Jazzfest Berlin 2016 Celebrates The Conversation

That’s this year’s slogan, according to musical director Richard Williams. And the art of conversation was perfectly executed by inviting Kulturstaatssekretärin (state secretary of culture) Monika Grütters to deliver the opening speech (more later).

Monika Grütters, Kulturstaatssekretärin, during her opening speech at Jazzfest Berlin last night. Photo: Camille Blake

Monika Grütters, Kulturstaatssekretärin, during her opening speech at Jazzfest Berlin last night. Photo: Camille Blake

Music-wise, the first act at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele was Germany’s own Julia Hülsmann. The pianist and ECM recording artist performed with her regular bandmates Marc Muellbauer on bass and Heinrich Köbberling on drums. Added to the lineup was trumpeter Tom Arthurs (who recorded with Julia on the 2013 album “In Full View”) and saxophonist Anna-Lena Schnabel. The versatile, lyrical playing of the leader was the thread during the performance of all-new compositions where both horn players were heavily integrated. And although I had the impression that Schnabel’s playing is somehow still not fully developed or mature, her powerful and strong wailing and stretching on her own “Burnout” was a satisfying and entertaining act. The tune was followed in contrast by a beautiful song by bassist Muellbauer called “Offen” which ended the first set on a pretty contemplative and soaring note.

Mette Henriette performing during Thursday night's opening of Jazzfest Berlin. Photo: Camille Blake

Mette Henriette performing during Thursday night’s opening of Jazzfest Berlin. Photo: Camille Blake

Speaking of maturity, the Norwegian saxophonist Mette Henriette, who released her debut ECM album about a year ago (see review on these pages), successfully transported her eerie and sometimes even spooky sounds onto the stage last night. Backed by a 10-piece band (including four strings and bandoneon), her music, to a much stronger extent than on her record, had an otherworldliness to it, transporting the audience to another sphere. It was mystical, majestic, soothing, and stirring, the overall sound and atmosphere of the 60-minute set was simply astounding. Mette’s compositorial skills and her robust, thick, but never really disturbing use of the saxophone made this an especially ethereal experience.

But the real star of the evening was Monika Grütters, who not only recounted the things she did in the past to support jazz and its culture in Germany, but made a fiery plea for the general acceptance for this music we call Jazz and which is no doubt still suffering from an undeserved and underestimated stance.

 

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