“If I could, I would build a theme park. Walt Disney is one of my idols,” said Anthony Braxton during a panel discussion on the third day of Jazzfest Berlin. At first, this statement took me aback, but the more I thought about it, the more it revealed its mysteries. Artists and ideas do have their own theme parks; even creationists and Dolly Parton have their own, so why not a seminal figure like Braxton? I asked him what the entryway to his theme park would be, and he responded, “You can start anywhere. I don’t aim to tell people which way to go. What I want to do is to present a set of menu of options through which the friendly experienced can travel at will.” Braxton seems to be fascinated by the concept of cartography, of conceiving of his art more as a landscape to be wandered than a fixed set of instructions and, at times, even directly using airport maps as graphic scores.
|Sonic Genome. Photo by Cristina Marx|
As I spent the weekend trying to attend as many of the Jazzfest Berlin’s events as humanly possible, I felt like I was continuing to navigate a musical cartography. This sense came in no small part due to the excellent work of Nadin Deventer, the festival’s artistic director. Anthony Braxton called Deventer a “visionary and an activist”, and I have to say I agree fully. Often flagship jazz festivals of major cities can feel like smorgasbords of (largely straight-ahead) musical content. Jazzfest Berlin is different. It is a deliberate, curated affair, this year centering around the work of Anthony Braxton and the mottos “Escape Nostalgic Prisons” and “A Mother’s Work Is Never Done”. The resulting festival, rather than taking an agnostic or all-encompassing approach, made a compelling and largely unified case for contemporary innovations in jazz.
Christian Lillinger’s Open Form for Society. Photo by Cristina Marx
|Anthony Braxton. Photo by Cristina Marx|
|Ingrid Laubrock. Photo by Cristina Marx|
|Kim Collective. Photo by Cristina Marx|
|Trumpeter Rob Mazurek & São Paolo Underground. Photo by Cristina Marx|
T(r)opic formed the second of two “Late Night Labs”, a new format for Jazzfest Berlin of concerts starting at 22:30. I viewed both labs while lying down on the futons provided in the front row of the Haus der Berliner Festspiele. Fortunately, the music was electrifying enough to firmly prevent me from giving in to the exhaustion that had caused me to choose repose. On Friday night, three trios (Kaos Puls, Moskus Trio, and Mopcut) met for a night of exciting improvised music. In particular, Audrey Chen’s expressive and often unpitched vocal explorations were the source of much intrigue. Sadly, attending these later programs meant I was unable to attend some gigs I wanted to see at the Jazzfest’s partner clubs, A-Trane and Quasimodo. I was particularly sad to have to miss were James Brandon Lewis’s Unruly Quintet, pianist Elliot Galvin, and guitarist Miles Okazaki, who played a Thelonious Monk retrospective (I reviewed the album previously). I also couldn’t make it to the Kiezkonzerte, a free set of concerts with “secret” lineups in neighborhood institutions. I was, fortunately, able to catch the performance at A-Trane of Melting Pot, a collaboration between Jazzfest Berlin, Handelbeurs (Ghent), Nasjonal jazzscene (Oslo), and Jazzfestival Saafelden. Each festival picked a young improviser from its respective scene, and the resulting music was beautiful.
|Angel Bat Dawid & The Brothahood. Photo by Cristina Marx|
|Melez. Photo by Christina Marx|
Both the Friday and Saturday night programs began with a solo piano sets, first by Brian Marsella and second by Eve Risser. Though both sets contained elements of virtuosity (Marsella in his Art Tatum-reminiscent flourishes and Eve Risser in her timbral approach to prepared piano), neither impressed me compositionally as a whole. Similarly, pianist Joachim Kühn’s performance of Ornette Coleman’s music (“Melodic Ornette”) didn’t quite connect with me, despite my respect for his playing and historic collaboration with Coleman himself. Arranging Coleman’s music such that it can be played in tempo and conducted by a band director was certainly an unusual choice. The exclusively white and male big band seemed to me out of place in such a progressive event. Nonetheless, some excellent solos by Kühn, as well as reeds-player Michel Portal stood out.
One of the unexpected highlights of the festival was the (surprisingly well-attended) panel discussions, talks, and film screenings. Several of the events centered around questions of collective organization and of social change in jazz. These issues raised contentious and important social issues. During one such conversation, Angel Bat Dawid yelled and cried at the audience in a demonstration of the trauma she experiences as an African American woman in America and in jazz/creative music. Earlier in the discussion, which centered on collectives in the arts, author Emma Warren spoke about the history of the Total Refreshment Centre, a now-closed DIY venue in London. She passionately stressed the importance of communities in creating spaces and the importance of spaces to creating art. She, furthermore, emphasized the role of space in protecting marginalized voices. It was an apt accompaniment to a festival in which Braxton’s literal use of the Gropius Bau space and philosophical conception of space had been a focal point for me. Warren asked members of the audience to name a place from our lives where “it felt like things could be made” and then performed a “roll call” of these places. After this year’s Jazzfest Berlin, I can say that this definitely is a place where things can be made.