Jazz Ahead / Bremen, Germany – April 2013
(On the Road with Ken Pickering / Artistic Director)
It’s been three weeks since Jazz Ahead, nevertheless, just gotta say I’ve grown quite fond of the beautiful Hanseatic town of Bremen (10th largest) in the northern reaches of Germany (about an hour from Hamburg). So what’s the attraction? First of all, it’s Vancouver bassist Torsten Müller’s hometown and during his years there he worked for Jazz Ahead (co-founder) Peter Schulze at Radio Bremen. So there’s a connection to Bremen that began before Jazz Ahead was even established. Fortuitously I finally met Peter at the Swedish Jazz Celebration in Stockholm around the time the JA event was founded. I’ve attended six (of 8) editions and an annual journey to Jazz Ahead (now the largest and most important conference and meeting place for the international jazz community in the world at this time) is a highlight on my calendar.
At the heart of the matter it’s about ongoing research and networking. That’s exactly what happens every moment of the day at this conference; with over 1000 professional participants: there's showcases, scheduled meetings / impromptu meetings with agents / managers, musicians, presenters, media, recording companies, with colleagues old and new during the daytime and after hours at the bar until late. JA is an incredibly intense few days. Then again, that’s where the value is – there’s so much generosity, sharing of information, ideas for new projects, collaborative opportunities and new relationships that emerge from the dynamic nature of this gathering that it literally can make your head spin. Without exaggeration I must have received at least 200 requests for a meeting in the two weeks leading up to Jazz Ahead. So being strategic in time management is the biggest challenge of all. I can’t even begin to run down the number of amazing conversations and opportunities for involvement in great projects that were talked about.
Photo: European Jazz Network meeting
Who was there? Everybody (well almost)! Personally I knew at least 200 people if not more. Happy to see quite a strong Canadian presence (though mostly agents / musicians from Quebec); showcases by Laila Biali, Chloe Charles (a new and very well received discovery), Shuffle Demons, L’Orkestre des pas Perdus, Chet Doxas and Marianne Trudel. Hopefully the Canadian profile can broaden through increased presence and engagement through our arts service organization umbrella Jazz Festivals Canada. The North American west coast was also well represented with Earshot Jazz (John Gilbreath, Seattle), Portland Jazz Festival (Don Lucoff) and the Athenaeum (Dan Atkinson, San Diego) in attendance this year.
Photo: Alison Loerke, Patrick Darby, Bram Stadhouders
A few highlights:
Notable on opening night was the presentation of the Skoda Award to Han Bennink – a great musician and good friend known for his work with ICP, Eric Dolphy, Clusone and Peter Brötzmann to the younger musicians of this era like Brodie West and Terrie Ex. The master of New Dutch Swing has been at the forefront of the maelstrom that is the European scene since the 60’s.
On this occasion the award was followed by a superb performance by his fantastic young trio (under his own name for the first time in his career) with Simon Toldham and Joachim Badenhorst. Everyone was elated and very happy for the maestro and this very special recognition.
A brief aside, I was fortunate to hear him in London (at Evan Parker’s ‘Might I Suggest” festival at the Vortex) for the final ICP performance with co-founder Misha Mengelberg in the band at the beginning of February. It was truly beautiful to see Han’s transition into a statesman like role within the current context of ICP.
Photo: Han Bennink & Marianne Trudel (by Heidi Fleming)
On Friday, there was another award ceremony – again with a Dutch twist – this was the EJN award (European Jazz Network) for adventurous programming and the winner was the brilliant Amsterdam venue, the Bimhuis and director Huub van Riel was in attendance to receive the award. The Bimhuis is one of the great venues in the world and a model for many others to emulate. I’ve been to a great many shows at the Bim and there’s good reason that it’s considered by many musicians to be their favourite place to perform.
Photo; Huub van Riel of the Bimhuis
One of my favourite shows was presented at a 200 seat hall with perfect acoustics, the amazing Sendesaal (Keith Jarrett recorded the Bremen segments of his legendary Bremen / Lausanne concerts for ECM there when it was Radio Bremen).
This concert was double bill (thanks to JA's Peter Schulze) with Canadian / Quebec pianist, Marianne Trudel’s trio - Trifolia and Norwegian big band juggernaut Ensemble Denada. Both groups were in top form. For me I was happy to assist Marianne coerce some key presenters into the room to hear her music, since heretofore she wasn't that well known in Europe. Her trio’s gorgeous performance knocked out the capacity audience. Now I’m even more excited about her impending VIJF (festival) performance next month. Marianne is one of our great Canadian pianistic talents and more people need to hear her music.
Photo: Marianne Trudel / Peter Schulze (Jazz Ahead / Sendesaal Director)
One of the key programs at Jazz Ahead is the German Jazz Meeting – designed as a showcase to profile and discover some of Germany’s most interesting jazz / improvising musicians. Sebastian Gramss’ Fossile3, the Clarinet Trio (with Gebhard Ullman) and Field were among the performers this year. In past editions I heard Angelika Niescier (VIJF 2012), Silke Eberhard (appearing this year), Nils Wogram Julia Hülsmann, Monk’s Casino, Aki Takase and many others that we’ve either presented or are looking to present.
Israel was the focus country at this year’s Jazz Ahead, but other countries also helped broaden the international perspective with artists from afar afield as the USA, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Albania, Brazil, UK, Australia to name a few. Didn’t get to hear anywhere near as much of the UK contingent as I’d liked (missing Django Bates!) due to scheduling conflicts but was very impressed by the power of pianist Zoe Rahmann’s Quartet in their showcase.
The ECM recording artist Elina Duni (Albania, Switzerland) presented one of the most moving concerts of the event; she provide context for the songs (in Albanian) by telling the stories in English as a prelude and her strong delivery and beautiful voice brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience. Her band was the Colin Vallon Trio (at the Rounhouse 2012). Incredible!
The Swedes have brought a new annual tradition to JA (as of 2012) to the final day of the conference where they invite folks along for a bus ride to Kito, a lovely refurbished wooden structure on the harbour for a Sunday brunch, Swedish style complete with bubbly and a round of showcases. This year Naoko Sakata Trio, Filip Jers and David’s Angels - a standout with great vocals by Sofie Norling, plus Maggi Olin, David Carlsson and Danish drummer Michala Østergaard-Nielsen - a stunning performance.
So here’s the deal: Jazz Ahead was on FIRE! Some of us joke that we need to go into training leading up to this event because it requires extreme stamina and energy to hang in for the long haul and get the most out of it. Many of the fine folks in attendance you might only get to meet once every year or two at the most, so really would you say – man I’m too tired, got to hit my room early? Not going to happen right? In jazz parlance – it’s about the quality of the hang. And a damn fine hang it was.
Thanks to Peter, Maleni and everyone on the Jazz Ahead team for their unwavering commitment to this important event that brings the international jazz community together.