Elbjazz is defined by a deep sense of place, enticing 15,000 jazz fans by barge across the Elb river to Hamburg’s otherwise off-limits shipyards. This location is the successful Trojan Horse in festival director Tina Heine’s idealistic desire to draw a broad age-range of mostly non-jazz fans to eat, drink and wonder, while absorbing contact hits of hardcore improv. Dee Dee Bridgewater plays the main stage in the Blohm + Voss shipyard’s heart, Finland’s UMO Jazz Orchestra aiding her and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield locate their new album’s trad New Orleans groove. On the dancefloor and flirting with Stevie Wonder-channelling Rio funk star Ed Motta the night before, the other side of Bridgewater’s full-on personality finds the weary, beautifully redemptive struggle in Ellington and Mahalia Jackson’s ‘Come Sunday’.
In a factory hall flanked by stacked containers and with a giant ship’s propeller as backdrop, Stacey Kent sings with a string quartet to a crowd spilling into the night outside, well past its 1,100 capacity. She sways to Wayne Shorter’s Brazilian-tinged ‘Ana Maria’, and her own elegant easy listening epic ‘The Ice Hotel’. More impressively, the hall is also packed for 85-year-old clarinettist Rolf Kühn (older brother of German piano king Joachim). There’s stalking woodland mystery and 1960s soundtrack slyness among his quartet’s vintage avant-garde moves. Back across the Elbe at St. Katherine’s Church, Germany’s current cutting-edge piano star Michael Wollny duets with Israeli harpsichordist Tamar Halperin beneath high stained glass windows, their instruments’ restful, interwoven chimes revving into climactic sweep and swagger. Fishing in his prepared piano’s innards, Wollny also locates loose change clinks, earthquake rumbles and lightning-flash clangs to set against Talperin’s wistful mediaeval-sounding melodies, sending the young, late-night crowd satisfied into silent streets.
Pablo Held’s Trio, so good with John Schofield at Cheltenham, represents German piano’s next generation in the shipyard’s Port Museum, playing with cool, reserved fire amongst racks of maritime industrial relics. His bassist and drummer are let off the leash with a straightahead burst in an otherwise uncompromising, quietly exploratory set. Impulse!-signed pianist Jacky Terrason and trumpeter Stephane Belmondo are an amenable, playful partnership back at St. Katherine’s, adding horror-film piano-string pizzicato to ‘Brazil’, while Marc Ribot, Monty Alexander and Pee Wee Ellis add to the Saturday night star-power. It seems more appropriate to enter the rusting hold of a swaying, decommissioned freighter to hear Danish duo Lars Greve and Aska Sidore use musique concrete taped around Hamburg’s harbour to aid Greve’s saxes and clarinets’ indignant sea-beast honks.
At 3am Sunday morning on the edge of the riotous, vomit-splattered Reeperbahn, I’m sure I spot Anna-Lena Schnabel’s bassist jamming, before watching saxophonist Schnabel later that day on the Young Talents stage. A hardy crowd braves this windswept wasteland with rock-piles for seats, the stage tarpaulin almost taking off beneath the personable Schnabel as her restrained, squeezed tone on a ballad bursts happily open. Toy saxes and toy pianos play free jazz, as whistling wind, rustling flags and passing ships add to the grey, fascinating ambience: Elbjazz’s ideals in action.
– Nick Hasted
– Photos by Mathias Kreft (middle) and Frank Jasper (top)