Phronesis, Tingvall and Marsalis power up at Palatia Jazz Festival

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The two evenings that we visited the Palatia Jazz Festival this year were spent at Limburg Abbey – a 9th Century ruined abbey near Bad Dürkheim which is on the edge of the Palatinate Forest in western Germany located roughly half way between Strasbourg and Frankfurt. Limburg Abbey is one of the largest venues that the festival uses – with nearly 900 seats plus standing tickets.The festival moves around the region holding concerts on weekends from the 20 June till the 8 August in a variety of stunning locations.

Our first evening featured two piano trios with very different sounds and direction. Opening the concert and making their second Palatia Festival appearance were Phronesis (Jasper Høiby – bass, Ivo Neame – piano and Anton Eger – drums, pictured below). Playing some brand new material from their soon to be recorded sixth album, Phronesis are a tight, high energy trio where there is no one voice louder than the others, writing and playing they are together – Neame is a supremely gifted pianist and his intricate, melodic and at times furious solos are well supported by Høiby and Eger who can take over the flow of the tune in a blink and turn it around a new corner.

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As a musician to watch whilst he plays, there are few who are as good or as entertaining as Anton Eger – he bristles energy in everything he does and his trademark ‘tea towel over the snare drum’ gives him a sound all of his own – the large audience were delighted with the show and there were many comments afterwards about the bands precision, timing and energy. The second show featured rising German pianist Martin Tingvall and his trio. I first saw this band at JazzAhead! last year playing a 30 minute showcase and was very impressed with them.

They are more the typical piano trio where the majority of the compositions are from Tingvall himself – he is an accomplished writer and during the performance gave ample space to bassist Omar Rodriguez Calvo and drummer Jurgen Schlagzeug to step up front and take solos. As a pianist he is economic and precise, beautifully structured solos with purpose and great lyricism.

Festival director Yvonne Moissl has a policy of bringing back up and coming bands to the festival – as I mentioned this is Phronesis’s second time and the Tingvall Trio have now played four times – and her policy obviously works as the show was almost sold out. One of the biggest problems in running a festival these days is keeping the ‘all important’ sponsors happy - and on board year after year. After a long association with the festival prime sponsor Skoda pulled out at short notice leaving the festival with no transport.

To take some pressure off Moissl’s over worked driver (husband Jurgen) I assisted by driving Phronesis to and from the gig from their hotel. After the gig, on what had been a beautiful warm and still night suddenly changed as I drove away from the venue. We were suddenly hit by the mother of all storms with leaves, bushes and large branches of trees crashing across the road in front of us. When we got down the hill the Abbey sits on and into the town, a bolt of lightning hit the street lamp next to us shattering glass all over the road!

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The venue however suffered a far worse fate with the temporary seating blown everywhere and torrential rain penetrating the stage and catering areas. 900 seats had to be re positioned and re numbered, the stage and catering areas cleaned up and it took a team of people working hard all day to remove the trees and branches from the access road – such are the trials and tribulations of running a festival! The following evening back at the venue and you would never have known the mayhem of 24 hours earlier...The two shows tonight featured drummer Emil Branqvist’s trio and the Branford Marsalis Quartet (above). Brandqvist (drums) Tuomas Turunen (piano) and Max Thornberg (bass) were playing songs from the trio’s recent release on Skip Records, Seascapes.

Typically Scandinavian in sound and performance – very lyrical piano, almost classical, hypnotic bass and drums – painting pictures of forests, diving in crystal waters, rocky headlands and the beautiful ‘Du haller min hand’ (You hold my hand) which Brandqvist explained was written for his young daughter. Sparse at times but always haunting and quite beautiful – perfect for the location as the sun set!

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Marsalis featured Joey Calderazzo (above) on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Justin Faulkner on drums. Playing a wide repertoire from Garbarek to Ellington what stood out a mile was Calderazzo’s playing – at times so aggressive his hands a blur as he attacked the keys but then as lyrical as Turunen had been in the opening set – delicate, sensitive and full of heart. Branford played his part, stepping up to fire off solos and directing the rest of the band – and of course Faulkner and Revis are a formidable rhythm section. My lasting memory will be of Calderazzo’s mastery of the piano and the absolute quality of everything he played.

Apart from the festival this area of Germany is famous for its wines – virtually every town here has a ‘Weinstrasse’ (Wine Street) where the local growers will let you taste (and more importantly buy) extremely high quality wines. On the 3rd October (the day of German Unity) the town of Deidesheim hosts the 10k ‘wine walk’ where for €10 you can join the walk through local vineyards and every few kilometres stop for a wine tasting, some local food and naturally live jazz!

Story and photos – Tim Dickeson