Arve Henriksen and David Helbock make Mountains of sound at Südtirol Jazz Festival

The Südtirol Jazz Festival is unique among jazz festivals in that the concert locations are as important as the concerts themselves. The festival not only presents the best in new and emerging talent but also showcases the stunning beauty of the spectacular scenery of the Dolomites in tandem with the music.

The locations are carefully chosen – which this year include city spaces such as an art gallery, a park with a natural mini amphitheatre, an exhibition centre and a small club in the basement of a brewery. Locations in the countryside and its breath-taking mountains you will find concerts in remote huts, on hillsides and in forest walks, lakesides and even a hayloft. As a frequent festival visitor this is a breath of fresh air (quite literally!), with each day presenting a new adventure in sight and sound.

Director Klaus Widmann, has a mantra 'New Sounds Fresh Perspectives', and in this he succeeds brilliantly. Widmann's ability to spot emerging talent and the natural resources he can use on his doorstep make for a wonderful experience.

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So to the music. This year Widmann choose the Benelux as his showcase countries and he chose the young Dutch guitarist Reinier Baas (below) as his artist in residence. The opening concert featured Baas's jazz opera 'Princess Discombobulatrix', is a commission originally written for the North Sea Jazz Festival, but here extended to include a new piece of music based on a local legend. The show is accompanied by projected comic book drawings by the artist Typex.

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Soprano Nora Fischer (below) was superb (and striking) in the role of the Princess and the band, including sax player Ben van Gelder and bass clarinettist Joris Roelofs were superb. Baas played guitar and piano and conducted the ensemble. The music and story made a fascinating audio visual experience, the writing very mature and thoroughly entertaining.

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Baas re-appeared many times during the festival and his performances fully justified Widmann's choice of him for artist in residence. He is a regular (with van Gelder) in Han Bennink's trio and the show with this band (plus guests) at a Michelin starred restaurant was certainly a highlight. Baas showed a gentler style with a beautiful duet with Nora Fischer at the Kloster Neustift (an Abbey complex a short drive from Bolzano). Fischer has a wonderful range and tone to her voice and Baas delivered the perfect foil in his playing.

The night club in the basement of local brewery Batzen hosted French drummer Anne Paceo who features regularly on the European Festival circuit (her recent album 'Circles' has received excellent reviews). The venue is tiny and has a real jazz club feel to it, perfect for this gig.

The band features vocalist Leila Martial, who is an incredible vocalist - be it singing lyrics, scatting or producing harmonics with saxophonist Christophe Panzani (who himself is no mean player). The quartet is completed by keyboard player Tony Paeleman, who with Paceo drove the whole show. The gig was a revelation both for Paceo's excellent compositions and Martial's extraordinary vocal performance.

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In a different way but equally exciting was Warped Dreamer: trumpeter Arve Henriksen's collaboration with Stian Westerhus (guitar), Jozef Dumoulin (Keyboards) and drummer Teun Verbruggen. Starting in lyrical fashion with Henriksen playing gentle pocket trumpet and counter-tenor vocals, the mood rapidly changed to be more chaotic and darkly aggressive. Dumoulin was always inventive with his devices and drummer Verbruggen kept a frenetic but constant pace with Westerhus mostly bowing his guitar. This is music 'by wire' the band have a massive sound, which, while almost overwhelming at times, is held tightly in check by Henriksen who controlled the suite and eventually the mood and the journey came full circle. The set ended with Westerhus playing subtle chordal sequences and Henriksen returning to trumpet and exquisitely haunting vocals – an exhausting and exhilarating experience for both audience and musicians.

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By total contrast in a hayloft by the side of a lake in the Dolomites, one of Europe's brightest piano players David Helbock (above) took to the stage with his trio. Helbock has rapidly gained a reputation as one of the most exciting new talents on the scene and his trio did not disappoint. With his trademark piano motif beanie, Helbock is instantly recognisable – his writing and playing are stand-out. Groove-based tunes with great hooks and clever solos are his style and the band with Raphael Preuschl on bass ukulele and drummer Reinhold Schmölzer create an immersive and very tight sound – definitely a band to watch out for.

There were 70 concerts during the 10 days of the festival in 60 locations across the Alto Adige region featuring some 180 musicians. The wonderful thing is that most concerts are free and by following the gigs around you get to see the most spectacular scenery while also discovering some outstanding music. This is a real gem among the many European jazz festivals that happen this time of year.

– Story and photos by Tim Dickeson

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