Salzburg Autumn Jazz Festival

Again more than a whole week of Jazz. Jazz played live, Jazz In The Movies, Jazz of the photographic and painted persuasion and much more. An entire city, the birthplace of Mozart, saturated with sound and flights of melody, with graphic depiction given for good measure.

The first part of the festival was largely given to the indigenous scene and one is amazed at the extent of it. Of note were the gigs arranged and presented by "The Club in Salzburg" . Admission was free of charge on all occasions and the club atmosphere offered has been a great asset to Salzburg since its opening, and the festival in general. The Austrian pianist of note, Rudi Wilfer, presented his Blues Mass at Salzburg Cathedral to give the festival yet another facet of Jazz-related culture.

In the middle of the week Terence Blanchard dropped out of the night session beneath the haunted vaults of the brewery cellar venue made available for Jazz each year. The bewitching Regina Carter was next in line and anticipation was made keen for the Maria Schneider Orchestra performing Friday evening at the Großes Festspielhaus (Great Festival Hall) in Salzburg's ancient inner city.

Ms Schneider conducted, swaying before us (Miles Davis was also apt to turn his back on the audience, but to less effect), coaxing great slabs of glorious sound from her orchestra. The lady is offering us all what could be the salvation of a Jazz world that is still desperately rehashing the Standard book. She brings to us a new world of listening pleasure with her orchestral colors (a hackneyed expression, perhaps, but still the correct one) and utterly fresh section writing. More important still, the whole thing comes together with a tumult of feeling that relinquishes nothing of the meaning of swing. Her solois's are given backdrops to improvise over, and it all works marvelously well. Of note was John Hart, the guitaris'. One hearing of Hart's music and scores of aspiring guitarists are likely to despair of ever achieving such a high level of musicality, and a great groove.

The beer cellar accommodated EST the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. The Swedish pianist and Dan Berglund on bass and Magnus Ölström on drums were by no means Scandinavian cool, but modern they were. Svensson attacks the keyboard, and the strings within his instrument, with a gusto and verve beyond all bounds of social demeanor. We didn't notice the obligatory earing, but imagine a couple of skinheads and a long-haired yob producing some of the most exhilarating Jazz played on any continent. The groove generated by this trio is fully in the modern Jazz tradition. Elation was the name of the game, plus a fair sampling of understanding of the music of Monk and the stuff of all enlightened progress. There it was, fabulous technique coupled with an emphatic drive toward absolute musical enjoyment. Should EST grace American shores, go get some.

There must have been many disappointed fans, with a good number of pianists among them, who showed up to hear the Hank Jones Trio performing at the Great Festival Hall on Saturday evening. Mr Jones refused, quite understandably, to take to the air at this time. After hearing of the recent sad demise of Tommy Flanagan, we hope that Hank will take care of himself. The Abdulla Ibrahim Trio took over the gig and we were given an hour or so of reflective, meditative, minimalist piano playing that lulled us all into a pleasant mood, but nevertheless roused the audience at the end to thunderous applause and demands for encores. One's wife was enchanted, as was another lady in our party, by Abdullah's young bassist whose sheer niceness was matched by his musical ability, slaying the girls and bringing on those private little thought-laden smiles that unnerve their husbands. Ibrahim's wandering, explorative delicacy made an impression. Here was a transcendental performance fostering the deep participation of the listener. One felt a better person after the event.

Jane Monheit and her quartet followed in the second set. Ms Monheit is definitely not just a pretty face. She swings well, if somewhat routinely, with her supporting musicians and is pretty close to sensational when singing ballads. She gave a rendition of Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most that was as good as you will have ever heard. It was truly lovely and sung with great assurance. One could imagine Jane Monheit becoming one of the greatest club singers of all time. We certainly wish her well.

The Night Session with Wycliffe Gordon and the Paradigma Shift Trio in the brewery cellars across town was a rowdy, in-your-face, shove and be shoved affair. The guys in the band were all being funky beyond the call of duty and the fans loved every minute of it. Gordon's style that night was all unabashed growl and attack. Jazz for a feeling of fun and affirmation of all we have ever really believed in. Like up is the best place to be.

Sunday, and an evening of prayer and funky religiosity at the Grossen Festspiel House. Kevin Mahogany preached us the truth and generated the fervor, all the while romping through a blues-based program that stirred all present. Mind you, Mahogany is not just a blues shouter (and, anyway, he doesn't shout), he can also render a ballad with fine sensitivity and a great deal of feeling. His marvelous version of the Brandt and Haymes classic, That's All. Despite his still relatively young years, the man gives us the elemental groove of Jazz with an assurance of having been to the roots and brought it all back for us. May he long endure.

The second and final set was taken up by the Count Basie Orchestra. Sans Bill, but the beat goes on. Less is more, swing is paramount and we are at that place where the heart of Jazz beats forever faster, and with an élan that warms and enthuses the fans. The sections work with the kind of unison that should have us hollering from our seats. We are home. The soloists strolled to the mics at the front of the stage and blew their spiraling choruses to take us yet a step further from the foolishness of what the rest of the world is pleased to call reality. The men in this revived Basie band may not be aware of their contribution to that which makes life worth living, perhaps we shouldn't tell them because it may evaporate in a haze of intellectual perception. The band singer, Jamie Davies, may not be famous among singers (morets the pity), but he swung magnificently with an unaffected right-on style and absolute ability. Guitarist Will Matthews offered an interlude so sublime that we should, perhaps, reassess our evaluation of Jazz guitar. Grover Mitchell and his men reminded us of where we belong. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

by Lawrence Brazier

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