Uri Caine and Henri Texier dazzle while Leo Betzl Trio rave-on at Jazzfestival Münster

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Erik Friedlanders Throw A Glass DSF3917 Ansgar Bolle 190105

Jazzfestival Münster is celebrating its 40th anniversary, but has only notched up 27 editions, having converted to a biennial existence in 1997. This January festival hasn’t got the high profile of other German weekenders such as Moers and Berlin. Nevertheless, its programme is bustling with variety and adventure, a largely Pan-European roster sprinkled with token Americans. All acts play at Theatre Münster, mostly in its main concert hall, although a few of the early afternoon sets took place in a smaller side-space.

The headlining Stateside band were Erik Friedlander’s Throw A Glass, probably the cellist’s jazziest outfit, featuring Uri Caine (piano, pictured top), Mark Helias (bass) and Ches Smith (drums). Caine had never seen a scarlet Steinway piano before, and its arresting hue doubtless had an influence over our sonic perception during the festival. ‘The Great Revelation’ had a surprisingly direct jazz-funk nature, with Caine in particular spinning out a lounge complexity. Smith ran off into hard, precise patterns, then ‘Seven Heartbreaks’ had quite a jazz bar nature, swingin’ forcefully. ‘Artemesia’ featured glum cello, coupled with deep-bowed bass, Smith using both ends of his brushes. Caine soloed completely alone, followed by a similar spot for Friedlander, pronouncing in a kind of mordant classical swing language. They unveiled a new, as yet untitled piece, with a waltzing feel, Caine offering a percussive solo against the leader’s bittersweet cello, whilst Smith introduced a fast bass drum tapping, with firm cymbal time.

Henri Texier’s Sand Quintet provided a double climax on the Saturday night. Old and new numbers were mixed up, the latter including ‘Sand Woman’ and ‘Hungry Man’, a guitar solo rising from Manu Codjia, as the reeds of Sébastien Texier and François Corneloup (below) were set riffing from their temporary position behind Gautier Garrigue’s drums. The leader chased with a talkative bass solo, always delivering with authority. A bluesy slog emerged on the second new tune, with a squint-eyed Texier solo, and a keen clarinet bite from his son. To finish, they brought out the 1975 classic ‘Amir’, uniting upright bass, alto and baritone saxophones in equal forcefulness.

Henri Texier DSF4263 Ansgar Bolle 190106

The surprise towering pinnacle of the weekend were new discovery LBT (Leo Betzl Trio, who are signed to the Enja label), who imposed all-nighter techno vibrations at 3pm on the Sunday, turning the smaller theatre into a throbbing party. A German piano trio, with effects extras, replicated repetitive electronic music via acoustic means, their closest cousins being Dawn Of Midi in NYC. LBT are more intent on actually sounding like hard techno, with the advantage of improvised trimmings, as upright bassist Maximilian Hirning bowed with a dragging savagery, Sebastian Wolfgruber snapped drumhead-echo, fast dub beats, and Betzl hand-dampened the strings of his grand piano. Pauses arrived, then the swell built up again, a disused hi-hat loaded with metal clutter, coupled with an active hiss from a working hi-hat.

Rhythmic divergences were allowed, in variations from mechanoid rigidity. Betzl’s piano was prepared on the hoof, turning into a buzzing kora, as the trio began to mess with the expected structure, halting and soloing, with gaffa-tape stuck across piano strings while the extended piece was still in full motion. Betzl had a special microphone, just for his reverb fingerclicks. Meanwhile, Wolfgruber hissed a spraycan rhythmically, hopefully not destroying his microphone in the process, then played a bass solo that sounded like it was emanating from an Indian sarangi. Folks were dancing in the aisles, and it felt like 4am someday in 1989, where improvised jazz enjoyed an alternate reality in the rave warehouse.

It was enlightening to witness Swiss-born trumpeter Erik Truffaz in the quiet duo zone, playing acoustically and softly beside the Polish pianist Krzysztof Kobyliński, eventually removing his clip-on mic and spraying fine dust lightly from a distance into the stage microphone. Truffaz set up a mass finger-clicking among the audience, as Kobyliński traipsed out a tiptoe melody, graduating to handclaps. This was creative crowd management. Truffaz played boldly throughout the set, his crisp sound to be savoured.

The trio of Hermia/Darrifourq/Ceccaldi also startled, with peculiar resonances between cello and percussion, and an inviting crab-crouching tenor solo. They moved from near silence to full intensity, savouring the acoustics of the theatre, with its ceiling initially looking like a forest of tiny sonic baffles, revealed upon closer observation as an upside-down carpet growth of numerous lampshade-looking lights…

– Martin Longley

– Photographs by Ansgar Bolle/Jazzfestival Münster