Cologne Jazz Week 2022
(Various locations August 13-20. Reporting by Tony Dudley-Evans)
The Cologne Jazzweek, which is only in its second year of existence, offers a model of a successful urban jazz festival. Rather than focusing on the big names, the festival, under the artistic direction of a team led by trombonist Janning Trumann, has a healthy mix of local, national and international artists, and brings together no less than fourteen venues across the city. There are young artists, groups from other countries through the NICA exchange program, and also an artist in residence.
This report only covers the period I was there, from Tuesday August 16th to Friday August 19th. The overall impression is of a scene in Cologne with excellent venues well supported by audiences of all ages and with a healthy gender balance. The Stadtgarten is a great venue with a café that looked busy all day and three well-appointed spaces, the main Saal seated, Jaki the standing club and the Green Room, the outdoor venue surrounded by tall trees and with a retractable roof that works a lot faster than that of Wimbledon tennis. The Loft is another beautiful room, located at the top of very steep stairs and with a capacity of around 100 people. Two concerts took place in the more formal setting of WDR’s very comfortable concert hall, the Klaus-von-Bismarck Saal. The festival also used other venues, including the more traditional jazz club, King Georg (pronounced GAY-ork).
It is clear from the large crowds in all the venues visited that the festival plays an important role in bringing clubs back and helping to increase attendance throughout the year after the summer festival.
The Loft program
Drummer Savannah Harris appeared in three concerts as informal artist-in-residence; two of them were in The Loft. She recognizes a strong influence from Tony Williams, and her trio with the pianist Mike King and bassist Or Barket playing in The Loft inhabited the jazz territory of the Blue Note label of the late 1960s, adventurous but not avant-garde. Harris left plenty of space for King and Bareket, but overall it was a well-integrated trio.
In trio with the saxophonist from Cologne Angelique Niescer and cellist Tomeka Reid, Savannah Harris responded more openly to Niescer’s complex compositions and powerful solo. It was another excellent trio performance with Reid as always creating rhythmically dense melodic lines on the cello. Harris also appeared in the Stadtgarten Saal in Drums Projekt by Petter Eldh but it was outside the period of the visit.
Cologne-based singer Anette von Eichel presented a sophisticated program of songs by her Inland tide album, but left plenty of space for his excellent band with Sebastian Sternal at the piano, Henning Sievert on the double bass and Jonas Burgwinkel to the battery.
The Klaus von Bismark Saal at WDR
Anthony Braxton appeared with his Lorraine trio with Susana Santos Silva on the trumpet and Adam Matlock on the accordion. The group interacts normally with the SuperCollider program, but it didn’t seem to work. The focus was therefore on Braxton’s compositions for the trio; there were quite a few, always dramatically signaled by Braxton, and which resulted in passages of free improvisation in which Santos Silva and Matlock excelled. The overall sound and approach was that of contemporary classical music, and there were post-concert discussions with colleagues about the validity of jazz critics reviewing this music.
This was followed by the amazing Bassmass for 23 double basses and two wind players. This one was composed and conducted from the bass by Sebastien Grams, and bassist based in Cologne Dieter Manderscheid. Manderscheid retired earlier this year as a bass teacher at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln (Cologne University of Music). For a time he headed the jazz department there and he is an absolutely essential and universally respected figure in the musical life of Cologne. This special and unique concert in his honor was a good way to celebrate his legacy: the official role of bass teacher at the university has just passed to the most illustrious of its huge legion of alumni, the bassist Robert Landfermanwho was born a few kilometers south of Cologne, trained as a musician in the city and recently taught in Mannheim.
The Stadtgarten Program
In the two smaller rooms of the Stadtgarten, Jaki and The Green Room, the highlights were provided by the NICA exchange program. The NICA program is named after Baroness Nica (Pannonica de Koenigswarter), the mentor of many bop generation actors, including Thelonious Monk. It offers career advice and playing opportunities to selected players from Cologne and the region, and in the Cologne Jazzweek presents a number of groups from partner organizations across Europe – unfortunately without a group from the UK This year.
At Jaki, the Stadtgarten stand-up, the Sun Mi Hong Quintet led by a Korean drummer based in Amsterdam, participating in the NICA exchange program, impressed a large young and enthusiastic audience with its dynamism and energy, combining elements of free jazz with more traditional approaches.
Outside in The Green Room was another group from the NICA Exchange program, the Amalia Umeda Quartet led by the Polish violinist, played an ensemble that incorporated elements of folk music into their overall sound. The Trio Charley-Rose de France featured Rose on saxophone, often using pedals to manipulate sound; Overall, this set didn’t seem to sit well (already reviewed here).
The last set of the week at Jaki featured a new band led by an American drummer but based in Berlin jim black called Jim Black and the prawns (not part of the NICA program). Again, a large standing audience reacted very positively, even screaming during the solos, to the intricate rhythms created by Black and the bassist. Felix Henkelhausenand the high-energy lines played by the front line of the double saxophone, Asger Nissen on the alto, and Julius Gawlik to tenor.
In the great hall, the Saal, saxophonist Isaiah Collier and the chosen ones featured spiritual jazz-focused music clearly inspired by Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. There were a lot of exciting bits, and some great solos from the whole band (Jordan Williams, piano, Jeremy Hunt, bass and Ode of Shekwoagadrums) but the set lacked shadow and light.
Cologne Jazzweek has a really well-thought-out formula, has the community of local musicians and the year-round venues they perform at its heart, and is definitely a festival to watch.
Tony Dudley-Evans was a guest at Cologne Jazz Week
LINK: Cologne Jazzweek website