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Saturday, November 7, 2020

Jazzfest Berlin 2020: Day 2 (Berlin <--> New York City)

By Paul Acquaro

The connection between Berlin and New York for Jazzfest Berlin 2020 was fully realized today. Starting at 4 p.m. CET (Central European Time) or 10 a.m. EST (ya know, New York Time), WBGO's Nate Chinen introduced alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin who led her group through a set of John and Alice Coltrane's music. 
Lakecia Benjamin  ©Wolf Daniel
Suffice to say, Coltrane's sound filled the Roulette concert hall as drummer E.J. Strickland (replacing Darrell Green), bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and pianist Zaccai Curtis evoked a classic spirit. Benjamin took to the stage, playing to the robotic camera system and an audience attuned to their screens. She was ablaze. Within the first 15 minutes she and the band reached a level of intensity that set the bar high for the rest of her set. Though inspired by the Coltranes, Benjamin added her own sound, both reverent and modern, making it something new.

Then, switching to the stage in Silent Green, part-time Berliner Lina Allemano and her trio Ohrenschmaus offered a fascinating contrast. The fiery precision of Benjamin's set gave way to the precise firings of Ohrenschmaus' kinetic improvisations. To begin, Allemeno blew a fuzzy tone and Dan Peter Sundland drew a bow against the strings of his electric bass. Then, with drummer Michael Griener's help, the trio broke into a series of jittery syncopated passage. 
Lina Allemano and Ohrenschmaus © Camille Blake / Berliner Festspiele
Watching the concerts online does allow the mind to wander and to wondering: what does it mean to perform like this, sans living audience, but very much live in/to the world? Allemano captured this notion well when, after an intricate piece came to an end, she said "it's unnerving when there is silence ... in my imagination there are other things going on ...". Similarly, Benjamin introduced the band after their first tune as if there was a live audience there - and there was - but not able to provide feedback. New dynamics are at play.

Like what came next in the livestream. The performance from guitarist Philipp Schiepek Quartet was pre-recorded in Munich prior to the festival, but was premiering now. The piece “Meadows and Mirrors”, a sophisticated slice of modern jazz, was composed by Schiepek for the festival. This was followed by another pre-recorded concert, this time from Cologne, where trombonist Shannon Barnett led her quartet through a mix of modern jazz compositions, ending with a freely improvised piece.

Then, the concert moved back across the ocean to Roulette where woodwindist Anna Webber's group 'Clockwise' took the stage. They began by blowing a dissonant circular riff punctuated by sharp rhythmic hits. Reaching a peak of intensity, a solo passage on the cello opened up a new avenue of possibilities, eventually leading back to buzzing dissonance from the horns. Webber is a master of creating these knotty tunes. Her compositions often build in concentric layers, a mix of syncopated lines and fraught passages leading to gripping moments. (Check out her album Clockwise on Pi Recordings). 

Anna Webber's Clockwise ©Wolf Daniel

The group that followed, back at Silent Green, was actually the most "technically" advanced groups, so to speak. The duo TRAINING incorporated Işıl Karataş on live electronics, and playing from his apartment in the USA via Zoom, John Dieterich lent some guitar work (and also drank coffee for everyone). Performing against video backdrop, the group ran the gamut from fiery free jazz to digitally enhanced post-rock explorations with a little skronk mixed in. 

TRAINING feat. John Dieterich and Işıl Karataş (not in pic) © Camille Blake / Berliner Festspiele

This was the halfway mark, and having started at 4 p.m. and stretching until midnight, the amount of music was already staggering. Aside from the music, it is also interesting to watch how the musicians interacted - from performing to an empty hall to talking in real-time between Berlin and Germany, along with the interweaving of previously recorded performances, one gets the sense of more permanent transformation of the ideas of performance and festivals in the future.

... and it begins again on Saturday with Joel Ross live-casting from Roulette at 10 a.m. EST (NYC) and 4 p.m. CET (Berlin). For a full lineup, head here.


Ronald Lyles said...

Small correction - the drummer that actually performed with Benjamin was E.J. Strickland.