Summary of the Berlin Jazz Festival: Utopia of togetherness

Improvisation remains risky. That’s what makes them so exciting. And that could be experienced once again at the 60th edition of the Berlin Jazz Festival.

Aki Takase on the piano Photo: Roland Owsnitzki

A stage set like a painting. Two slender wings that shine black in the light of a single spotlight nestle together. The picture concludes the first concert evening of the 60th edition of the Berlin Jazz Festival in the Haus der Festspiele: Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach, playing as a duo for almost 40 years. It is a touching sight as both enter the stage hand in hand.

The 85-year-old von Schlippenbach, elegant in black, is interwoven with the keys as he plays his complex composed miniatures. Takase, in a long dress from which the white leaf structures seem to flow down, bows with her requiem version of “Ida Lupino”, the famous song by the recently deceased Carla Bley. Four-handed, the two conclude their performance with a standing ovation from the audience.

In addition to the Jazz Festival’s further homage to the innovators of improvised music, such as the 83-year-old drummer Andrew Cyrille and the 80-year-old trombonist Conny Bauer, whose life’s work was honored with the Albert Mangelsdorff Prize, another highlight of the festival was the sixth Edition conducted by Nadin Deventer, the appearance of the 79-year-old composer, flautist and alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill.

Tribute to Henry Threadgill

Threadgill belongs to the first generation of the black musician collective AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) in Chicago, whose sound language has influenced all subsequent generations of musicians. Threadgill brought his eagerly awaited commissioned composition “Simply Existing Surface” to the stage, which he had developed for the collaboration of his formation “Zooid” with Berlin alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard’s ensemble Potsa Lotsa XL. The suite for 15 musicians consisted of individual, variably movable modules for individual instrument groups and soloists.

Threadgill, who plays the alto saxophone and flute himself, had previously wanted a conductor, Silke Lange, so that he could concentrate on his own playing, but then spontaneously took over the direction himself and conducted from his chair. In the first ten minutes the composition was cautious, but the interaction then became more fluid. Especially in the solos, Silke Eberhard, but also the trumpeter Nikolaus Neuser and the clarinetist Jürgen Kupke, were able to form their own sound modules, which detached themselves from an organism like individual cells and integrated them again.

A highly complex work that also operated with sound and volume textures, in which the ensemble became more and more united over the 60 minutes of the performance, which was broadcast live on the radio. The work showed Threadgill as the great composer whose recognition in Europe was long overdue.

In addition to separate series within the festival, such as the Chicago focus “Sonic Dreams” with Mike Reed’s “The Separatist Party” and Ben LaMar Gay on the cornet, Marvin Tate on the microphone and the electronic trio Bitchin Bajas, the programming of the four concert days was convincing especially through performances by young musicians, such as the Canadian trumpeter Steph Richards, who improvised on various smells on Friday. This didn’t translate into listening, but Richards’ highly intense playing practice made her seem urgent and focused.

Likewise the new project “matter 100” by the pianist Kaja Draksler, which the Slovenian musician and her band around singer Lena Hessels, punk guitarist Andy Moor, drummer Macio Moretti, keyboardist and electronics artist Marta Warelis and the Finn Samo, who plays a prepared barrel organ Kuti had rehearsed.

The Dadaist lyrics and Hessel’s voice, partially distorted with a vocoder, became a homage to Laurie Anderson and Meredith Monk, while the alternation between punk passages and the interlocking sounds of barrel organ, piano and noise elements made for great fun. Afterwards, the 23-year-old tenor saxophonist Zoh Amba showed virtuosic improvisational skills and physical effort.

Polyrhythmic work of art

The performance by the Red Desert Orchestra under the direction of the French pianist Eve Risser, who presented a polyrhythmic work of art, was also rousing. Trumpeter Susana Santos Silva stood out, who also showed with Fred Frith on the previous days what is possible with the trumpet outside of the usual.

Improvisation remains risky, which is what makes it so exciting. Confirmation was the sold-out concerts in Berlin and happy musicians who mingled with the audience during breaks and listened to the competition’s concerts. A togetherness that lived a brief utopia of hope within a world that was currently fragmenting.

Jean Harris

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