Jazzfest Berlin With Tyshawn Sorey – Artist In Residence

Jazzfest Berlin 2017After the very fitting move to Kreuzberg’s Lido on the first two days, Jazzfest Berlin moved to its home location at Haus der Berliner Festspiele for the first of four concerts of artist-in-residence Tyshawn Sorey. The multi-instrumentalist is not really using a regular drum set, but rather a gigantic smorgasbord of various percussion instruments plus a keyboard and a vibraphone.

Pianist Cory Smythe entered the stage at first last night, starting a pretty elegiac, almost trance-like motive with repetitive patterns before bassist Chris Tordini (of Becca Stevens and millions more fame) started to build a certain foundation. When Tyshawn Sorey came on, he acted like a master of ceremonies, walking back and forth between the instruments, carefully and instinctively, intuitively choosing which instrument to play in what form. Sometimes it was just a bell-like hit, sometimes a looser stretch on the electric keyboard.

The whole set was one long stretch of music (lasting about an hour) and had a pretty hypnotic effect after a while. Each time when I thought that something like an established harmonic riff or groove had settled in, I was awakened by something like a very loud hit on the monstrous gong or something similar. The entire piece was very much dependent on mood and atmosphere rather than individual acquaintances. Yes, it was disturbing at times, but never so much so that it became superficial or preposterous. It was more like a séance than a proper jazz concert.

The NDR Bigband was the second act last night and with musical director Geir Lysne, they had a pretty difficult task since this was a totally different setting. I was a bit perplexed when Geir Lysne was introduced with the quote that he rather sees his big band as a conglomerate of individual musicians. To me, that’s the antithesis to what a good big band should deliver – leaving your ego behind and put all you can to enhance the overall sound of the group. Thankfully, the big band actually sounded like one and singer Solveig Slettahjell, an admirable vocalist from Norway, somehow didn’t get the attention she deserves in this context.

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