbbing subwoofer bass doesn't disturb anyone outside the club. Even more remarkable are its main entrances, which are only visible on the street as two circles with a large "M" in each on the asphalt; but at night, when the club opens, these hatch doors automatically open and two entrances rise out of the ground. High tech design goes right through from the club itself to the washrooms, where sounds from the club aren't just fed in, but actually have a toilet stall in which a DJ can set up and perform; it's not been used yet, but Managing Director Lief Nüske is certain that it will be, and in the relatively near future. From pristine acoustic to a terrific green room for artists and a remarkably sophisticated fire detection and response system, Mojo is now a truly 21st century club, run by people who are clearly bleeding-edge thinkers.
A most predominant impression of Hamburg, after just a few days, is a city with a pulse, a city that has many of the right ideas when it comes to urban planning for people of all income brackets, and a city committed to building a reputation predicated on the arts, fashion and stylish urban living.
ELBJazz: An Introduction
With the Elbe River creating a natural division between the Altstadt area and the shipyard, and with the shipyard changing from year-to-year, the actual design of the festival stages in the yard has to change each year. That's not the only challenge. In using an area that had been employed in previous years, with a pre-existing space for loading equipment, the festival was hit with a surprise when a new housing complex began constructionright in front of that loading area. If ELBJazz is anything, it's adaptable, with a total of 10 stages/venuesfour located on the shipyard, and six situated across the northern side of the Elbe River, largely near the Fischauktionsalle, itself an indoor venue for large-scale shows that, after the last show was finished on Sunday morning at approximately 1:00am, had to be completely cleared and restored to normal by 4:00am, when it would once again reopen as a functioning fish auction.
There were small, hot and sweaty clubs like Golum, where groups like Denmark's Girls in Airports and England's Troyka performed, and the Holzhafen Atrium, a beautiful but acoustically challenging indoor space with a ceiling of at least 150 feet and nothing but reflective surfaces that challenged but did not triumph over guitarist Jakob Bro. There were more traditional and attractive spots like St. Pauli Kirche, where Mary Halvorson and pianists Julia Hulsmann and Carsten Dahl gave well-received performances, as well as more unusual spaces like Stilwerk (normally a hotspot for interior design but, on the Saturday night, turned into a performance space for Miss 600 and singer Michael Schiefel).
In order to get from the shipyard to the Fischauktionsalle and nearby venues, a regular ferry moved from one end of the shipyard to the other, but this was no ordinary shuttle; for a couple of hours each evening, local artists performed on the boat, a sign that ELBJazz is also looking to support its locals. It might seem like a less than prestigious place to perform, but taking into consideration the vast numbers of ELBJazz attendees who took the shuttle once or more each evening, it was actually a tremendous exposure opportunity to tourists and journalists from abroad; and with a well-stocked bar, there were actually some who stayed on the boat for an hour or more, in order to hear the music on offer.
ELBJazz supports local musicians in other ways, too. An outdoor stage located nearby the ELBphilharmonie site was, sadly, hit hard by the heavy rains that came down on Saturday morning and early afternoon, and again on Sunday, when a young student band put on its performance; regardless, it was a sign that ELBJazz is about more than just big ticket items. Three Jazz for Kids performances on Saturday afternoon also threw a spotlight on the festival's desire to begin educating children about jazz from an early age.
And if North American festivals are struggling to replace an aging demographic with younger listeners, ELBJazz doesn't appear to be having that problem; there were, of course, a fair share of gray and no-hairs; but so, too, were fans ranging from late teens to mid-thirties. Programming more youth-friendly (but still substantive) acts like American keyboardist Jason Lindner's electrified, soulful and world-centric Now Vs. Now, the hilarious but equally deep Tin Men & The Telephone, which wowed festival promoters and club owners at the 2012 Dutch Jazz & World Meeting, ensured an influx of fresh faces to the festival's jazz audience.
In some respects, it's more than even the clear philosophy of the festival that is making jazz a young person's music once again; unlike North America where, in many ways, jazz has become a dirty word and the society has adopted an either/or set of valuesyou like this or that, and are not permitted, for the most part, to like this and thatmuch of Europe still sees value in culture, and not as some kind of elitist thing accessible only to a privileged few or as a means of defining whose tastes are better. Instead, culture is something for everyone, and ELBJazz demonstrated that through its wide-ranging series of concerts.
ELBJazz Day 1: Joshua Redman/Jason Lindner/Jakob Bro
Wishful thinking, perhaps, or an attempt at mind over matter, on the only day that didn't rain for the whole day but was still unseasonably coldsaxophonist Joshua Redman and his kick-ass quartet featuring pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, started off their set with an incendiary version of the Gershwin staple "Summertime," deceptive from the saxophonist's spare, carefully formed a cappella intro. But when the band kicked in, so did the heat, with Redman delivering massive cascades and melodic variations, physically more animated than usual and bolstered by a rhythm section that was clearly having a blast.
Rogers, in particular, was rarely without a smile on his face, while Hutchinsonlast seen with guitarist John Scofield's wonderful Organic Trio at the 2013 Burghausen Jazz Festival would throw in a strong crash or temporal shift, looking at his band mates with an almost (almost) imperceptible grin. Goldberg was clearly listening, clearly looking for the right moment to throw in the right harmonic foundation that, at once, supported where Redman was going and drove the saxophonist into a new space.
Everyone soloed with tremendous fire and aplomb, but when Redmanafter introducing the band and making a comment about his not having time to tell the audience the three jokes he knew in Germanmoved on to his balladic cover of dissonant alt-rockers Blonde Redhead's "Doll is Mine," from his recent jazz+strings recording, Walking Shadows (Nonesuch, 2013). The quartet demonstrated equal taste in such subdued settings; Rogers, in particular, took a beautiful solo, filled with memorable melodic ideas, as did Goldberg, whose solo built patiently and with great care, leading to Redman, whose altissimo tone was pure and rich.
Moving just a few meters away from Redman, who performed on the Hauptbühne stage on the Blohm + Voss shipyard, keyboardist Jason Lindner delivered a set that combined retro tones, soulful grooves and elements of Middle Eastern and Indian tonalities with his Now Vs. Now trio, also including bassist Panagiotis Andreou and drummer Mark Guiliana. The trio's debut, Jason Lindner Gives You Now Vs. Now (Anzic, 2009), was critically well-received and has its second recording in preparation for release later this year. While a first encounter with this exhilarating trio, it was clear that a few years of clocked up road time has done it no shortage of good.
Lindneran in-demand player who has worked with everyone from Meshell Ndegeocello (his 2007 performance with the intrepid bassist/songwriter/singer at the Montreal Jazz Festival was especially memorable) to bassist Avishai Cohen and clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen (no relation)has always been about a definition of jazz at its broadest. While the sophisticated language of his Now Vs. Now show was undeniably jazz-centered, the loose but potent grooves spoke of interests beyond even its furthest boundaries. In addition to being an impressive electric bassist, Andreou was a fine singer as wellat times, sounding a little like Tunisian-born/Austrian-resident oudist/vocalist Dhafer Youssef, his plaintive cries speaking plenty even in a foreign language, but his remarkable ability to scat not just serpentine melodic lines in tandem with his bass, but incorporating the Indian konnakol tradition of vocal percussion, made the Grecian bassist a true triple threat.
Guilianiwho is also on tour this year with pianist Brad Mehldau in the experimental, electronic (and, based on their performance at Vossa Jazz this year, not entirely successful) Mehliani duoproved, here, why he's on the call list of everyone from saxophonist Donny McCaslin to guitarist Lionel Louekeless a drummer of thundering proportions and more one of tasty interaction, propelling the music with prerequisite power as needed, but pulling back for moments when Lindner, alone with his piano and rack of electric keyboards, created an electrio-acoustic mélange of, at times, near-epic proportions.
The one problem with ELBJazz was that, while it was not hard to get from the shipyard to the Elbstraßewhere there were indoor venues ranging from the large (fish auction hall) to the intimate Golum club and the more modern Holzhafen Atriumit did take time, so if two shows were playing back-to-back or within 30 minutes of each other, it was such a time-consuming proposition to line up for and then go by ferry boat from one part of the harbor to another, that it was almost impossible to see them both.
After a trip around the harbor on a ferry where a local singer/pianist was performing with her sax/bass/drums group, it was a quick jaunt up the Elbstraße to the Holzhafen Atrium, where Danish guitarist Jakob Bro was performing with his trio, featuring long-time partner, bassist Anders "A.C." Christensen (as ever, wearing urban dress, this time with a big baseball-like cap with the word "BOY" in large, capital letters) and, while not new to Bro, a first-timer in the trio, drummer Kresten Osgood.
Bro and Christensen may be best known as members of polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's quintet on Dark Eyes (ECM, 2009)responsible for an unexpectedly incendiary closing performance at the 2010 Ottawa Jazz Festivalbut they're busy players on the Danish scene, with lots of hours clocked up traveling Europe as well. Performing in an atrium with a high ceiling and nothing but glass and tile to reflect sound everywhere, it was a bit of a cavern but the sound man and the trio's inherent understanding of how to play a room resulted in a show that was not only deep on a musical level, but sounded unexpectedly fine.
Bro is getting ready to release the third part of his "Lee Konitz/Bill Frisell" trilogy that began with 2009's Balladeering and 2011's Time (both on his own Loveland label), and at least some of the material at his ELBJazz performance was culled from those recordings, but in a more conventional trio formation, what Bro, Christensen and Osgood did was defy that convention by working as a single voice rather than a collection of individual components. Sure, there were moments when everyone got a chance to shine, including a solo from Osgood that began with the drummer playing recorder, standing, and creating thundering bass drum punctuations, before heading into a four-limbed kit solo that, while powerful and certainly taking advantage of the room's massive sonic imprint, was still restrained so that it never overpowered, either in solo or with the trio.
Christensen's main focus is electric bass, but he's far from a disciple of the Steve Swallow approach, though his ability to fashion clear melodies in the upper register of his Fender bass came from a similar space. More important, perhaps, was his ability to find hypnotic riffs and hang onto them, providing an anchor for Browhose warm and reverb-heavy tone (though it was difficult to ascertain, here, how much was coming from his effects pedals and how much from the room) filled the atrium with an approach that, while clearly influenced in its early days by Frisell, has since gone on to become something else entirely, so that when the two guitarists occasionally come together, there are points of intersection but, more often than not, points of significant diversion as well.
If Bro's tone was predominantly clean and warm, there were passages where the trio began to cook with a little more heat, Bro kicking in some overdrive to create jagged chordal crystals. Bro is largely a melodic player not unlike Frisell, he has the ability to introduce just the right amount of skewed notes to create tension that he then resolvesmost of the time. The music ranged from countrified territory to actual riff-driven blues, though (as usual) Bro eschewed guitar posturing and pyrotechnics for a more considered and laid-back approach. He may not be a guitar hero of virtuosic proportions, instead Bro has relied more on space, color and his own innate and personal sense of lyricism to create a voice that's become increasingly distinctiveand increasingly impressiveover the past decade or so.
Bro is also getting ready to hit the studio to record an album for ECM with his other trio, featuring bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Jon Christensen, if there's justice in the world, this trio will also get recorded sometimepreferably in a live context, where it clearly shines.
ELBJazz Day 2: Trilok Gurtu/Nils Petter Molvær/Jan Bang Punkt Live Remix
With rain returning in full force on ELBJazz's second day, the best bet was to stay dry and warm inside, and with three back-to-back and intersecting performances, there was no better place to do so than in the Fischauktionshalle..
Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu (now based in Hamburg) has a new recording, Spellbound (Moosicus, 2013), and thanks to some serendipitous programming, he was able to perform some of it with the same guests that appear on the album. Gurtu was also slotted to perform in the trio with Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær and live sampler Jan Bang that was supposed to debut at last year's Kongsberg Jazz Festival and the All About Jazz Presents: Doing It Norway series. Sadly, that show was cancelled, so it was a particular pleasure to be able to see the trio in action, for its first time, in Hamburg.
First, Gurtu took to the stage at the Fischauktionshalle with Spellbound's core trio of Turkish pianist/keyboardist Tulug Tirana and bassist Jonathan Cuniado. The recording is a tribute to trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry, a significant mentor and motivator for Gurtu in his early days, and while the recording features a different trumpeter on just about every track, live the percussionist recruited Germany's Mathias Schriefl, who appears on one track on the album, to handle most of the work. Gurtu opened his hour-long set alone, with his large array of percussion that included a standard drum kit (replacing the lower-seated Rototom-based kit of his earlier years), tabla, cajón and all manner of hand percussion, cymbals and water bowls. When the quartet with Schriefl entered, it was for one of Gurtu's characteristically knotty themes, based in Indian linearity but with Tirpan providing a broader harmonic context, an appealing and thrilling east-west amalgam that had the close-to-sold-out crowd loudly applauding from the get-go.
The program had been switched, to put Gurtu's band firsta logistically wise decision, since Bang, who would come onstage for the second of the three shows, would then remain onstage for the final show of the night, the Punkt Live Remixand while the next show would also bring Molvær out for a full hour of completely free improv, for the percussionist's set the famous Norwegian trumpeter was invited to come out and recreate the track on which he guests on Spellbounda medley of two hard- hitting fusion compositions from trumpeter Miles Davis' early '70s electric era: the title track to A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1970) and "Ife," a live staple for the legendary trumpeter that was recorded after the sessions for On the Corner (Columbia, 1972), appearing on Big Fun (Columbia) two years later. Molvær brought a perfect combination of his own electronics-expanded instrument and, for some (but not for those who know him), some unexpectedly impressive chops. It was an early highlight, but the entire setdespite ranging from thrilling electric highs to a more subdued but equally stellar duo between Gurtu, on tabla, and trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, performing one of the two Spellbound tracks on which he appears (written by Gurtu and dedicated to Cherry)was exhilarating, from start to finish.
If Cherry was the primary force behind Gurtu's recording of Spellbound, he's not the only one; trumpet has figured on other Gurtu recordings, and so here, Gurtu pays tribute not to any one player, but to the instrument itself. It's unfortunate that there wasn't timestretched out as the material wasto hear more songs from the recording, like Gurtu's look at Miles Davis' "All Blues," from the genre-changing classic Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) (with relative newcomer Ambrose Akinmusire guesting), but instead, Gurtu gave the crowd a terrific cross-section that included "Berchidda," a tune that featured Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu on the recording but who was more than capably replaced by Schriefl at the ELBJazz show.
And if the emphasis appeared to be on trumpet, both Tirpan (as fine a pianist as he was a colorist on synths) and Cuniadowho may have kept to the rear of the stage, but whose strong bass playing helped drive the grooves that were kept in tandem by Gurtu, but which also allowed Gurtu the opportunity to assume a more dominant rolewere integral to the performance. While his choice of textures and polyrhythms were never less than ideal, Gurtu was also a charismatic performer who engaged the audience between songs, sometimes in English, but most of the time in German, his adopted country for many years. On "Like Popcorn," the one tune that features Schriefl on the recording, Gurtu's expertise in konnakol was as commanding as Schriefl's impressive solo work.
With the venue operating on a tight schedule, and with the audience refusing to let the percussionist go without an encore, he returned alone, with just five minutes to spare, for a solo piece that emulated natural sounds like thunder, birds and insects, demonstrating that this inimitable percussionist really is without equal when it comes to the whole package of Indian percussion, jazz-centric swing and whatever textural additions the music demands. Brief though the set was, it was clearly one of the highlights of ELBJazz 2013.
With the stage largely cleared, save for Molvær's laptop and pedals and Gurtu's percussion rig, Jan Bang's sampler and another board were brought onstage for the first of two sets that were completely spontaneous, but both demonstrating how anything is possible when there's intrinsic trust amongst the musicians, ears that allow them to hear what's going on around them in order to push and pull the music, and the kind of egoless desire to create a whole greater than the sum of the parts.
Perhaps more than many other contexts, Bang's live samplingsomething he's been doing since the mid-'90s, first with fellow Norwegian keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft and then, as a member of Molvær's band for the decade that ended in a final live performance at Bang's annual Punkt Live Remix festival in 2007was easier to discern in this context. From the early part of the hour-long set, where he sampled the trumpeter's already harmonized horn, processed it further and fed it back to expand the soundscape, to a hilarious closing percussion solo from Gurtuwho, after trying to get the audience to sing back an almost impossibly complex konnakol line, found Bang unexpectedly feeding it back to him with nary a nanosecond's hesitation, leading to an even more entertaining back-and-forth between percussionist and live sampler, with Bang beginning to return Gurtu's lines with more significantly effected alterationsthe communication level amongst the three was almost impossibly high.
In between, the set moved across a broad terrain, ranging from ambient landscapes driven by Bang's sampled orchestral sounds, to jagged free-play. What was most impressive was that, in-the-moment it might have been, it had an inherent and, perhaps, inevitable shape; a sense of development that suggested all three players were synchronized in a desire to not just play with color, melody, rhythm and harmony, but to create an actual narrative that gave the set an unmistakable beginning, middle and ending.
There were smiles aplenty, in particular from Bang, a player whose instrument may be a black box of knobs and dials, who is, well and truly, a real instrumentalist. Even in the most ethereal contexts, Bang has always moved to an internal rhythm that can be seen in his body language; how thrilling, then, to be playing with a rhythm master like Gurtu, the two coming together to create a rich undercurrent of pulsating sounds over which Molvær's was able to layer his unfailingly beautiful lines. And though Molvær's was the only seemingly melodic instrument onstage, this was, of course, not entirely true, when Gurtu moved to tabla and began to create rhythms that spoke with their own thematic constructs.
Backstage, after the performance, there was already talk of continuing this collaboration, so while it's impossible to know where it will go, the good news is that it absolutely will continue, and if a recording were to emerge from this new constellation, then all the better.
While the annual Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, Norway is predicated on the idea of live remixes of shows that have just concluded in another room in the same venueand Punkt has, since its first year in 2005, become a truly movable feast, taking its core concept on the road to cities including London, Mannheim and Tallinn, amongst other international destinationsits co-founders, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, have now expanded the concept to doing individual live performance and remix combinations, rather than one, two or three-day festivals. Still, its remix at ELBJazz 2013 set another precedent for an already precedent-setting concept: remixing a show that had taken place earlier in the evening, in another venue, in this case German indie rock band The Notwist, four hours earlier, across the harbor in the Blohm + Voss shipyard. While Bang and Molvær were busy preparing for their trio show with Gurtu, Honoré was over at the AM Helgen stage taking a multi-channel feed off the Notwist's soundboard, bringing it back to the Fischauktionshalle in time for a midnight remix that, with Bang, guitarist Stian Westerhus (who performed his final trio gig with Molvær the previous evening) and trumpeter Arve Henriksen, was both standard operating procedure for a Punkt Live Remix and something a little different.
Of course, standard operating procedure for Punkt Live Remixes is that there is no standard operating procedure and so, just as Bang, Molvær and Gurtu did 90 minutes earlier, this group of four Norwegians hit the stage for an hour-long remixthe difference, of course, being that while Molvær/Bang/Gurtu drew its entire set from the ether, the Punkt Live Remix had some foundational premises upon which to build its set, most noticeably a deep, foghorn-like low register blast that would crop up, time and again, almost as a rallying point for the quartet to move onto something else.
Much has been written about Westerhus, his relentless unorthodoxy and various collaborationsbeyond Molvær's trio, Puma, Monolithic and his commission for the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, his duo, in particular, with singer Sidsel Endresen that seems to go from strength to strength and height to height with each and every performance. But while Westerhus continues to defy all logic, with such an intimate command of his four amplifiers, uncountable foot pedals and other devices such as guitar preparations and use of a bow, what's been happening increasingly over the past couple of years is that the guitarist is balancing his more jagged and aggressive tendencies with an increasingly lyrical and beautiful side. Of course, lyrical and beautiful for Westerhus sometimes occurs at the decibel level of a jet plane at 15 feet, but it still means a greater contrast in his work that's turning him into an even more remarkable artist, even as he moves towards a new phase in his own career with a burgeoning interest in composition to augment his longstanding in-the-moment spontaneity.
Honoré is almost always the silent, still partner to the more animated Banga remarkable sampler and sonic manipulator who may rarely crack a smile, but whose engagement in the music was clearly as complete as his partners. Still, at ELBJazz, he was seen smiling far more often than usual, and why not? The remix, lasting for a full hourin itself an oddity, since most remixes at the Punkt Festival rarely extend, for logistical reasons, beyond 30 minutes. With the liberty of 60 minutes, Bang, Henriksen, Westerhus and Honoré had much more time to explore ideas, ranging from ethereal atmospherics and, with Henriksen's trumpet in particular, a deeply profound but equally unpredictable lyricism, to more angular explorations of jagged shorelines and stark, craggy mountainscapes.
Henriksen, whose breadth also seems to expand year after year, first began singing a decade or more ago in a choirboy falsetto; in the ensuing years he's added throat singing (or, at least, an emulation), guttural growls and cathartic screams to his sonic palette. At ELBJazz 2013, add to that a standing near-frontman as, for one of the first (if not the first) times he actually arose from his chair to sing, microphone in hand rather than leaning into it, seated, in a stand. Henriksen said, after the show, that his forthcoming sequel to 2008's Cartography (on ECM, but the forthcoming record will not be; the label is yet to be determined) seems to be heading, if not exactly towards song form, then to some degree, at least, in that general direction. He also revealed that when, standing onstage and singing, he almostalmostmoved right to the front of the stage; perhaps that will happen in September, when Punkt's ninth edition, in its hometown of Kristiansand, Norway, takes place.
It was a strange remix, given the source material"a lot of major chords," said Honoré before the showbut as invariably happens with any Punkt Live Remix, whether or not it actually succeeds, the trip is always worth it. In this particular case, not only was the trip worth it, but the remix was a smashing success, an indication that somehow, these intrepid musicians who know each other so well (well, Westerhus is still a relative newcomer to the Punkt family, but he's so malleable that he seems able to fit into just about any context) always seem to find new things to say, new places to go, new constellations to explore. The ELBJazz audience may not have really understood what it was hearingmost of them are not likely to have been at the Notwist show earlier in the eveningbut it didn't matter, as Punkt Live Remixes are invariably capable of standing alone on their own merits. With such a long time available to this evening's participants the opposite of most ELBJazz performers, who find an hour a short time to playthis was definitely a remix to remember.
As many people headed over to Mojo for the after-party, those who hung around backstage after the Punkt Live Remix were treated to a real dose of reality: by 1:30AM, just a half hour after its set, everyone was being rushed out of the hall, because in exactly two-and-a-half hours, the Fischauktionshalle was going to be a real fish auction hall once again, with catches coming in from the North Sea and all signs of ELBJazz goneand for those who attended the festival and, in particular, the three shows this evening, something truly not to be forgotten. For a first-time visit to Hamburg, the single biggest thoughtbeyond finding somewhere dry and warmwas how to secure a return invite next year, when ELBJazz turns five.
Photo Credits All Photos: John Kelman