(Monheim-am-Rhein. 22-26 June 2022. Festival Round-Up by Tony Dudley-Evans)
The Monheim Triennale is a festival in Monheim-am-Rhein, an attractive small town by the Rhine, roughly half-way between Cologne and Düsseldorf. The festival has the support of the town’s go-ahead mayor Daniel Zimmermann who was present not just for the opening ceremony and the closing press conference, but also at quite a number of the concerts. It was programmed by Reiner Michalke with the support of a small team.
This festival, which describes its mission as “to document ground-breaking artistic positions in contemporary music” has an approach which differs from most international jazz festivals: the focus is on individual musicians rather than on groups, and on giving composers the opportunity to create a new project for the festival.
No fewer than sixteen musicians were commissioned to create a ‘signature project’ with a new work, or a new group, or adding a special guest to a regular group. Interwoven with these signature works were a series of informal duo and trio sessions with different configurations of players attending the festival.
Most of the sessions took place on the festival boat, the MS RheinGalaxie, moored on the Rhine a short walk from the festival hotel. It is an atmospheric setting with its two music rooms, one large for the signature projects, the other small and intimate for the small group sessions. Other events took place in a cafe in town and in a flexible club, Sojus, that worked well with either seated or standing audiences.
The opening event, however, took place in the open air on both banks of the Rhine and in the river itself, taking advantage of the location to present an amazing soundscape. This was Entwurf einer Rheinlandschaft (Draft of a Rhine Landscape) which brought together disparate musical elements, solo horn, solo voice and spoken word from two boats in the middle of the river, trumpet and trombone choirs on balconies of flats near the river, two accordion groups and a spoken word group placed on either side of the center of activity, a roundabout by the river. At one point there was an electronic drone from the other side of the river. The focus was on the creation and projection of a wide range of interesting electronic and acoustic sounds before two opera singers entered proceedings, initially at different points around the roundabout, and then coming together for the stunning climax in which their voices were surrounded by the electronic and brass sounds from the different sites around the river. The piece was composed and curated by an important figure from the Cologne experimental scene, Marcus Schmicckler. It was a truly spectacular and unique event.
Here is a personal selection of some other impressive festival events:
For this concert, composer Marcus Schmickler on laptop, was joined by Thomas Lehn on digital synthesizer and Chris Corsano on drums. They used laptops and synthesizers to create a special sound based on electronics and noise music. Whereas the building of this sound can be very exciting, it can sometimes become repetitive. Here, however, Corsano’s intelligent contributions on the drums added a variety and dynamism that really added to the sound. A stunning set and a highlight of the day.
Stian Westerhus Trio
Hearing Stian Westerhus after a long gap brought the realisation that his music has changed in a number of significant ways. Stian’s vocals add a whole new dimension, but the intensity of the group interplay between Ståle Storløkken on keys and electronics and Erland Dahlen on drums and electronics is still the key feature of the trio’s music.
Robert Landfermann ‘Rhenus’
Robert Landfermann, a double bass player and composer, was born and brought up near the Rhine, and his signature project was dedicated to the river. This was an acoustic set with very attractive writing for a septet including two drummers, Christian Lillinger and Jonas Burgwinkel who complemented each other extremely well, thereby creating a real energy in the music. It was good to see and hear in the group Percy Pursglove, now based in Hamburg with the NDR Radio Big Band, and involved in creative projects elsewhere in Germany. This was very much a group performance of Landfermann’s intricate compositions, but Pursglove’s solos also stood out. (Project description here)
Sofia Jernberg’s Hymns and Laments
Sofia Jernberg’s signature project was built around a variety of arrangements made by Jernberg herself and members of the ensemble formed for the occasion, which was a small chamber group, The Resonanz Ensemble, plus Peter Evans on trumpet, Cory Smythe on piano and Okkyung Lee on cello. Jernberg was particularly effective on two arrangements made by Peter Evans, one of Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life, and a wordless version of Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday. The rhythmic careful adaptation of Lush Life by Evans and Jernberg’s performance of it was very special.
Kris Davis Emergence Quartet
In this set we returned to top class small group acoustic jazz featuring Kris Davis’ intricate compositions and solo style. For her signature project she wrote for a new quartet of young players all taught by Davis. These were Milena Casado on flugelhorn, Noah Garabedian on bass and Ivanna Cuesta on drums. This was a deeply satisfying set with excellent playing all round.
Ingrid Laubrock ‘Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt
Ingrid Laubrock has become a key member of the creative scene in New York, and her albums on the Swiss Intakt label have focusedsed on her work as a composer. Her Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt work presents two versions of her compositions, one for a small group, the other for the group plus a chamber orchestra. Here Laubrock took the opportunity offered by the festival and her signature project to present the full scale version with a group featuring Sam Pluta on electronics, Cory Smythe on piano, Robert Landfermann on bass and Tom Rainey on drums plus the eos Chamber Orchestra conducted by Susanne Blumenthal.
Colin Stetson Ex Eye with Brighde Chaimbeul + Drone
Colin Stetson had two signature projects, the first in the Sojus club, the second on the main stage on the boat. The first involved a collaboration between Stetson’s regular group, Ex Eye, with Brighde Chaimbeul on bagpipes. Stetson and the group built an overwhelming and fascinating sound based on Stetson’s circular breathing technique on both alto and bass saxophones, and Chaimbeul’s bagpipes integrated with that sound adding an extra unique dimension. Ex Eye impresses with its over-powering sound, but it all seems to be at one loud level without much change. It was therefore interesting that Stetson’s second project, Drone Stian Westerhus on guitar, had much more space in the music providing the opportunity to take in and enjoy the interaction between Stetson and Wersterhus.
All the commissioned artists were free to form special groups for their project and one advantage of this was there were a large number of musicians available for other sets, mostly in duos and trios in the boat’s small lounge. Perhaps the most impressive of these sets, however, was a solo performance by Ståle Storløkken on a church organ in a nearby church in which he took advantage of the whole range of the organ. This was followed by a dramatic set with Jennifer Walshe interacting with two saxophonists down in the church, Zoh Amba and Maria Grand. Zoh Amba is a real find, a highly energetic player with something of Albert Ayler in her playing. Also enjoyable was a duet between Ingrid Laubrock and Kris Davis, and sets up in the cafe and the club by the Ugandan percussionists, Nihiloxica. There was also an engaging School Project led by guitarist Sam Amidon.
Monheim Triennale is a hugely ambitious festival that successfully brings together contemporary jazz, improvised music, electronica and contemporary classical music, and shows that these genres exist together comfortably, and, moreover, reinforce the strengths of each one through collaborations and informal jamming. The main event, the Triennale, is planned to take place every three years, but we are promised a SoundArt festival in 2023 and a prequel in 2024.
LINK: Monheim Triennale website