Playing the Haus

Denzler/Grip/Johansson // Die Hochstapler // Umlaut Big Band // Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors // Ullén/Bergman/Lund // Synesthetic4 // Camille Émaille // Tarozzi/Walker // OTTO

On Friday night the Festspielhaus will be turned upside down: peripheral spaces of the theatre building will become the centre of events, the audience will dance on stage and the entire house will be filled with live music. One ticket provides access to parallel performances in three different concert arenas and a varied musical programme celebrates European improvised music par excellence.

A graphic of a hexagonal, jagged star is the visual of the “Playing the House” event

Playing the Haus

Past Dates

Stage: “Umpire Jumble”

Three ensembles invite you to enter the stage house on the other side of the iron curtain and immerse yourself in the creative cosmos of the artists’ collective Umlaut. In acoustic sets and an evening designed together in both musical and spatial terms, they will celebrate the diversity of improvised music beyond pigeonholes such as serious and entertaining, concert or dance, art or club music. Among others, Sven-Åke Johansson, to whom the 2022 festival edition dedicates a focus, will be experienced in several roles and the stage will be turned into a dance floor.


Denzler / Grip / Johansson

(DE, SE)

One of the most exciting things about the aesthetic of the Umlaut Collective is the way many of its members easily straddle the worlds of free improvisation, contemporary music, and swing. Despite being born generations apart the members of Neuköllner Modelle – drummer Sven-Åke Johansson and double bassist Joel Grip, both Swedish expats living in Berlin, and saxophonist Bertrand Denzler, a Swiss man who resides in Paris – embody these overlapping traditions without the supposed boundaries between the styles and aesthetic conceptions getting in the way of the improvised music they make together. Driven by the lean swing rhythms of Johansson, whose ride cymbal operates like a psychedelic metronome, the group extends a potent line of boundless saxophone trios – it’s hard to miss the connections to those Village Vanguard trio recordings of Sonny Rollins, especially the way terse motifs are dissected from every possible angle. Denzler, who’s just as comfortable playing the music of Éliane Radigue as he is Mary Lou Williams, tends to take center stage, unfurling lengthy improvisation that bob-and-weave through the seamlessly accelerating and decelerating breath-like rhythms of Grip and Johansson, but these musicians couldn’t be much more in tune.


Bertrand Denzler saxophone
Joel Grip double bass
Sven-Åke Johansson drums


Die Hochstapler

(FR, IT, DE)

As one of the most thrilling live group in improvised music today, Die Hochstapler put literally the free in freebop. Since forming in 2011 the French-Italian-German quartet has developed a seriously intuitive practice where each set is structured spontaneously, with the musicians—alto saxophonist Pierre Borel, trumpeter Louis Laurain, bassist Antonio Borghini and drummer Hannes Lingens—orally learning and memorizing an ever-growing repertoire so that during a performance any one of them can suddenly introduce a new tune. The others can jump on board or shut it down. The quartet operates as a kind of societal experiment, using tunes as material for real-time conversation and deliberation. Die Hochstapler recently released a pair of terrific albums to make its methodology explicit. “Beauty Lies” contains mostly miniatures—seconds-long fragments, pithy themes without elaboration, a few full yet concise readings of spirited post-bop and one ballad sung à la Chet Baker by the group’s trumpeter—that essentially serve as the raw material for the two extended suites featured on its companion album “Within”. Invoking the buoyancy of the great Ornette Coleman Quartet, the band swings and crashes, digging into certain themes while racing through others. The excitement comes from witnessing the band as they navigate that material in a kind of elaborate dance that gets the same jolt from a dead end or disagreement as it does from spontaneous accord.


Pierre Borel alto saxophone
Louis Laurain trumpet
Antonio Borghini double bass
Hannes Lingens drums, vibraphone

22:20 & 23:40

Umlaut Big Band


Formed in Paris in 2011 by the versatile saxophonist, composer and producer Pierre-Antoine Badaroux, this big band seamlessly entwines its dual purposes: functioning as a top-notch repertory big band performing overlooked music of the swing era with historic fidelity while simultaneously entertaining audiences with its deliriously danceable music. After previously devoting energy to lesser-known swing era music from Europe as well as the compositions of reedist/arranger Don Redman, the Umlaut Big Band achieved a new apotheosis with its 2021 recording “Mary’s Ideas”, a double CD survey of the brilliant pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams. The album takes advantage of extensive Williams research conducted by Badaroux and fellow reedist Benjamin Dousteyssier, complementing her best-known music and arrangements with pieces they rescued, stitched together from fragments, or deploying new arrangements, particularly expansions of tunes she featured on her classic trio album “Zodiac Suite”. In the midst of the “Umpire Jumble”, the big band will show yet another side: in some occasions, it has performed new compositions and collaborated with contemporary musicians such as Alexander von Schlippenbach before. At Jazzfest Berlin they will present a piece by their leader Badaroux reflecting the music of Sven- Åke Johansson, before inviting the audience to dance on the remodelled stage of the Festspielhaus in a swinging finale.


Sven-Åke Johansson vocals
Pierre-Antoine Badaroux direction, alto saxophone
Antonin-Tri Hoang alto saxophone, clarinet
Pierre Borel tenor saxophone, clarinet
Geoffroy Gesser tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Benjamin Dousteyssier baritone, alto and bass saxophone
Brice Pichard, Pauline Leblond, Gabriel Levasseur trumpet
Michaël Ballue, Alexis Persigan trombone
Matthieu Naulleau piano
Romain Vuillemin guitar, banjo
Sébastien Beliah double bass
Antonin Gerbal drums


Three different strands of European improvisation ring out in a single programme: lyric wanderlust of pianist Kateryna Ziabliuk as a special guest in the Ukrainian audio-visual project Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, the quicksilver improvisations of a trio led by Swedish pianist Lisa Ullén, and the knotty, rhythmic puzzles of Austria’s Synesthetic4.

21:30 / German premiere

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

(UA, RO) Musical storytelling

Violist Anna Antypova and vocalist Maryana Golovchenko, both from Ukraine and currently living and working in Amsterdam, have been performing as a duo since 2021. Their collaboration resulted in the storytelling project “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”, which so far has only been performed in the Netherlands. The project includes visual footage from the legendary 1965 film of the same title by the Armenian-Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov and its music is based on the film’s score, which includes traditional folk music and compositions by the Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk. The film is a classic of cinematic history and a major achievement within the legendary oeuvre of Parajanov, whose critical, visually poetic work soon became a target of Soviet censorship.

For the German premiere of “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” at Jazzfest Berlin, Antipova and Golovchenko will be joined by the Ukrainian Milan-based pianist, composer and music journalist Kateryna Ziabliuk. Ziabliuk’s own work has explicitly addressed folk themes, most notably in a 2019 musical theatre piece called “Forest Song” based on melodies collected from Ukraine’s Polesia region, located along the frontiers with Russia and Belarus. Her interest in Ukrainian folklore will also feed in to the festival programme on Saturday night when she makes an appearance on the main stage with the commissioned collaboration project “KOMПOUSSULĂ”.


Maryana Golovchenko vocals, traditional Ukrainian instruments
Anna Antypova violin, electronics
George Dumitriu sound design
Olha Chernii video
Special guest: Kateryna Ziabliuk piano, voice

22:40 / German premiere

Ullén / Bergman / Lund: “Space”

(KR, SE)

It’s no secret that Sweden possesses a rich jazz history, but a thriving younger scene of sonic explorers has quietly developed over the last couple of decades, and this bracing trio, which makes its Berlin debut this weekend, stands among its best. Pianist Lisa Ullén, who has been active since the 1990s, bassist Elsa Bergman and drummer Anna Lund are all charter members of the Anna Högberg Attack, which has lured a spotlight on Stockholm in recent years, but their 2022 debut album “Space reveals” an improvised aesthetic of its own. The musicians keenly lock in, finding common cause with rhythms that coil-up and recline, accommodating turbulence in one passage, only to pivot to grace in the next. Bergman instinctively threads her warm, woody tone through the spaces carved out by Lund’s skittering cymbal play and lurching snare action, providing a firm foundation for Ullén’s bruising clusters and thunderous waves, but also her most fragile lines, even if that means receding into silence at times. Each players deploys extended techniques and sound exploration here and there, but ultimately the focus is on a refined kind of spontaneous interplay.


Lisa Ullén piano
Elsa Bergman double bass
Anna Lund drums


Synesthetic4: “Ahwowha”


Together electric bassist Manu Mayr and drummer Andreas Lettner can transport listeners back to the R&B production style of the 1990s and 2000s, but they’re not using drum machines and samplers.

In the Viennese quartet Synesthetic4 they recontextualize imperturbable grooves you might pick out of a Tony! Toni! Toné! or a Pharrell record, but they function as a wildly funky, off-kilter armature for the frontline on the group’s new album “Ahwowha”. That frontline – clarinetist Vincent Pongracz and guitarist Peter Rom – founded the group in 2017 and they’re responsible for the all of the hooks that pop out of each tune –sometimes lyrical, sometimes oddly psychedelic – with insanely taut unison lines and spindly contrapuntal action playing off the hard grooves in endlessly inventive and often amusing fashion, couching some rather nifty intricacies in floor-rumbling grooves that might hit the feet before the brain. It suggests a nightclub, but good luck keeping in time on the dancefloor.


Vincent Pongracz vocals, clarinet
Peter Rom electric guitar
Manuel Mayr bass
Andreas Lettner drums

Upper Foyer

The duo of Silvia Tarozzi and Deborah Walker transform protest and work songs from Northern Italy with a dazzling mixture of contemporary music, folk and extended techniques, while the French percussionist Camille Émaille explores clangourous metallic worlds on her own and Bulgarian folk rhythms in her trio OTTO.


Camille Émaille Solo


French percussionist Camille Émaille spent her early years working in classical music, pursuing studies at the conservatories of Nice and Strasbourg before joining the Musik Akademie in Basel, where she became engaged in improvisational activities, learning from the singular guitarist Fred Frith. That connection led to a yearlong stay at Mills College in California, where she worked with Frith, Roscoe Mitchell and fellow percussionist William Winant. In recent years, she has straddled several musical worlds, working a variety of contexts, but her solo practice has been among her most striking accomplishments. Last year she released a stunning solo recording called “Belisama—the Metallic Roots”, a resonant uninterrupted 53-minute performance that feels ritualistic in its balance of contemporary percussion music and improvisational impulses. Émaille is virtuosic, but her playing downplays technical rigor in favour of a sonic atmosphere. She refracts sounds that exist all around us, with passages conveying the trickle of water to others that reflect the way the wind can activate sound-producing objects, but ultimately she’s less interested in referentiality than a purely immersive engagement with sound.


Camille Émaille tapan, percussions


Silvia Tarozzi & Deborah Walker: “Canti di guerra, di lavoro e d’amore”


Italian violinist Sylvia Tarozzi and cellist Deborah Walker, who now lives in Berlin, have been working together for nearly two decades, devoting themselves to interpreting some of the most daring composers in contemporary music. In particular, their strong connections to French composers Éliane Radigue and Pascale Criton, have included participation in the creation of new works, where their mastery of extended technique and improvisation have stretched limitations and opened possibilities. This duo project, which launched nearly a decade ago, finds Tarozzi and Walker at their most soulful and expansive. Together they offer adventurous adaptations of Italian folk songs, especially early 20th century labour songs sung by the Mondine, female rice pickers of Northern Italy and political songs of the region’s partisans, who resisted the fascism of Mussolini. Sometimes the duo takes bold liberties in their interpretations, injecting rich investigations of harmony and texture, while elsewhere they adapt the material with rustic fidelity. They add their own impressive voices to the mix, adapting the hectoring polyphony of the Mondini choirs to their own supple, grainy singing in a magnificent marriage of folk tradition and authoritative experimentation.


Silvia Tarozzi violin, vocals
Deborah Walker cello, vocals

23:50 / German premiere


Gabriel Valtchev, Pol Small, Camille Émaille


Whereas the imaginative solo work of percussionist Camille Émaille conjures nature at its most unmediated, recognizing a deep symmetry in her playing with our everyday environments, she achieves something much different and much more specific in her percussion trio OTTO. She and collaborators Gabriel Valtchev and Pol Small each play the tapan—a traditional Bulgarian double-headed cylinder drum with an adjustable membrane. The drum produced a limited sonic pallet—the thump of skin and the clang of its frame. The three musicians move around the performance space in ritual-like movements, navigating sections that are notated and parts reliant upon three-way improvisation, toggling between traditional Bulgarian dance rhythms and free passages where texture and colour dominate any sense of time. Cumulatively they produce an experience that is driving, chaotic, mesmerizing, and mysterious.


Gabriel Valtchev tapan, percussions
Pol Small tapan, percussions
Camille Émaille tapan, percussions