See The Wood From The Trees: Splashgirl Sun-Blessed Amid Südtirol's Stunning Sights And Sounds

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Director Klaus Widmann's theme for this year's Südtirol Jazz Festival was 'Exploring the North', with most of the musicians and bands chosen from Scandinavian countries. Yet other nations were represented too, as demonstrated by a performance from Estonian saxophonist and composer Maria Faust (below) who led her band on-stage to perform her award-winning composition 'Sacrum Facere', a suite of seven pieces about the destiny of women through the ages. The music – inspired by Estonian folk and sacred music – is haunting and beautiful. As the natural light fades and the surrounding granite faces becomes more dominating, the experience becomes dramatic and quasi-spiritual.

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Norwegian piano trio Splashgirl (pictured top) are set up in a small glade in the trees, with the audience sat in wooden chairs scattered among the trees. The sun filters through the canopy above, acting as tiny spotlights highlighting the band, as they infuse their urbane post-jazz stylings with subtle electronics. Meanwhile, in the cellars of a small country hotel and vineyard artist-in-residence, saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen and Tuomas A. Turunen play two short improvised compositions – the Finns combining brassy bellows with Turunen's accompaniment on a pair of wine bottles. Turunen loves his wine and has, so far, transcribed the taste of over 150 wines into musical notation. As each wine is sampled the pair give their musical interpretation of it on piano and sax. A heady mix of improv and alcohol!

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The big concert on the festival's final day was held outside a mountain hut 2,154m up in the Dolomites (above). The concert featured a composition in five movements by Lyytinen, using seven drummers and Andreas Stensland Löwe on electronics) to augment the natural drama of the amazing backdrop. At times, ominous looking clouds added to the extraordinary combinations of sights and sound. 

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Other shows that deserve mention include Mats Gustafsson's Fire!, who were joined by the excellent Swedish vocalist Mariam Wallentin. The group managed to accomodate the fragility of Wallentin's beautiful vocals with the full onslaught of Gustafsson's baritone sax (above) and Johan Berthling's thumping bass to great effect. Elsewhere, Verneri Pohjola gave two excellent concerts – one a duo in the modern art museum with percussionist Mika Kallio and the other with his full band showcasing his Edition album Pekka in a working woollen mill.

This festival is clearly a labour of its director's passions – featuring mostly unknown or emerging artists, and most of the concerts are free. In choosing locations of outstanding natural beauty and, in some cases, sites that are completely off-the-wall, Widmann and his team create an experience that's not just unique, but world class.

Tim Dickeson (story & photos)