Salzburg swings to Jazz & The City

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Austria’s place in the jazz firmament has been well established by its native musicians (notables such as Joe Zawinul, the Muthspiel brothers and the celebrated Vienna Art Orchestra) but also by the quality of its promoters – think of Saalfelden Festival, Vienna’s Porgy and Bess Club and Salzburg’s Jazz In The City.

Salzburg’s programme is unquestionably in the first division of European festivals – but few others offer such contingent delights (of the kind prosaically described by arts funders and corporate consumerism as ‘added value’). There’s the extraordinary historic city of Mozart and the von Trapps, with its palaces, cathedral, gardens, ancient narrow streets and backdrop of the Alps; the diversity of venues, old and new; and the remarkable phenomenon of free admission (yes – they’re free!) to all 100-odd festival gigs in only five days.

If that were not enough, for 2015 Jazz & The City focussed on showcasing a wider-than-ever range of Austrian musicians – demonstrating a strength-in-depth scene of everything from experimental sounds to gypsy swing.

A fleeting two-day visit started beneath the plethora of gilded cherubs, trompe l’oeil ceiling and chandeliers of the über-baroque Mirabelle Schloss concert hall, with the Croatian/Austrian duo of cellist Asja Valcic and accordionist Klaus Paier. This was perfect chamber music, weaving improvisation and new compositions with classical and tango repertoire, lush and romantic sonorities with sometimes passionate, sometimes stately virtuosity.

In the cellar-like Kavernen 1595 (another historic and appropriately subterranean venue) Month of Sundays, a trumpet/saxophone/guitar/drums quartet, proved the other highlight of the Austrian showcase. Four serious young men, concentrating on the delicate and detailed business of perfectly balanced soundscapes and eschewing any temptation to grandstand as soloists, they lured the audience into a reflective mood with a wistful, mysterious, almost unearthly, sounding set of carefully arranged compositions.  

Relaxing and refreshingly thought provoking, Month of Sundays impressed with their uncompromising attention to nuance and careful use of acoustic and occasionally electronic instrumental sounds.   Hearing them live must be best – but their first and eponymous album, on Wire Globe Recordings, gives a good flavour of their trademarks – immersive contemplation and almost tantalising restraint.

Taking the overview, the bewilderingly extensive five day programme saw a high incidence of accordions: Vincent Peirani in duo with saxophonist Emile Parisien, Jean-Louis Matinier with Marco Ambrosini’s nickelharp, in David Krakauer’s Acoustic Klezmer Project – and the delightful folk-inflected Finnish duo of Maria Kalaneimi with the percussive harmonium and keening harmonica of Eero Grundstrom.

Austria’s geographical location – decidedly mittel Europe – was firmly underlined not only by the range of European nationalities in the programme (no list to be written, just get a compass and count the points!) but also by the indelible strand of Arabic music and musicians, including the magisterial Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem, Iranian clarinettist Yom and Syria’s Ziad Rajab.

Other high profile names appeared liberally throughout the programme – Omar Sosa, Chris Potter, Avishai Cohen, Frisell, Texier, Henriksen, Scofield and Lovano, Wesseltoft und so weiter. One name, however, which was printed in the brochure but present only in spirit, was Gerhard Eder, the much missed programming genius behind Jazz & The City (and formerly Saalfelden) whose sudden death a month before the festival made his 2015 programme a sad but appropriate musical epitaph for one of Europe’s finest artistic directors. Those who knew Gerhard would surely have appreciated his sometimes mischievous sense of humour, programming Håkon Kornstad’s (pictured top) mixture of operatic voice and jazz improvisation in a venue within a few hundred metres of Mozart’s Geburtshaus and the nearby Papagenostrasse.

– Robert Beard