Jazzfest Berlin

Jazzfest Berlin 2015

The emphasis of the 2015 Jazzfest Berlin was on the present and the future of the music, and on reconnecting the festival with the city’s own highly active musical communities. The public responded to the promise of creative risk and adventure by leaving just one ticket unsold – out of 5,893 – for the four days of performances. Nineteen ensembles were presented in five venues, from the three piano trios in the intimate environment of the A-Trane club to the 24 musicians of the Splitter Orchestra, who opened the festival’s first concert in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele with the world premiere of “Creative Construction Set ™”, written for them by the American composer and trombonist George Lewis.

Formed by the free improvisers of Berlin’s Echtzeitmusik movement, the Splitter Orchestra shaped the piece by holding up pieces of paper containing instructions to each other. The audience responded with interest and approval. The rest of the evening was less obviously challenging but just as rewarding, featuring the daring approach of the 25-year-old singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, one of the new stars of the US jazz scene, and the ebullient dynamism of Living Being, the quintet of the French accordionist Vincent Peirani.

Keith Tippett brought an eight-piece band from England to perform “The Nine Dances of Patrick O’Gonogon”, with his wife, the singer Julie Tippetts, making a brief but memorable appearance. The flavour of Puerto Rico infused the music of the New York-based alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, who led his quartet through a suite titled “Identities Are Changeable”. Armenian modes were at the heart of the music of the Tigran Hamasyan Trio, along with a ferocious rhythmic attack. The great saxophonist Charles Lloyd made a warmly acclaimed return to the festival, presenting his “Wild Man Dance” project with a sextet including virtuosi from Hungary and Greece on the cimbalom and the lyra.

At A-Trane, the Berlin-based pianist Julia Kadel opened the series of trio performances with her finely crafted approach. An equally strong impression was made on the following nights by the lyricism of Giovanni Guidi, from Umbria, and the intense rhythmic games of Plaistow, from Geneva. Yet another trio, that of Achim Kaufmann, appeared at a ceremony to celebrate the award of the Albert-Mangelsdorff-Preis to the pianist by the Union of German Jazz Musicians (UDJ). On the Side Stage, late-night audiences enjoyed the Norwegian trio Lumen Drones, featuring the violin virtuoso Nils Økland, and the British quartet Dinosaur, led by the trumpeter Laura Jurd. The Norwegian drummer-composer Paal Nilsson-Love led his Large Unit for the first of two concerts at the Akademie der Künste, followed by the quintet of the British drummer Dylan Howe, whose thoughtful variations on the instrumental music composed by David Bowie in Berlin in the 1970s were played against archive film of the divided city. At the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the three Australian musicians known as The Necks produced an hour of improvisation that enthralled their listeners.

Sunday night’s closing concert on the Main Stage of the Haus der Berliner Festspiele started with Divan of the Continents, a 22-piece ensemble of Berlin-based musicians from various ethnic backgrounds. Their world premiere of compositions by Cymin Samawatie and Ketan Bhatti was followed by the vivid energy of a quartet led by the South African drummer Louis Moholo and by a group featuring the young American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and the German-born singer Theo Bleckmann. After so many ventures into the risky and the unfamiliar, Akinmusire’s elegant encore of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” sent the audience away thinking of the music’s rich history as well as its enormous potential.

Richard Williams
Artistic Director Jazzfest Berlin