July 4, 2013
By Ken Waxman
More than 40 years after East Germany’s so-called free jazz paradise regularly attracted Woodstock-sized crowds to this town, about 20 kilometres from the Polish border – and three years after it was revived after a 29-year government-nudged hiatus – JazzWeksttatt Peitz is still working to define its identity
Celebrated in its earlier days as perhaps the one place young East Germans could camp in the open air and experience Western-styled peace and love vibes, albeit with a jazz rather than a rock soundtrack, the festival celebrated its 50th program June 7-9, inviting 21 acts to perform in four different venues, with “open air” now an enclosed tent with rows of chairs.
Nostalgia at its most cringe-inducing was on display during trombonist Joe Bowie and Defunkt’s vocally energetic R&B revue-style set in the tent, when half a dozen males gyrated in Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR)’s version of the frug. Playing in a nearby church, the day earlier, tenor/soprano saxophonist Archie Shepp, steadfast bassist Wayne Dockery and facile pianist Tom McClung were well-received for what has been Shepp’s usual program for the past couple of decades, mixing originals with ponderous renditions of classics such “Come Sunday”, “Harlem Nocturne” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”, which Sheep sang. Referencing the somnolent ‘50s rather than the committed ‘60s, it was music that would likely have been mocked by Shepp’s revolutionary younger self. Also disappointing was the trio set by guitarist Joe Sache, who likewise seemed to have exchanged his fiery DDR- celebrated improv skills for a mixture of fusion licks and folksy strums. Also odd was how, Sache refused the utilize New York saxophonist Jon Irabagon’s considerable solo skills when he joined the band for a couple of tunes at the finale. Instead the saxman was limited to decorative riffsin unison with Scahe and bassist Fred Thelonious Baker
More positively, the exciting potential shape of JazzWeksttatts to come was displayed by Irabagon and his associates in Mostly Other People Do The Killing (MOPDTK) and Foxy plus other young and defiantly older performers who refuse to entertain the idea of jazz as nostalgia. Solidly fused after 10 plus year together, MOPDTK – bassist Moppa Elliott, drummer Kevin Shea, trumpeter Peter Evans and Irabagon – subtly wrap extended techniques within a linear approach ;propelled by Elliott’s slaps and strums and Shea’s woodblock accents and bass drum emphasis. Likewise the trumpet-saxophone dialogue is such that Evans – whose usual forte as he demonstrated during a previous solo set is tonal variations and timbre exposure – often starts a phrase and Irabagon finishes it.
Another well-integrated unit which played an early morning gig in the outdoor patio of a nearby restaurant was Berlin-base trombonist Gerhard Gschlössl’s Das Moment with bassist Johannes Fink and drummer Steve Heather. Cognizant of the slide’s capacity for humor as well as romance, Gschlössl was as apt to pump out verbal farts atop a walking bass line and whisked drum accents as he is the slide out a smooth tremolo line that in its relaxation and romanticism could be a close cousin to “Making Whoppee”. Much of the solid pacing was the result of Fink’s control plus Heather’s attack equally proficient creating C&W-like clip-clops or bop-like pops. Exposing another novel approach, Berlin-based UK pianist Julie Sassoon’s quartet spun out an intricate chamber jazz recital at the town Rathaus one afternoon. Evolving in leisurely fashion from Sassoon’s intricate piano patterns, the compositions took shape more from mid-range harmonizing of trumpeter Tom Arthurs’ open horn and Lothar Olmeier’s clarinet than even the New music oriented clanks of Samuel Rohrer’s percussion.
Taking an opposing and very much noisier avenue for improvisation in the open air was the suit-and-tie wearing duo of Christopher Rumble: percussionist Demian Kappenstein and dual-turntablist DJ Illvibe from Dresden and Berlin respectively. Drumming in a sharp, speedy style that appeared to take a lot more from Sandy Nelson than any jazzer, Kappenstein also kept the program shifting constantly. At one point literally creating brush work from a whisk broom, the percussionist also smacked a vertical sheet of galvanized tin, plus tossed handfuls of pebbles and coins onto his drum heads to vary the tempos. Using children’s rattles and horns to produce other noises, his strategy paralleled that of DJ Illvibe. Rarely scratching his LP rhythmically, he utilized the stic from work vinyl as a continuum, also making his points by unexpectedly interpolating the ringing of church bells, marimbas pops, an overriding bass line and Farfisa-organ jiggles; as well as slowing down or accelerating voicesd singing in English to emphasize certain phrases.
Playing in the same imposing concert space in Peitz’s 13th century tower as MOPDTK, Duology – trumpeter Ted Daniel and clarinetist Michael Marcus – paired with drummer Andrew Cyrille proved that constant innovation isn’t limited to the young. Drawing on original material from the ‘70s to the ‘00s, the trio was confident in using the folkiness of Ornette Coleman early combos and memories of Eric Dolphy’s unparalleled techniques as building blocks for their own creations. Moreover when the drummer’s bumps which shook the solar plexus creatively colored Marcus’ woodpecker-like yelps and Daniels’ open-horn purrs the result was not only exhilarating but also confirmed their creative open-mindedness.
But the performance that convincing wrapped together an understanding of JazzWeksttatt Peitz’s past with an elaboration of his future potential was Wadada Leo Smith’s spectacular morning program in the same venue on the last day. Someone whose trio with bassist Peter Kowald and drummer Baby Sommer had played in front of thousands during the festival free jazz heyday, Smith didn’t bother with bygones, but committed himself full to one of his infrequent solo sets. Bubbling lip accents, deconstructing melodies and vibrating timbres off medieval stones, his tone was alternately ethereally pure or dense as a bagpipe drone. Suddenly part way through, he added processing to the mix, altering the timbres he had just recorded live to comment his further creations. Although on the cusp of modernity with these electronics, he also ensured that the smeary blues tonality that always characterized his playing remained.
If the more forward looking programming in this defining year of JazzWeksttatt Peitz will continue to be emphasized, it’s likely its role as a vital festival experience will remain for many more anniversaries.
—For The New York City Jazz Record July 2013