Jazzdor 2022

Aki Takase’s Japanic

Jazzdor 2022
November 5 – 10
Strasbourg, France

Review by Ken Waxman
Photos by Susan O’Connor

Strasbourg’s annual Jazzdor festival may have been around for 37 years, but it proves each time that it’s open to all sorts of creative music, stretching the definition as needed. This year was no exception.

One spectacular example was French guitarist Marc Ducret’s chamber opera Lady M. Presented on November 6, it filled the stage of Cité de la Musique et de la Dance’s auditorium with eight instrumentalists plus soprano Léa Trommenschlager and counter-tenor Rodrigo Ferreira to interpret the guitarist’s musical reimagining of Lady Macbeth’s role in Shakespeare’s Scottish play. With percussive drones, split-tone echoes from the horns and string flanges, instrumental coloring was as important to the narrative’s evolution as the impassioned lyrics. How could it be otherwise?

Besides Ducret playing several guitars, the ensemble included Sylvain Bardiau playing trumpet and flugelhorn; Samuel Blaser, trombone; Catherine Delaunay on clarinet and basset horn; Liudas Mockūnas, tenor saxophone and contrabass clarinet; Régis Huby playing violin; Bruno Chevillon bass and electric bass, and Sylvain Darrifourcq drums and percussion. Adding to the stagecraft, each participant sported some variation of a rough-hewn, rustic brown dress that an 11th century Scottish noblewoman might have worn. With Ducret’s 12-string creating a continuum when wedded to percussion paradiddles, heraldic trumpet motifs evolved in sync with bel canto hums from the singers.

Lady M

Meanwhile, other horn parts moved across one another with clarinet slides and trombone smears particularly prominent. Furthermore as Huby’s shakes and strokes defined a separate motif underlined by electric bass thumb pops always cognizant of linear development, Ducret’s turns on 12-string guitar and mandolin were illuminating, but by the climax he joined the voices to reconnect the sequence of improvisations to the suite’s beginning.

Blaser and Chevillon joined cellist Vincent Courtois two days later at the Fossé de Treize arts space to play music more minimalist in scope. Chamber-jazz, tension-release evolved by contrasting the Swiss trombonist’s plunger farts and hand-muted slides with the string players’ ability to rappel from shrill spiccato slices to formalized music harmonies.

Operating in three harmonic layers, the bassist emphasized sul tasto low tones, the cellist angled col legno smacks and the trombonist added brassy motifs. At points, the three reached a particular level of congruence with a variation on primitive Blues. Courtois’ pizzicato replicated bottleneck strokes; Chevillon’s focused walking evoked memories of Trad Jazz, and Blaser’s grainy tailgate obbligato echoed what was once heard behind Classic Blues singers. Still, with their encore of Duke Ellington’s “Azure” the trio members proved they were capable of elegance as well as energy.

Philipp Gropper   Claudia Solal

French pianist Matthieu Mazué’s group also captured that duality. Comprising bassist Xavier Rüegg and drummer Michael Cina from Switzerland, the working trio’s blend of woody power plucks, keyboard chording, and unpressured rolls and taps was toughened by the FreeBop flutters, altissimo shrills and bitten-off asides of American alto saxophonist Michaël Attias, who joined this set the next night at the Fossé de Treize. Although the pianist’s swirling techniques and classicist expositions frequently dominated, the saxophonist’s introduction of Bluesy asides and tremolo tongue stops fragmented the flow into stop-start theme variations. As well as setting up many timbral elaborations among the four players, Mazué and Attias often combined to transform broken chord seriousness into more jovial interludes.

Samuel Blaser

Strength and sincerity were also exhibited when American saxophonist Tony Malaby joined Belgians — drummer Samuel Ber and keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin — on the double bill with the Blaser trio at Fossé de Treize. Veteran electronic expert Dumoulin performed multiple duties: creating a steadying bass line when needed; interjecting organ-like tremolo jabs and runs to move the proceedings forward, and underscoring the others’ solo spots with processed hisses and drones.

For his part, playing soprano and tenor saxophone, Malaby opened up the somewhat claustrophobic arrangements with authoritative trills, puffs and cries, as well as using the bigger horn for split-tone elaborations, descriptive cadenzas and the odd instance of circular breathing. Ber, moving all over his kit with mallets, sticks and brushes, easily demonstrated his flexibility. Comfortable in multiple tempos, he reverberated his cymbal tones plus unforeseen drum clips and clatters to regularize the pace. Although he never subverted the overall foot-tapping rhythm, his youthful enthusiasm sometimes led him to play too long and too loudly, filling every space with propulsive beats.

Marc Ducret   Daniel Erdmann

A complete contrast to that concept came with the understated percussion strategy of Thierry Waziniak, part of the chamber-improv quartet Kairos, featured at the Fossé de Treize November 9. Waziniak, trumpeter/flugelhornist Jean-Luc Cappozzo and cellist Gaël Mevel are French, while violist Mat Maneri is American.

Their slow-paced, almost uninterrupted performance was probably Jazzdor’s most minimalist. Although there were occasional slaps and taps from the drummer, his pulse was often felt rather than heard and indicated more by mimed inference than sound. Meanwhile the squirming theme with baroque implications was propelled by a combination of Mevel’s squeezed cello slides and swift spiccato squeaks from Maneri. While the strings were frequently harmonized, and infrequent cymbal splashes were sometimes audible, it was Cappozzo’s portamento flutters and swelling grace notes which enlivened the somewhat ponderous narrative. Eventually the four made a modal connection with the flugelhornist, superseding the dobro- and double-bass-like pops from Maneri and Mevel to shake out a concluding lyrical statement.


Lyricism and impressionism were the modus operandi of pianist Paul Brousseau and alto/soprano saxophonist Matthieu Metzger, who performed at the modest Espace Apollonia on November 8.

Chamber-improv at its most delicate, the long-time duo depended on blending careful keyboard and string note placement with hushed reed trills and peeps. Rarely moving to accelerated piano comping or squeezed saxophone timbres, the two produced a balladic singularity that depended on careful listening. Affiliations waxed and waned through repetition of tropes including near-circular breathing and buzzy reed shakes from Metzger, and soundboard echoes plus cascading timbres this side of pretty from Brousseau, without ever losing the program’s low-key continuum.

Mat Maneri

A day previously and although the eight members of Ensemble Intercontemporain (EI) include virtuosic string, horn and percussion players, the hoped-for fusion between it and French pianist Roberto Negro’s trio appeared lacking during a performance at La Filiature in Mulhouse. A component of Jazzdor’s concert outreach, the concert at the soft-seated auditorium was permeated with smoky mist from the stage, often drawing away listeners’ attention, even as the ensemble, along with Negro, bassist Michele Rabbia and drummer Nocolas Crosse outlined the collaboration entitled Newborn. Subtle electronic input from the trio members as well as individual pops, strokes and claps appeared to be not fully integrated with the EI’s performance, much of which seemed designed only to highlight individual dexterity.

Tony Malaby   Vincent Courtois

A more notable fusion variant, albeit of a vastly different sort, took place three days later, where as part of Jazzdor’s cooperative Jazz Passage series, pianist Aki Takase’s Japanic quintet played at the Kulturbüro Reithalle in Offenburg, Germany. Anything but Asian, Takase’s fusion involved integrating the turntable programs created by DJ Illvibe with the Jazz-oriented compositions of the pianist interpreted by fellow Germans — cellist Johannes Fink and tenor/soprano saxophonist Daniel Erdmann – and Norwegian drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen.

Sliding almost into an R&B emphasis, Takase’s hard piano comping, Erdmann’s honks and Narvesen’s energetic chops sometimes moved the performance towards funk and always emphasized swing. Yet while the DJ’s samples sometimes intensified the groove with dance music-like shakes, hip-hop vinyl scratching and repeated or manipulated pre-recorded vocal phrasing, at times he also mocked the more serious moods of the others by interjecting into the performances snatches of chorus singing, crooning pop singers or sweetened big band riffs. Playing cello instead of his usual bass, Fink added astringent stropping to some of the tunes, and the drummer sometimes surprised by bopping a wooden box or popping drum tops with a mallet, adding to the beat. Familiar collaborators, the pianist and saxophonist interacted at the highest level in many tempos with Erdmann’s Trane-like allusions met by Takase’s rolling arpeggios. Not committed to any style, Takase’s tunes could reference Blues at one point and Bossa Nova at another. Committed to swing, they usually stuck to the Jazz tradition by recapping the head.

Jozef Doumoulin

Japanic’s set was preceded by music from vocalist Maniucha Bikont and bassist/vocalist Ksawery Wójciński with a set of traditional tunes from rural Polish villages. Except for some supple bass string stretches from Wójciński, the program was fully in the realm of folk-ethnic music and lacked improvisational variations

A similar conundrum existed with T.I.M, which played a short afternoon set at Cité de la Musique et de la Danse on November 6. Consisting of French pianist Sébastien Palis with Norwegian vocalist and cassette manipulator Karoline Wallace, and vocalist and Hardanger fiddler Helga Myhr. Their output was Arcadian rather than avant garde, with brief tunes based around contrapuntal harmonies involving the voices and keyboard. Interludes of field recordings, and fiddle stops and scrapes added to the defined lyricism, despite the occasional staccato glissandi from Palis. The addition of electronic gizmos and andante vocalizing from one or both of the singers didn’t move the affected folksiness into accommodation with more advanced modernism. Perhaps that was the point of the performance.

Coming from a vastly different perspective was KUU! which performed in the Cité de la Musique et de la Danse’s auditorium, preceding the successful opera-improv admixture of Lady M. Consisting of drummer Christian Lillinger and guitarist Frank Möbus, both Germans, and Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima, all of whom otherwise work in jazz-rock and jazz-improv situations, the energetic show was based around the pugnacious vocals of Serbian Jelena Kuljić. Sporting red bondage trousers and an imprinted t-shirt, her in-your-face English lyrics dealt with power dynamics and the inequality of society. The tunes expressed fine sentiments and were launched atop powerhouse drumming, and dedicated flanges and twangs from the guitarists.

However, a disconnect, similar to what was projected by T.I.M, seemed to exist between those sentiments and exploratory music.

T.I.M   Matthieu Mazué, Michaël Attias

More attuned to both its own vision and that of Jazzdor was The Killing Popes, a Berlin-based ensemble directed by drummer Oliver Steidle and keyboardist Dan Nicholls, which in a Saturday night concert at Cité de la Musique et de la Danse also featured vocalist Claudia Solal, the dual guitars of Frank Möbus and Marc Ducret, bass guitarist Phil Donkin and tenor saxophonist Philipp Gropper. With saxophone squalls, spacey guitar buzzes and consistent bass and drum power, the range of emotions Solal brought to the vocals was fully integrated within the presentation.

As it has for almost four decades, Jazzdor comprehensively presents an up-to-the-minute snapshot of the contemporary Jazz scene for this year. Projects such as Lady M and some of the small ensemble configurations consolidated talents and ideas which will likely have future resonance. Others may not fare as well in the years to come. It’s this exposure of novel concepts that keeps audiences returning to the festival each year.

See Artists for more photos of individual musicians.