Burghausen Jazz Festival 2005 in Bavaria

by Al Merritt

One of the great merits of the annual Burghausen Jazz Week in Bavaria is the rich diversity of the music on offer. The 36th festival, which ran from April 13 to 17, 2005 was no exception, the attractions ranging from the ten-piece Big Chris Barber Band, playing a spirited mixture of traditional Jazz and swing, to the somewhat surreal theatricality of the French group ARFI; from the robust blues and rhythm 'n' blues of John Lee Hooker Jr. to the elegant and innovative stylings of the Lynne Arriale Trio; from the invigorating celebration of the unique Thelonious Monk repertoire by Ben Riley's seven-piece Monk Legacy Septet, with special guest Johnny Griffin, to the rousing interpretations of the memorable hits of Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong, as performed by Gene "Mighty Flea" Conners and the Voyagers. And from the vigorous funk and hip-hop of Roy Hargrove & the RH Factor to the dynamic, extrovert Jazz of the McCoy Tyner Trio.

Johnny Griffin

With a population of 20,000 the ancient city of Burghausen, situated 60 miles south-east of Munich, Germany provides an unusual and stimulating setting for a Jazz festival. There are many interesting architectural features in this beautiful city, crowned by the longest castle in Europe, measuring 1043 metres and dating back to the year 788.

The festival is organised by IG Jazz (the Burghausen Jazz Association), and sponsored by, among others, Bayerischer Rundfunk (the Bavarian radio and television service), the Bavarian brewery Hofbrauhaus Traunstein and the major industrial employer in the town, Wacker Chemicals. The mayor of Burghausen, Hans Steindl, is a devoted Jazz fan and was, in fact, responsible for introducing the French group, ARFI, to the festival. When the festival organizers celebrated the 30th year of the event in 1999, they inaugurated the Jazz Street of Fame by setting into the pavement in the town centre bronze plaques bearing the signatures and dates of appearance of some of the great Jazz artists who have performed at the festival, including Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, Gerry Mulligan, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Horace Silver and many more. This year saw the addition of McCoy Tyner's name to the Street of Fame.

The four-day celebration began in the Wackerhalle with the Monk Legacy Band led by veteran drummer, Ben Riley, whom aficionados will recall was a member of Sphere, the 1980's quartet, which also comprised Charlie Rouse, Kenny Barron and Buster Williams, and was created to pay tribute to Monk and his music. The tightly-knit Legacy Band played Monk repertoire arranged by its stylish trumpet player, Don Sickler, with the three-man saxophone team well featured and drawing upon the enthusiastic support of new talent Freddy Bryant on guitar, bassist Dennis Irwin deputizing for another former Jazz Messenger, Essiet Okon Essiet, and Ben's superbly immaculate drumming. Special guest Johnny Griffin was a stimulating addition to the band on several numbers, sparking off exciting exchanges with Ben, an old cohort.

The absence of a pianist in the group was clearly a recognition of the fact that any contender for the piano chair would be faced with an impossible dilemma - whether to try to simulate Monk's inimitable style, which would be potentially disastrous, or to be himself, which would be irrelevant.

The second concert of the evening put the spotlight on the exciting playing of the McCoy Tyner Trio, with special guest Bobby Hutcherson at the vibraphone. The leader played in his spirited, highly percussive way, as was to be expected, and demonstrated a remarkable empathy with Hutcherson's energetic contributions.

 Bobby Hutcherson

 Lynne Arriale

 The following evening featured the extraordinary pianist, Lynne Arriale, who displayed commanding technique, imagination and sensitivity with her distinctive interpretations of standards and her own original compositions. Bassist Jay Anderson underpinned her harmonies to perfection and percussionist Steve Davis added unusual and dramatic accents and solos to the program. This concert received enthusiastic support from the delighted audience, resulting in a substantial queue during the interval to purchase signed copies of Lynne's latest CD.

 Roy Hargrove


The second concert of the evening, by Roy Hargrove & the RH Factor, represented a very different Jazz approach, some elements of which had echoes of the electric period of Miles Davis. The arrangements were very tight, there were many brilliant moments from Roy and saxophonist Jowe Omicil and the presence of two enterprising drummers, Willie Jones III and Jason Thomas, created great audience excitement when the inevitable "drum battle" ensued.

On the third day the festival presented the Hungarian group, Djabe, the word for "freedom" in the African Ashanti language, a seven-piece outfit which was founded in 1995 and which is Hungary's leading fusion band. They offered a fascinating blend of Jazz, rock, pop, folklore and world music. Their leader, Tam·s Barabas, played bass guitar with great inspiration and resourcefulness and percussionist Andras Sipos, who co-founded the group with guitarist Attila gerh·zi, not only introduced a multitude of musical toys but also chanted African songs. Their chief soloists were Ferenc Kovacs, an exciting trumpeter and violinist, and alto saxophonist, Viktor Toth. Although drummer Szil·rd Banal played an unusual funk beat in this set, he was later heard jamming at the Jazzkeller, where he showed that he could also play extremely well in the bebop idiom.

The second part of this evening's concert offered the most unusual and entertaining stage presentation that could be imagined at a Jazz festival. This was the performance of the French group ARFI "La Grande Illusion." ARFI stands for "Association ¦ la Recherche d'un Folklore Imaginaire" (Association of research into an imaginary folklore). The band mixed stylish Jazz playing with magic, comedy and a variety of maniacal playlets, such as the extraordinary moment when several horn players dressed in oversized, bright red tunics marched around on stage, each appearing to have three legs. On another occasion, a trombonist kept hearing his notes repeated, especially when playing in front of a mirror, and then, from behind this mirror, a second trombonist appeared. This second trombonist also played drums in the final set, matching the skill of the two regular drummers. Altogether, a remarkable show staged by thirteen very talented musical comedians.


 On the final day the Wackerhalle presented two afternoon and two evening concerts. First up were Gene "Mighty Flea" Conners & The Voyagers, who did a great job of honouring the late Ray Charles with many of his favoured rhythm 'n' blues hits and also Louis Armstrong's classic, "It's a Wonderful World." Conners' catchy vocals and strong trombone solos fitted the bill very well and he received great support from his four sidemen, especially by the highly talented saxophonist, Stephan Abel. This was a laid- back session in which the bandís obvious enjoyment was happily communicated to the audience.

The second set featured the renowned blues artist, John Lee Hooker Jr. With support from a well-rehearsed and highly energetic septet, John brought an adroit element of show business into the hall. He had tremendous back-up from the spirited keyboardist William "Roc" Griffin, bass guitarist Craig Robertson and the young guitarist, Jeff Horan, who knew and played all the favourite licks of BB King. John had the audience eating out of his hand.

Saturday night's concert opened with a powerful Latin quartet, Gregory Gaynair's Pimiento Express. Gregory gave us a dynamite display of sparkling pianistics together with sensitive touches and classical influences and his superb percussionist, Alfonso Garrido, scored with a dazzling display of technique.

The Big Chris Barber Band, smartly attired in evening dress, provided a rousing conclusion to the evening. This band has had a very good following in Germany for many years, particularly as they play a wide range of different styles of Jazz, r&b and swing. At the beginning of the set, all musicians played the early Jazz arrangements and, as the concert progressed, moved into different styles and broke up into smaller groups. Pat Halcox, a Barber stalwart, played his usual strong trumpet solos and Vic Pitt on bass and Colin Miller at the drums showed great prowess in adjusting to the different musical periods. Chris, who celebrated his 75th birthday that day, showed that he had lost none of his instrumental and vocal panache and was extremely well received by the audience.

 David Murray

The Stadtsaal also offered two concerts on this Saturday evening, StraSax (four saxophonists and a drummer) followed by David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters (tenor saxophone/bass clarinet, trumpet, bass, drums). Regular visitors to the festival will know that this venue is for avant-garde fans.

In addition to the main concerts in the Wackerhalle, several cafés and bars staged Jazz performances on the Friday and Saturday nights from 11 pm into the early hours. Among the selection of r&b, jive and salsa bands there was also Miss Sidney Ellis and her fine blues group, packing the delightful Café am Bichl, and the trio of pianist Layafette Harris Jr., which attracted capacity crowds at the Jazzkeller, where musicians from the concerts flocked to jam. Lafayette was supported by Dwayne Dolphin on string bass and the mighty Winard Harper on drums. Stephan Abel and David Murray were among the sitters-in, followed by John Lee Hooker Jr.'s rhythm section plus a number of unknowns from the audience, in the true tradition of the Jazz jam session. Lafayette brought the session to a close at around 4 am, providing a memorable conclusion to an eventful and enjoyable festival.

by Al Merritt

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