Challenge and opportunity
The four “Commissioned Works” bands are taking shape and their performances are set to be both highlights and focal points of jazzahead! 2023.
Bandleaders Heinrich von Kalnein, Daniel Erdmann and Felix Schlarmann talk about their projects.
Thursday, 9 February · The “Commissioned Works” programme, in which four German bandleaders resident in other countries use their networks to form bands is now coming into much clearer focus. There has already been an exclusive concert in New York by Ingrid Laubrock’s new group „Lilith“, and the bands in France, Austria and the Netherlands are truly taking shape now, their first concerts to be given soon in the run-up to jazzahead! 2023.
The band projects are expected to be highlights of this year’s jazzahead! 2023, which will take place from 27 to 30 April at MESSE BREMEN. With Germany as partner country this year, musicians have been selected who have set up band projects in the neighbouring countries of Austria, France and the Netherlands as well as in the USA especially for jazzahead! These new projects are expected to have a life beyond the trade fair and the festival.
Heinrich von Kalnein and Jakob Helling’s „Alpine Air“ (Austria)
The German-Austrian group assembled by Heinrich von Kalnein (saxophones/flute) and Jakob Helling (trumpet/flugelhorn) as the Kalnein-Helling Unit bears the project title „Alpine Air“. Alongside the two band leaders, the other members of the group are Theresia Philipp (saxophone/clarinet), Alois Eberl (trombone), Hanno Busch (guitar), Sebastian Scobel (piano), Gina Schwarz (bass) and Reini Schmölzer (drums). Dual leadership of the ensemble was a deliberate and conscious decision by Heinrich von Kalnein.
„Many outstanding musicians from both countries were pleased to get involved in the initiative and united to form an eight-piece band offering a richness of timbres and colours“ says von Kalnein. He explains: „When the invitation for this commissioned work came, Jakob Helling and I were not yet sure what form this ensemble would take. We are both quite active musically; Jakob with his big band – myself currently with my wonderful trio with the Austrian bassist Gina Schwarz and drummer Ramón López and many other projects. So it was clear that we didn’t want to compete with each other, but we did want to take advantage of the opportunity. So after many walks, phone calls and conversations together, it became an octet. The line-up alone made both of our hearts beat faster!“ Some of the most distinguished players on the German and Austrian scene are part of it, von Kalnein continued: „And our first rehearsal phase in Vienna in January also revealed to both of us that we had not been mistaken. What a great band! We’ll see where it is going to take us after our performance at this year’s jazzahead!“
Before the festival opening at jazzahead! there will be an early concert for the band at Tube’s in Graz, Heinrich von Kalnein’s home town, on 24 April 2023.
Daniel Erdmann’s „Thérapie de Couple“ (France)
The bandleader for France is also a saxophonist, Daniel Erdmann. His ensemble, which also includes Hélène Duret (clarinet), Théo Ceccaldi (violin), Vincent Courtois (cello), Robert Lucaciu (double bass) and Eva Klesse (drums), is called „Thérapie de Couple“. „We are talking, of course, about the couple of Germany and France, the engine of Europe, which occasionally gets into a crisis and is therefore always in need of therapy,“ says Erdmann with a smile. The bandleader knows both sides of this divide very well; both France and Germany have been the bases of his musical activities for over 20 years.
Franco-German and European projects in general are at the heart of his work, in which he has been supported by Philippe Ochem and the Jazzdor Festival from the very beginning. „I am very lucky to have been given this commission by jazzahead!“ says Erdmann, „to start a new Franco-German band to offer musical therapy to our ageing couple.“ In recent years, Daniel Erdmann has tended to prefer smaller groups, but now he is taking on the challenge of a larger line-up with real enthusiasm. The choice of musicians was determined by his perception of the kind of sound this new group should have: „We wanted a more orchestral sound, with a mix of strings and woodwinds in middle and low registers,“ says Erdmann. „In addition, we wanted a rhythmic foundation offering both silky smoothness and stability. This particular instrumentation can be treated compositionally in many different ways.“ Luckily, Erdmann recounts, all the musicians who were offered the chance to take part accepted immediately. In general, he says about this project: „To create a completely new band in a relatively short time, to conceive a band sound, to find musicians who represent at least part of the scene of two countries, that has been both a challenge and an opportunity.“
The initial idea was to write a piece for each instrument, where it is the central focus, the bandleader continues: „But especially with the musicians‘ commitments and their musical attitudes, new composition ideas were added and others were discarded again.“ This really is a ‘work in progress’, and in the best possible sense!
Before jazzahead!, Daniel Erdmann’s band „Thérapie de Couple“ can be heard in Rheims on 20 April 2023.
Felix Schlarmann’s „Tree House“ (Netherlands)
‘Work in progress’ is the right expression for all of the newly created bands, including „Tree House“, the German-Dutch project led by Felix Schlarmann. Drummer Schlarmann, who lives in Amsterdam, is deeply rooted in the Dutch jazz scene – the country which shares a land border with Germany has been his new home for almost twenty years now. „I was delighted to be chosen,“ says Schlarmann, „it was also very fitting – I had the desire to realise such a project anyway and am very happy that it has now worked out with the larger line-up.“
Schlarmann, who teaches at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, has always enjoyed bringing together musicians from different backgrounds and generations in his various activities in the Netherlands – and that is exactly what he has done with Tree House. He has put together a group of musicians to reflect the varied and international jazz scene of the Netherlands, but also has the aim to foster cooperation between different generations.
to Schlarmann, the band includes Ben van Gelder (alto saxophone), Mete Erker (tenor saxophone), Līva Dumpe (voice), Olivier van Niekerk (guitar), Franz von Chossy (piano) and Pat Cleaver (bass). He says he felt more like a curator than a bandleader when putting the band together: „All of them are not only superb instrumentalists,“ Schlarmann says, „but also interesting composers – which is precisely what this group will reflect.“
At the heart of this project are collective processes to identify, develop and work at the repertoire and to arrive at an overall band sound. „The starting point is the sound of the group,“ says the band leader. Hence the band name: „Our Tree House is actually a tree house, a project that is both a challenge and an inspiration because of its line-up alone. We create music that is like the ramifications of a tree through the different musical personalities, with many timbres and textures.“
Felix Schlarmann’s Tree House can be heard in the run-up to jazzahead! at Splendor in Amsterdam on 6 April 2023.
Further information jazzahead.de/en/
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