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Monday, August 28, 2023

Summer Bummer Festival, August 25 & 26, Antwerp, Belgium

(Selvhenter - photo Stef Gijssels)

By Stef Gijssels

On Friday I attended the Summer Bummer Festival in Antwerp, Belgium. The programme was absolutely excellent, with some of the more exploratory music in the improvisation scene of today. 

You can find the programme of both days below. 

Some reflections from my side. 

Reflection # 1 - female musicians. 

I am not sure to which extent this was the intention of the programme makers, but all saxophonists on day one were women. The day started with a duet between French saxophonist Ornella Noulet with drummer Ferdinand Lezaire. Even if trained in traditional jazz, her powerful alto and improvisational skills are very promising. They have no recorded output yet, but it was nice to get to know them. On the next performance free improv luminaries Han Bennink and Terry Ex were joined by Norwegian saxophonist Heidi Kvelvane for their last two improvisations. You can watch a short clip of their performance here. We were treated for an intense duet of British baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts and altoist Dee Byrne on the second stage. Back on the main stage, we had a show by Selvhenter, the Danish all female group with Sonja LaBianca on alto, in the company of Maria Bertel on trombone and the great rhythm section of drummers Jaleh Negari and Anja Jacobsen. The evening ended with the very aspirational and ambitious new ensemble of Angles, Martin Küchen's brainchild, now with 13 musicians, including a string quartet, and with Belgian Hanne De Backer on baritone sax and bass clarinet. Also on Day 2 - which I could not attend, unfortunately - we have the presence of Pak Yan Lau, Marta Warelis, Helena Espval, and the six young female musicians of the Nemø Ensemble. This female presence is only to be applauded, also for the quality of their music, and they're all young, which brings me to my second reflection which is more of a question. 

Reflection # 2 - young bands & old audience

On Day 1, the concert room was packed, and people stayed from early on, around 4pm till well past midnight. Roughly estimated, the audience consisted of 80% men, and between the age group of 50 to 70 (you know: grey hair, ponytails, glasses), while the performing bands consisted primarily of young musicians. How is this possible? We can only be enthusiastic that there is a new generation of young musicians attracted to free music, but why are they not in the audience? How do we get young people to come to appreciate 'our kind' of music? Sure, the 'elderly' (including myself), are still welcome, but why is 'our' kind of music only appreciated by young musicians and not more broadly by young listeners? 

Reflection # 3 - strange music

I am used to strange music - at least that's what my immediate surroundings think - but some of the things I heard yesterday pushed the boundaries of what I expected. The wildest and at time most 'unlistenable' music came from Star Splitter, the duo of Rob Mazurek and Gabriele Mitelli, whose electronic squeaks and squeals, blips and beeps, screeches and buzzes were at times beyond the level of tolerability (especially at that sound volume), even if some parts were great (I'm a Mazurek fan, so yes, great to see him perform). Also the trio of Marvin Tate, Ben LaMar Gay and Mike Reed presented something unheard - at least to me - a theatrical poetic show by Marvin Tate, about social and political issues, shouting, yelling, roaring, bellowing on how "happiness is strange". It was disconcerting, pushing the audience out of their comfort zone, but fascinating, mesmerising, especially also by the quality of the accompanying musicians. The evening ended with Martin Küchen's jazz opera - The Death Of Kalypso - composed for large band and the vocals of Elle-Kari Sander. It was the world premiere of this ambitious project that will see a double vinyl release in April next year. In my opinion, the best jazz opera since Carla Bley's Escalator Over The Hill. Look out for it, including the launch of separate tracks of it in the course of this year. 

Kudos to the festival organisers to have lined up artists who break boundaries between genres and artistic disciplines, who still go beyond the expectations, even of those members of the audience (you know: grey hair, ponytails, glasses), who think they've heard it all. We love to be challenged, we like to be out of our comfort zone, we enjoy to be suprised by anything new. And even if not everything works or means something to the listener, that does not matter, it's great that minds are ears are opened to innovative possibilities and sonic experiences. 

So, a great experience. And if anybody has answers to some of the questions above, please share them. Comments are of course always welcome. 

Day 1

Angles: The Death of Kalypso
Star Splitter: Rob Mazurek – Gabriele Mitelli
Mike Reed – Ben LaMar Gay – Marvin Tate
Cath Roberts & Dee Byrne
Han Bennink – Terrie Ex – Heidi Kvelvane
Cooper Crain – Dan Quinlivan – Rob Frye – David Edren
Ornella Noulet & Ferdinand Lezaire

Day 2

Oren Ambarchi, Andreas Werliin, Tashi Dorji
Susie Ibarra & Tashi Dorji
Turquoise Dream: Carlos Zingaro – Marta Warelis – Helena Espvall – Marcelo Dos Reis
Mike Reed's Separatist Party: Ben LaMar Gay – Marvin Tate – Cooper Crain – Dan Quinlivan – Rob Frye
Heidi Kvelvane – Terrie Ex – Lazara Rosell Albear
Nemø ensemble
Musicopes – Pak Yan Lau


Anonymous said...

the main reason, to my knowledge, why there´s no existing young audience ist that
the educational factor of radio, as it was up into the mid-90´s, is no more existant,
at least in germany. the horror of the digital age, cutting/slizzing all experiences
into tiny bits is in contradiction to the need of sonic experience in a slowly
evolving time process.
back in the 80´s, in germany one could hear a 2-hour-feature about andrew hill
from 5 to 7pm, very comfortable. this allowed to dive deep into the sound world
of an artist. nowadays everything has become a fragment both in listening experience
and commitment.
and the amount of young listeners, i´m talking of audience in their 20´s is even much
smaller mostly, an estimated 5 %.


MJG said...

Plenty of under 40s (not me) at Cafe Oto for the performance of Mike Reed's Separatist Party, with Marvin Tate, this week. Perhaps the festival format is one that isn't attractive to that audience?

Steve Reynolds said...

Plenty of young people at the avant-garde shows in NYC/Brooklyn

Stef said...

Thanks for the comments, and interesting to hear your perspectives. Still not sure why in London and Brooklyn the audience is so much younger.