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Monday, August 22, 2022

Cologne Jazzweek (Final Day)

By Martin Schray

The last day of the Cologne Jazzweek always starts free concerts in the afternoon at the Ebertplatz, which is in the center of the city. Of course, something like this is more like a happening or a fair with live music than a real concert, because the bands had to play against the very loud fountain on the Ebertplatz as well as the volume of a neighboring street festival, the normal conversations of the spectators coming and going, and frolicking children. Mental Garden (a sextet) started in the afternoon, followed by two really large formations: Paradoxy Urban feat. Martin Fondse, an ambitious large-scale project with over 60 musicians from the Cologne jazz scene, and LEONEsauvage, a project by saxophonist and composer Luise Volkmann, who explores the African-American roots and conventions of jazz, with obvious parallels to Sun Ra’s music. The band was certainly the most ambitious and musically challenging one, however the Sun Ra approach was very obvious and being something really unique it is hard to get some new aspects from it. But for the event it was quite fitting.


The festival ended in the posh Sartory Ballroom with Danish guitarist Jakob Bro’s Trio Uma Elmo, feat. Arve Hendriksen (Norway) on trumpet, voice and electronics and Jorge Rossy (Spain) on drums, followed by singer Becca Stevens and Tamara Lukasheva + INSO-Lviv Orchestra - especially the two last ones of rather mainstream acts, which is why I decided to leave the festival after Uma Elmo.

Jakob Bro’s Trio Uma Elmo

This turned out to be an excellent choice, because Bro’s project played an outstanding gig. Especially the connection of several songs from the album to a 37-minute whole was very cleverly constructed. The musicians started ultra-atmospheric, taking advantage of the spatial conditions of the high hall, which created a very strong reverb. The quiet beginning evoked associations with Scandinavian landscapes, with fjords, it was as if the spherical music of northern lights became audible. But this approach, very close to kitsch for some, was repeatedly roughened by a consistent electronic processing of the music by Bro and Henriksen, the music turned from too pleasing ways, got something eerie and uncanny. The surface-like was emphasized, because Henriksen’s trumpet, in particular, repeatedly sounded off-key and slightly atonal. Especially when he sang and whistled, the imagined northern lights turned into wandering voices of ghosts. Finally, it was Rossy who, with a few hits on the snare, picked up the tempo and steered the band in the direction of jazz rock, only to bring the whole thing to a near halt again with a few wipes of his brushes. It was amazing how well this music works live. The concert was one of the best of the week, a real surprise.

So, what remains of the second Cologne Jazzweek? More than 50 concerts, about 5000 spectators. It’s certainly positive that young people were being addressed, though I had the impression that many of them were connected with the music academy. New listeners might become interested in a music that otherwise only a few have on their radar. The program was diverse, from Bushman’s Revenge to Christopher Dell’s Working Concert to Sons of Kemet and Reich/Risser/Totenhagen, an enormous stylistic spectrum was covered. The venues are beautiful and varied, and the sound was always really good. The festival is very present in the city, which speaks for a very good organization. The fact that it is grassroots-democracy based is certainly exemplary (the involved Cologne musicians elect a 5-member board of trustees, to whom acts can be proposed and who then put the program together). For free jazz friends like the majority of the readers of this blog, however, the inconsistent spectrum is a disadvantage. Not all concerts were worth listening to, and there was a lot of mainstream stuff. Whether the event's approach ultimately serves the music remains questionable. Young people often attended just the free concerts. Whether they are willing to pay for music that is very unwieldy remains to be seen, should funding flow more sparsely in the future. The competition between the festivals in the Ruhr region is fierce, with the also very new Triennale in Monheim and the long-established Moers Festival as strong rivals. But the Cologne Jazzweek was well worth a visit.


Martin Schray said...

For those who are interested, here are some c oncertsyou can watch:

Christopher Dell:


Savannah Harris Trio: