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Sunday, November 8, 2020

Jazzfest Berlin 2020: Day 3 (NYC <--> BLN)

 By Paul Acquaro

Well, it's a stream, I can bring it to wherever I am, and just as easily as I pick it up, I can drop it. I'm not in the concert hall, rather I'm in the kitchen, or in the home-office, or who knows where. I'm not packed into a seat, and I'm not exactly glued to one either. What does it mean? It means that no one would notice if I showed up late for NYC based vibraphonist Joel Ross' opening set - but also that I could circle back and catch the beginning because everything is being archived and streamed on demand. Actually, I didn't ponder this very long, even though I did come in late, I was quickly taken by Ross' thoroughly engrossing set. Savoring the moment to perform, Ross led his sextet 'Good Vibes' through a series of climatic moments, and finally ending on a hymn-like piece. I'll definitely be coming back to this one. 

Joel Ross' Good Vibes © Wolf Daniel / Roulette Intermedium, Brooklyn New York

The group waiting in Berlin to go on couldn't have been more oceans apart. Decked out in furs (assuming synthetic) and other bedazzling ornamentation, MEOW! is the quartet of synth player Liz Kosack synth, drummer Jim Black, bassist Dan Peter Sundland, and vocalist Cansu Tanrıkulu. They mashed up punk, cyber-punk, new-wave, no-wave, a little metal, a tiny bit of jazz and a whole lot of auto-tune. Riffing on musical styles, the group also offered strangely provocative lyrics channeling cat sensibilities (like, for instance, really liking mice) and American problems like the car seats not being heated enough while driving to Starbucks, and the group offered more than a dash of humor.  
MEOW! © Camille Blake / Berliner Festspiele

A historic moment passed during MEOW!'s set: the major news outlets in the USA announced Joe Biden as the next US president. In Brooklyn, German saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock spoke over the live-feed with festival curator Nadin Deventer just after the announcement was made and said that the mood was already festive in Brooklyn with cars honking and people cheering outside so loudly that it could be heard inside. Laubrock then performed with pianist Kris Davis, the two have a long history of playing together and recently released Blood Moon on Intakt records. The music, coasting on the breaking news, evolved into a conversation between two friends who happen to be world class musicians. Davis' gorgeous, edgy lines mixed wonderfully along with Laubrocks serpentine melodies. In interview with WBGO host Keanna Faircloth after the set, Laubrock and Davis recalled that they were playing a show in Germany in 2016 and woke up to the news that Trump had won the previous election. They felt a different energy tonight at Roulette.  
Ingrid Laubrock & Kris Davis © Wolf Daniel / Roulette Intermedium, Brooklyn New York

Back to Berlin: drummer Jim Black, this time in a more traditional piano trio with pianist Elias Stemeseder and bassist Felix Henkelhausen, took the stage. The trio has an accessible modern sound that straddles a line between modern and free-jazz. The trio also has a recording out on Intakt called Rekon.
Jim Black Trio © Camille Blake / Berliner Festspiele

Next, on a pre-recorded Zoom meeting, Deventer discussed with British pianist Alexander Hawkins how the pandemic changed his work with Lebenese/Berlin based visual artist and rapper Siska's, on thier sensory musical experience "SUNNOSPHERE". The commissioned piece kept on meeting new twists and turns, up to the end, explained Hawkins who could not be in Berlin because of travel restrictions. Calling it "a beautiful musical challenge," Hawkins acknowledged the parameters and problems of not being able to have the original group of musicians playing together, and how the focus shifted to an electronic environment supported by a graphic score. This revelation may have lead to very first "Jazz Festival Screen Share" ever, as the pianist showed off some charts. "It's a vague set of instructions," he explained. Judging by the subsequent concert, being in the hall would have been a memorable experience as an electronic disco ball with a tape cassette running on it floated between trumpeter Lina Allemano and bassist Nick Dunston, while Siska rapped in Arabic.

Alexander Hawkins & Siska: „SUNNOSPHERE“ © Camille Blake / Berliner Festspiele

Shifting back to Brooklyn, drummer Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double, a dependably good group, playing an energetic set. Fujiwara mentioned in the post set interview that a new recording from the group is currently being mixed, which is something to look forward to. 

Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double © Wolf Daniel / Roulette Intermedium, Brooklyn New York 

Then, back to Berlin to the final show from Berlin based - and winner of this years Berlin Jazz Prize - saxophonist Silke Eberhard with the tentet Potsa Lotsa XL. Eberhard, who with the group had been exploring the work of Eric Dolphy, for the festival took on the work of composer Henry Threadgill in a show she called "Silver and Gold Baby, Silver and Gold." Threadgill, who is an original member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, continues to expand his body of work, and his latest recordings on PI Records have each been occasions to celebrate. Eberhard's set served as a joyous end to a kaleidoscopic program of music.
Potsa Lotsa XL: „Silver and Gold Baby, Silver and Gold“ © Camille Blake / Berliner Festspiele

Again, too much to hear, too much to watch for one day. I'll have to head back to the on demand to catch back up with the earlier groups like Joel Ross, and Hydropuls and Philip Zoubek Trio. 

Closing day is Sunday, with events starting at 3:00 p.m. Berlin time. Be sure to tune in and catch what you have missed, and keep up with the day. Here is the link.

And a closing note: during the festival the pandemic's impact on the arts was stressed several times and made an appeal to help support artists. This is very important. Please support artists. Please support the arts.