7 things I learned in Leipzig
Anyone who crosses the city around the Jazz Days can experience something: Disharmonious, spicy, nerdy. A review of seven days of the festival.
The old man bends over his laptop and plays back a short sound sequence: "It's interesting because it's ugly," says Morton Subotnick, the synthesizer pioneer, about one of his first works.
Impudent to apply this polemic sentence to an entire festival, but: much at the Leipzig Jazztage is ugly, unwieldy, cacophonous, overloud and exhausting. And precisely for that reason: interesting.
I spent seven of the eight days at this year's Jazz Days on the road, searching for musical enlightenment, inspiring meetings and the best coffee.
What I learned in the process?
1. incense sticks are not only for hippies
A spicy smell hangs in the corridors of the UT Connewitz. It also smells of incense as a man named after a prophet enters the stage. Isaiah announced a messiah. Isaiah Collier, on the other hand, heralds John Coltrane, his modal jazz, the steadily swelling, never-ending solos, an ecstasy you can feel without ever having heard jazz before. For Coltrane, playing was a prayer; for Collier, in his mid-twenties, it is more: he also wants to tell of the pain of all the descendants of slaves.
I find myself nodding off: the 15-minute bass solo has a more intense effect on me than any meditation app. As soon as Collier's saxophone howls again, I'm back. A demanding, brilliant concert.
2. the best comes at the end
2.1 Abdullah Ibrahim is almost gone when the pianist puts his hand to his right cheek and begins to sing. South African folklore and U.S. gospel are mixed into his quiet sermon. The emotional end of a touching concert. Ibrahim no longer has the power and virtuosity of the days when he toured with Duke Ellington. But his songs still resonate with the melancholy of the displaced man longing for home.
2.2 A Novel of Anomaly are a band bursting with power. Drummer Lucas Niggli masters every time signature on the planet, Luciano Biondini can solo melodically or explode rhythmically, Kalle Kalima has everything on guitar that came after the blues. Andreas Schaerer is always an experience anyway, and convinces not only as a beatboxer and singer, but also as a self-ironic entertainer.
All this seems nerdy at times. What luck that Congolese guitarist Kojack Kossakamvwe joins the quartet for two songs as an encore. Suddenly everything seems quite relaxed. Heavy grooving African polyrhythms heat up the city pool, the audience jumps up. There is even dancing. Electrifying, but unfortunately too short.
3. improvisation is crap
3.1 The electro-acoustic quintet Tau 5 plays an enervatingly disharmonic late night set. I can't give a final verdict on this, because after 15 minutes I seek the distance. The sounds Ludwig Wandinger produces on electronics/laptop are too high-frequency for my ears. But I can't help the impression that it is the band's concept to refuse even minimal tolerance - and instead to make an impression through volume and constant changes of tempo.
3.2 Lively discussion in the Moritzbastei: the topic is "Classism in Jazz". A sextet around the great musicians Philipp Gropper and Elias Stemeseder accompanies the panel, which agrees: barriers must be broken down, jazz should be accessible to non-academics. Ironic that the music of the six is so noisy that it must immediately drive away any genre stranger? The band members seem to be looking out only for themselves here.
4. improvisation is great
See 1, 2.1 and 2.2
5. identity is a complex thing
5.1 The battle cry of resistance resounds in the East Passage Theater. With "Jin Jiyan Azadi!" Tanasgol Sabbagh and Reza Askari end their performance; they are currently dedicating each concert to the protesters in Iran. Sabbagh has completed a multi-voiced reading; not everything is immediately understandable, but through voice messages, dialogues with her family and with Askari (who meanwhile continues to play bass unaffectedly), the picture of a complex life slowly emerges that "refugee biography" would not come close to adequately describing. Deeply touching.
5.2 The railroad road is quite pretty
Leipzig's former no-gun zone has had a bad reputation for decades. The Tag24 site has its own well-maintained tag collection under "Eisenbahnstraße Leipzig". "Car crashes into streetcar" is still the most positive news item here. The 2.2-kilometer-long street crosses five city districts, and also passes the beautiful former cinema Ost-Passage-Theater. And the Vary, a finely assorted record store that also functions as a chic café.
6. catchiness does not mean superficiality
Whether Nils Kugelmann Trio, Nubya Garcia or Trio Amore: they are all at least as much at home in pop as in supposedly more demanding genres. One can move to it excellently, even if Garcia demands this in vain in the opera. Nils Kugelmann's furious power jazz with rock elements is for me the discovery of the festival.
7. eight days are one too many
I can hardly complain - unlike the festival team, I didn't suffer from short nights and constant cell phone buzzing. But even for me as a guest, the concert overload became too much after four or five days. Why not take a break in between? A day of rest in the middle of the festival week would give the organizing team some time off. There could be small panels or workshops for the visitors who have come especially for the festival - or they could be expected to spend a day visiting the city's wonderful coffee houses, museums and parks.
"Ugly" - that was the Leipzig Jazz Days in the 46th edition. But they were also: shocking, pensive, ear-shattering, tiring, exhilarating, enervating, enriching. The best coffee, by the way, is at Café Tunichtgut and Cafe Maitre.