Heroes Are Gang Leaders Open Jazzfest Berlin 2017

Heroes Are Gang Leaders
Heroes Are Gang Leaders last night at Lido for the opening of this year’s Jazzfest Berlin.
Foto by Camille Blake

The extended 2017 edition of Berlin’s Jazzfest is also the third and final one for artistic director Richard Williams who has opened up the program to a much younger audience by taking its first four acts into Kreuzberg’s Lido club which isn’t necessarily known for live jazz, but if there’s some jazz action going on there, it is usually of the hipper, younger, open kind.

The 11-piece group Heroes Are Gang Leaders opened the festivities in a pretty unusual, not-heard-of way in comparison to previous opening acts. The experimental jazz group, including half a dozen poets and singers, claim for themselves that chaos reigns. And even though the focus was clearly on poetry, it was hard to understand the lyrics during their set. The hip-hop meets Avantgarde backdrop of their music with lots of stops and gos and time shifts wasn’t always easy on the ear.

Bandleader Thomas Sayers Ellis and saxophonist James Brandon Lewis formed the group after poet and political activist Amiri Baraka died in 2014. Influenced both by Thelonious Monk and Arrested Development, it would have been much more interesting and intriguing, if the lyrics had been transported in a clearer and more distinct way. What was left was the amalgamation of various styles and genres which was only half the ticket.

Pairing the group with Shabaka Hutchings and the Ancestors with their mixture of Avantgarde and South African ingredients based on socially conscious matters, was a great coup. The festival continues tonight at Lido with Amirtha Kidambi & Elder Ones and Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone.


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