Jazzahead! gets Bremen Buzzing

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If anyone doubts that there’s a worldwide jazz industry surviving, and indeed thriving today then they need to visit Jazzahead! in Bremen as the feverish networking, deal making and concert going reached new levels of intensity this year. With a 100 concerts taking place at venues within the conference centre, the wonderful 500-seater Schlachthof – the imposing converted slaughterhouse nearby – and numerous clubs around the city. The sheer number of international jazz bodies, record labels, promoters and artists present made this ninth edition the premier jazz expo and showcase in Europe, if not the world.

Among the musical highlights piano trio Phronesis (pictured top) gave a spirited performance as part of the Danish music showcase on Thursday – bassist/band director Jasper Høiby the Danish native alongside Swedish drummer Anton Eger and English pianist Ivo Neame – playing melodically-driven music from their latest album, Life To Everything. Fellow Danes Girls In Airports followed this with a varied half-hour of sounds that ranged from alluring Nordic-noir soundscapes and frenetic Afro-beat marimba and horns. The German showcase on Friday offered more variety with rising stars Tingvall Trio, led by the charismatic pianist Martin Tingvall, tearing into their set of snappy post-EST melodies with serious rhythmic intent. Saxophonist Peter Ehwald’s Double Trouble – aptly named after their twin double bass plus drums formation – created a lurching low-end sound that balanced delicate counterpoint with clattering, out-and-out skronk all without a distortion pedal in sight.

Slovakian pianist Kaja Draksler presented her meditative classically-influenced solo pieces from her recent album The Lives Of Many Others, which, while requiring patience to appreciate, rewarded with a performance full of imagination and daring from this most exciting composer and performer. More otherworldly sounds came from hugely innovative Italian percussionist and sound-sculptor Michele Rabbia who performed his mutli-media Dokumenta Sonum project that mixed a surreal David Lynch-ian sound world of electronically effected bells, drums and cymbals with a glitchy, beat-driven film, the results eerily compelling.

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Fittingly it was the Schlachthof that played host to some of the standout gigs of the weekend with the forward-looking Motéma label bringing in many of its key artists including bassist Charnett Moffett, pianist Marc Cary and saxophonist Jacques Schwartz-Bart. Moffett’s solo bass sets are compelling affairs – part swashbuckling flash, part solo technical master class, part effortless swing – but it was Marc Cary and his Focus Trio (pictured above) that shook the walls with their molten blend of burning NYC post-bop, twisted Mwandishi funk and explosive Indo-jazz (see the full concert below).

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As if to prove that the piano trio remains one of the most versatile and exciting formats for jazz today Israeli pianist Shai Maestro (pictured above) lit up the Halle 2 stage for a late-night set on Saturday that showed just how much he’s grown as a solo artist since his formative days alongside Avishai Cohen. While the rhythmic complexity of his former boss’s music remains, Maestro’s shimmering chords and dynamic build ups – always capped by whizzing piano and drum cross-currents from Ziv Ravitz – highlighted the pianist’s impassioned, emotionally rich compositions. Bassist Jorge Roeder did a fine job of anchoring the trio with fulsome tone and deft bass lines.

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The eclectic nature of today’s jazz scene continued as Saturday night opened at the Schlachthof with the Dutch Tin Men and the Telephone’s mesmerising and highly entertaining use of technology via interactive visuals, and the incredible worldly blend of oud, percussion, bass, tarhu (Australian cello) that was brought together by L'Hijâz'Car whose brilliantly arranged and well rehearsed set brought a rapturous response. The band that had been on everyone’s lips throughout the weekend were Norse noise gods Elephant9 (pictured above). They duly delivered a blistering acid-fried wall of churning Hammond and Rhodes from Supersilent/Humcrush keys genius Ståle Storløkken, with thunderous yet funky bass and drums from Nikolai Eilertsen and Torstein Lofthus sliced through with switchblade swathes of sound from guest guitarist Reine Fiske. Their breathless 30 minutes was painfully short; the set felt like it was over only five minutes later – a bit like this most frantic yet fantastic weekend of jazz that’s still racing ahead.

– Mike Flynn

 – Photos © Tim Dickeson