ELBJazz Festival 2013: Hamburg, Germany, May 24-25, 2013
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.