By Paul Acquaro
Jazzfest Berlin opened with a 90 minute live-cast 'show.' Of course, it was not supposed to go down this way. The previously scheduled meet the artists panel had to be swiftly reconfigured as a broadcast event, and the result was an inviting tour of the long weekend of music ahead. Streamed live, the event took on a variety show format with the festival curator Nadin Deventer acting as master of ceremonies.
The event kicked off with a broadcast of the Berlin's Kim Collective's commissioned video made at the start of the Corona crisis in the temporarily shut Hotel Henri. In this setting, old world charm mixed with surreal humor as music making ensued. The broadcast and subsequent interview made for a nice start. Then, the focus shifted to video art from the group "TRAINING", who are performing with Deerhoof guitarist John Dietrich (who will be joining the group via Zoom during their Friday performance) and then to a video from Moor Mother reading a new work (Moor Mother performed at the festival in 2018).
Focus then shifted to the center piece of the festival: the collaboration with Roulette in Brooklyn, where New York based bands will be live-casting performances to Berlin (in real-time, so they begin at 10 a.m. in New York). Jim Stanley, founder of Roulette, was himself streaming in from his loft in NYC (real-estate envy, ja) and spoke about the influence that his experiences at both the early FMP events at the Akademie der Kunste in West Berlin and the 1971 edition of Jazzfest Berlin had on him starting the Roulette concert series in 1980 in his loft space. In 2010, the series was moved to its current location in a theater on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
Some music followed. Recent Berlin transplants Witch 'N' Monk - Heidi Heidelberg on guitar, and Mauricio Velasierra on flutes - played a short captivating set of minimalist progressive-rock. The duo will be performing with another somewhat recent Berlin transplant, drummer Jim Black, on Friday.
The opening event closed in conversation with bassist Joel Grip, who spoke about the group 'Topsi Unter Haltung', a small orchestra with a home-base at Au Topsi Pohl, a performance venue in Berlin of which Grip is part proprietor. He talked about a made up language "Ap Lla" and the orchestral works that the group created for the festival. In regards to the made up language, it was a case where letting the music do the talking was the best approach. The first of two long form pieces, "Ceremony of Ceremonies" featured strong classical underpinnings as well as full-throated free jazz crescendos. "Ap Lla", it turns out, is quite a musical language (hmm, maybe no surprise there really), and complimented the piece nicely. While the piece itself began with some pantomime from Grip, he soon moved to the bass and led the group through the rhythmic intensities and gossamer lulls.
While opening night had its ad-hoc quirks, whether it was spoken in "Ap Lla" or English, a warm embrace was certainly felt. A nice start to the upcoming 27 events over the coming days, overcoming the constraints and concerns of a global pandemic.
All you need to know about the weekend can be found here.
And to learn more about Ap Lla, download the book!