Cologne Jazzweek (Day 2) ~ The Free Jazz Collective

By Martin Schray

Apart from the music, the defining aspects of the last two days have been the noise and the sweat, especially when they occur in combination. The unbearable, long-lasting heat, particularly in the west and south of Germany, makes it very difficult to stay outside. Interesting, you do that because you can’t just hang around at home. However, as soon as you get back and somehow want to get some rest, you start to sweat the indoors – unless the rooms are air-conditioned (and that is hardly the case in Germany). The sweat mercilessly seeps out of all your pores. Even at night it hardly cools down, so that even open windows are of little use. If then loud music is played on the streets and people rage through the streets, it becomes difficult with the necessary sleep. All the more, you hope that the music of the festival is able to provide a little comfort.

Unlike the first day of the festival, when it was possible to attend all three concerts because they took place at the same venue, from the second on you have to choose. There were five shows on the program, starting with Almut Kühne/Francesco Bigoni/Mark Slobbery in the Green Room of the Stadtgarten, then Christopher Dell’s Das Arbeitende Konzert (The Working Konzert) at the Loft, followed by Real Live Jazz (Alexei Aigui / Dietmar Bonnen / Lothar Burghaus) in the Filmhaus and Laura Totenhagen / Eve Risser / Maria Reich (again in the Stadtgarten), before Deadeye brought the day to an end at the Jaki. I have to say that I like the concept of having to choose between several acts, because then you don’t run the risk of getting too much – especially if you consider that the festival lasts eight days. For Sunday I chose Christopher Dell and Laura Totenhagen / Eve Risser / Maria Reich.

Christopher Dell’s The Working Concert

The decision for Cchristopher Dell’s The Working Concert was also made because it took place at the Loft, one of my favorite places for improvised music in general. Before the concert started, the audience was given some helpful information. While the Working Concert project has been around for a while, the formation that day was a world premiere, although it was the ninth revision of the idea. The ensemble consisted of Dell on vibraphone, Elisabeth Coudoux on cello, Kathrin Pechlof on harp, Anna Neubert on violin, Evelin Degen on flutes, Pascal Klewer on trumpet and Stefan Karl Schmid on clarinet. Dell explained in advance that there would be three blocks of 30 minutes each plus breaks. The breaks would also be part of the concept, as would the discussions of what should be played. The question of the concert itself as a medium would be crucial. Attitudes as to playing would also be addressed (eg, the musicians’ relationship to notation). Basically, the music was divided into so-called form blocks, which were very different. And this was then proven. The first form block was almost pointillistically plucked, with the composition repeatedly condensed and equalized by means of speed and volume, resulting in great intensity. Form block 2 was a concerto for harp and ensemble, which was a diametric contrast to form block 1. Dell only conducted here, and the harp took center stage only very briefly. Rather, the composition seemed to consist of many small parts, which Dell always introduced and ended with a hand signal. The third form block was then even more gauzily dabbed than the first; it was an exercise in silence almost reminiscent of John Tilbury’s celebration of his 80th birthday (ironically, also at the Loft). The notes were presented as light as a feather, as if one didn’t even dare to play them. As a sequence, they often resulted in ravishing arpeggios.

The second part of the concert began with a discussion of what to play. Dell made several suggestions, and they were accepted without objection. In general, it can be said that Dell, his other ensembles, kept a very low profile. Actually, the project seems to be based on a striving for transparency. In the second part of the second block, Klewer, Coudoux and Neubert played a trio that perhaps came closest to the term “jazz”. What was exciting here were the various timbres that emerged sharpened by the trio context. Unfortunately, I had to leave the concert after the second part in order to still be able to see Laura Totenhagen/Eve Risser/Maria Reich in the Stadtgarten.

Eve Risser/Maria Reich/Laura Totenhagen

Since I had to walk to the next venue I came there just in time to experience something which turned out to be the exact opposite of Theo Beckmann and Billy Test the day before. Laura Totenhagen (vocals) didn’t sing lyrics or even words, instead she presented the whole spectrum of human emotions and the sounds around us. She hummed, chirped, cooed, croaked, she sounded like a church bell, like a cuckoo, she squawked like a toddler, imitated water drops – sometimes I thought she sounded like the entire sound spectrum of a stalactite cave. She was supported by Eve Risser on prepared piano, whose percussive playing complemented Totenhagen very well. The same was true of the violinist Maria Reich, whose sweeping melodic arcs rounded out the whole. As an approach, I liked that much more than the duo on the first day. Unfortunately, the trio decided to add a 20-minute piece after the first one, which already lasted about 40 minutes. That was a bit too much of a good thing.

All in all, the music did provide some comfort to the stress of the day. Since the street party in front of my hotel was over and the weather forecast promised some lower temperatures there was the chance to get some sleep.

See also: Day 1

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