14 February 2008


Based on what I saw that weekend in Berlin, the aesthetic pendulum may be swinging back to “the left” and against conservatism, whether represented by the mainstream (the Berlin Jazz Festival) or the “avant-garde” (the current Total Music Meeting). The venue was packed with people wall-to-wall, filled with listeners from every generation and walk of life there to hear the experiment. The music took place over two nights, and featured Sonore on Friday and Full Blast on Saturday, but all the musicians worked together in various ad hoc combinations. It was the first chance I had to hear and play with Clayton Thomas, and the reputation he’s built was well warranted- a fantastic bass player with a great cooperative, creative, and positive attitude. Peter took a gamble setting up the weekend with the help of Ulli Blobel, but it paid off in spades- in addition to the crowds who were packing the club each night, the German press indicated that the best music of the weekend took place during the sets at Schlott, and that both the Berlin and Total Music Meeting festivals were staid in comparison. Maybe the success of this venture points to a return to musician driven programming, working outside of the “proper channels,” meeting the new audience on new ground. Peter is usually pretty stoic, but I think even he seemed happy about what was accomplished on that weekend of November, damn deservedly so.

Because we had a day off before the second night in Berlin, I went to a Eugéne Atget retrospective at the Martin-Gropius-Bau on Saturday afternoon. Though I’d seen a number of his photos in reproduction and knew something of his importance historically, the opportunity to look over the hundreds of images that the museum had on display pointed clearly to how much he indicated in his work: records of the changing cityscape, typologies, documentation of people, places, and things with little romanticism. Another benefit to catching that exhibition was that I found a copy of Wols etchings on sale in the bookstore, quite fantastic to be able to revisit those images after coming across them at the Tate Modern in London a couple weeks earlier. Before the concert that night I met Christof Kurzmann to discuss ideas about collaborating together: for him, a project at the Wels festival in November 2008; for me, a theater project to take place in New York in April. Luckily, after some juggling of schedules, it looks like both situations will come together and 2008 will be a good year for this new chance to work together.

Of course Sonore’s next gig took place Sunday afternoon in Tampere, Finland, which meant a very early morning and some typically insane travel logistics. I think we landed in Helsinki at more or less the time as our sound check, which meant, since it was a solid hour or so to Tampere from the airport, we were late. After arriving back stage we stumbled around looking for coffee and something quick to eat before setting up our horns onstage to play our set. The show was recorded for T.V. and radio, and despite all the stress and exhaustion the music worked out well. Afterwards the three of us were asked to do separate short interviews for Finish television on the current state of Jazz. Coming off the exhilaration of the Total weekend I spoke optimistically about were the music is and where it may be going, despite the fact that it’s so frequently overlooked by the mainstream media. Some dinner with Peter, Mats, Sten Sandell, who was at the festival to play with his trio the night before, and Andrey Henkin of All About Jazz New York at a Spanish restaurant (in Tampere?) rounded out the night. A short nightcap in the hotel lobby and goodbye, I was leaving early the next morning to fly to Krakow. Well, for a few weeks anyway, at which point we’d be together again in Chicago for a week of concerts connected to the Chicago Tentet’s 10th anniversary celebration in Chicago.

-Ken Vandermark, 2/13/08, Chicago.

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