Written by Tim Wilkins from WBGO-FM
Bremen may be best known for its love of soccer and Beck’s beer, but every April, its Jazzahead! festival turns the German port town into a capital city of jazz for a weekend
What began as a small trade fair and showcase for German jazz nine years ago has grown into a four-day festival with more than 80 concerts and 600 exhibits, attracting 20,000 jazz fans and professionals. What sets Jazzahead! apart from other festivals — and makes it a magnet for young performers and industry insiders — is its focus on artist development. Organizers host matchmaking sessions that pair musicians with bookers, agents and the media.
“Everybody who comes gets that positive energy, because they meet, network and make plans about how to improve the situation for jazz together,” says Peter Schulze, the festival’s artistic director.
Jazzahead! has a European focus, but more and more visitors come from around the world. Many artists premiere new projects — and come from as far away as Finland, Albania and Brazil. A dozen acts are coming from the festival’s partner country this year, Israel.
Since many of these artists aren’t well-known in the U.S., I’ve been exploring the Jazzahead! roster at the jazz bee, WBGO’s HD2 stream for emerging artists. WBGO is hosting an around-the-clock showcase of recordings by groups at this year’s festival, and will broadcast concert highlights on producer Josh Jackson’s weekly music magazine, The Checkout, on May 7 and 14. Here’s a sneak peek at five acts which surprised me, and may surprise you.
Artist: Eric Vloeimans & Oliver’s Cinema
Album: Unreleased Album
Song: Cinema Paradiso
The trio Oliver’s Cinema celebrates how film music can transport listeners into lost spaces of memory and emotion. Its leader, Eric Vloeimans, is a prolific and evocative Dutch trumpeter who has toured the U.S. with his group Fugimundi. For this project, he created a new band with cellist Jörg Brinkmann and accordion player Tuur Florizoone. The group interprets real film scores, such as Ennio Moriccone’s theme to 1988’s Cinema Paradiso, as well as original compositions for films which exist only in their imaginations.
Artist: Esra Dalfidan & FIDAN
Album: Counter Point
Song: Aglar Veysel
Singer Esra Dalfidan grew up in Solingen, Germany, where her Turkish parents were guest workers in the town’s famous cutlery and iron works. Trained as a music therapist, in 2006 she won a scholarship to study jazz at the Amsterdam Conservatory, where she met future bandmates Tobias Klein (alto saxophone/bass clarinet), Franz von Chossy (piano), Sean Fasciani (bass) and Uli Genenger (drums). Together, they formed FIDAN, which performs her compositions with lyrics in English, Turkish and German. Many of her works with FIDAN adapt elements from Turkish and Azerbaijani folk music to jazz. “Aglar Veysel,” from 2010’s Counter Point, is based on words written by a Turkish troubadour from the early 20th century: Asik Veysel Satiroglu.
Album: Unreleased Album
Song: Windy Road
The band Subtone was born in 2005 at the Berlin School of the Arts, where the faculty includes guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and drummer John Hollenbeck. They’ve since recorded three albums of original compositions, most recently Morningside in 2011. “Windy Road,” from an upcoming release, is inspired by pianist Florian Hoefner’s love of cycling, and includes two of the band’s signature elements: long unison melodies and extended arrangements which create a broad sonic palette. Joining Hoefner are Magnus Schriefl on trumpet, Malte Dürrschnabel on reeds, Matthias Pichler on bass and Peter Gall on drums.
Album: One Day
Song: Ixmantsikka Dub
The Israeli drum-and-saxophone duo Malox may play Polka for Punks, as the title of its most recent album proclaims. But don’t be fooled by the cheekiness or spare instrumentation: The two are highly skilled improvisers who wrap infectious mash-ups of klezmer, Jamaican dub, Balkan reeds and Moroccan rhythms into a high-energy package. Saxophonist and bagpipe player Eyal Talmudi is a graduate of the jazz program at Tel Aviv’s Thelma Yellin arts high school, which has produced many rising New York jazz stars. “Ixmantsikka Dub,” from the group’s 2008 debut (One Day), was recorded in a single day of improvisations in a Brooklyn studio with drummer Hagal Fershtman.
Artist: Jaimeo Brown
Song: I Know I’ve Been Changed
Drummer Jaimeo Brown drew inspiration for his new album, Transcendence, from the poignant recordings of African-American spirituals from Gee’s Bend, Ala. Not raised in the church, Brown says that hearing these spirituals led him to explore ways in which music can transcend entertainment. The fruit of this search is in full effect on this recording, on which he’s joined by the core group of tenor saxophonist JD Allen and guitarist Chris Sholar. Special guests include pianist Geri Allen, Indian vocalist Falu and Brown’s parents, bassist Dartanyan Brown and flutist Marcia Miget. “I Know I’ve Been Changed” features Falu and samples of the Gee’s Bend singers.