Suedtirol Jazzfestival Alto Adige 2022
(Festival Round-Up and iPhone snaps by Alison Bentley – Part 1 of 2)
Women with altitude- among the mountains surrounding Bozen/Bolzano, women have leading jazz roles. The festival’s theme this year was “Europa”, the artwork showing a classical painting of the mythological figure playing electric guitar. With her elegant curls, Leipzig guitarist Steffi Nar almost seemed to embody the character, here in improvising duo with drummer Oliver Steidle. (Jun 27) Her guitar was growly, the antithesis of kitsch. The drumming was powerful, bringing together punk and funk like a mountain storm in the Waaghaus’ deep cellar. You could feel the current of air forced from the bass drum over the molten rock guitar and dripping bell sounds.
There are mountain views from Bolzano’s streets, including the “base camp”, the Parco Cappuccini, enclosed by its Gaudi-esque Wall; jousting tents sheltered us from sun and rain. The festival likes to bring together newcomers with established musicians, and young British drummer Jas Kayser was performing with UK saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch. (Jun 27) She studied at Berklee and was mentored by Terri Lyne Carrington. She brought a strong hip hop energy to Kinch’s improvised loops, sax and rap, but also great subtlety, recalling some M-Base drumming. She created textures behind his gorgeous split sax notes with mallet rolls and a big groove. Kinch is a great entertainer, freestyling using words contributed by the audience (who else would rhyme “gecko” with “prosecco”?)
In the mountain lodge Stanglerhof Völs am Schlern, Turkish singer/cellist Sanem Kalfa and Mexican singer/bassist Fuensanta Mendez (Jun 28) had created songs for their three day residency. Friends from Amsterdam, they had a relaxed vibe and their pure clear high voices were well-matched as a local cockerel responded enthusiastically to the music. “See you on the other side of our journey,” they said, as they led us through songs and improvisations in Turkish, English, Spanish and Mexican dialect. Drawing on folk influences, they used electronica to create the faint echo of notes gone before like ghosts. Sometimes Méndez played bass like a percussion instrument; Sometimes Kalfa put down her cello and moved her arms as if playing a theremin, plucking notes out of the air as she sang. As they developed their folk-influenced harmonies, it was as if there was no barrier between them and the audience, and the voices were translucent as they swarmed together and apart in harmony. Back down in the Parco Cappuccini, I was only able to catch the end of the set by Slovenian duo Ana Cop and Kristijan Kragncan. It was enough to appreciate Cop’s ethereal voice in tandem with Krajncan’s cello and subtle electronica, refracting like light on the mountains behind.
In the Parco the following night (Jun 29) vocalist Emma Nagy‘s Hungarian quintet seemed to blend modern modal jazz with indie rock; Her voice was disarmingly natural, somewhere between Elina Duni and Billie Eilish. Their compositions were original and intriguing, often building to a rock-edged climax then drifting away at the end. One piece combined wordless vocals with gentle drum and bass and John McLaughlin-ish rock guitar (Peter Cseh). Another, written by Nagy when she was 17, laid a vocal and bass theme over guitar and piano arpeggios, recalling Metheny. Pianist Krisztian Olah began a piece with jazz variations on Bach’s “O Sacred Head” before fantastic bass subtones (Marcell Gyányi) blended with the bass drum (Ádám Klausz.)
Next on the same stage, festival director Klaus Widmann introduced a guitar duo: “Everybody knows Reinier Baas. (Netherlands.) After this concert everybody will know Ella Zirina(Latvia.) She was performing with her teacher, Baas, having won the under-25 first prize in the 2022 Virtual Jazz Competition- and you could hear why. Zirina’s arrangement of “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” contrasted arpeggios with full chords; Another piece had a choppy rhythm In five. In contrast, Baas’ composition (part of an opera based on the Princess of the Dolomites) had overtones of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, his extraordinarily speedy runs drawing the chords together. “I Loves You Porgy” made the most of Zirina’s sweet vibrato which communicated real feeling.
Next was NEROVIVO, an Italian trio led by young drummer Evita Polidoro (“ ‘Black’ on the odd days and ‘Alive’ on the even days,” she explained.) Along with guitarists Nicolò Faraglia and Davide Strangio, she created a slow burning trip hop-influenced set. The guitarists made sounds like fireflies over brushes, spacious electronica like distant thunder. Propulsion was created not by harmony, but by building rhythmic intensity as the calm but complex grooves intersected. The guitars overlaid each other like percussion instruments and drew us in.
in the cellar at Batzen Sudwerk Ca’ de Bezzi, two late night gigs demonstrated the art of noise. Mopcut (Jun 29) describe their work as “medium-length noise style.” They plunged into the middle of things, US Berlin-based vocalist Audrey Chen creating ululations in a language all her own; a yodelling wildness like Diamanda Galás in an industrial warehouse. Disorienting bursts of static and electronic pulses from French guitarist Julien Desprez merged with the extraordinary energy of Austrian drummer Lukas Konig. König had been there previously (Jun 27) in a different trio with US spoken word artist and political activist Moor Mother, and bassist/percussionist Shahzad Ismaily. Moor Mother hovered meditatively over effects pedals for her microphone, waiting for the right moment. “Sometimes I feel,” she intoned, “I feel like I’m the only one.” There was compelling passion and anger in her preacher’s cadences, picked up by König’s fluttering, uncompromising drumming; then the bass kept the groove while the drums’ free form responded to her vigour and energy.
One of the many great things about this festival is the sheer range of music…