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A time when most large festivals are struggling for an audience and the necessary finance to run them Palatia Jazz Festival in the Palatinate region of Germany is certainly bucking this trend. The brainchild of Yvonne Moissl the festival is pretty much unique in Europe as it moves around the region choosing unusual locations for the shows – the stage and all the equipment is transported from gig to gig – including gourmet catering facilities. This limits the size of the performance space but also that of the audience – she is working on 250-350 tickets per show – most sell out in advance. The festival takes place over weekends during July and August, featuring top American and European jazz artists.
Over the weekend we attended we were fortunate to see two events – the new Charles Lloyd Quartet plus Swiss pianist Christoph Stiefel and Berlin-based vibes player Oli Bott – who was joined for his Vibratanghissimo quartet gig by Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê..
The location for this concert was the ‘Oldest house in Hasslock’ (built c1599) – a quiet town surrounded by vines and agriculture. The venue a courtyard between the ‘oldest House’ and a new purpose built arts centre – a clever mixture of old and new. Oli Bott’s Vibratanghissimo project as the name implies is vibes meets tango meets jazz, with music by Bott and Astor Piazzolla – the added dimension – and a brilliant move by Moissl, was to bring in Nguyên Lê as special guest – known for being a ‘fusion’ player, his ability to turn his hand to any style and stamp his mark on it is remarkable.
Bott’s band features piano, viola and bass (no drums) and with Bott orchestrating the sound the interplay between Juan Lucas Aisemberg (viola) and Tuyet Pham (piano) and Arnulf Ballhorn (electric Bass, double bass and effects) was breathtaking. Latin American rhythms entwined with Vietnamese sounds weird – but it worked really well as did Bott’s composition ‘Danza Tempestosa’ written for viola and vibes and Lê’s tunes, ‘Noihey Luz’ and the beautiful ‘Snow on a Flower’, which were brilliantly re-worked for the ensemble who also seemed be having a lot of fun.
The second night was in the town of Germersheim within the old military fortress. The doors opened at 6pm and everything was set out: tables and chairs in a grassy area for those who wished to eat, a bar stocked with only local wines and beers and a stage set, again in a courtyard with seating for around 600 people.
Opening the concert was Swiss pianist Christoph Stiefel and his trio featuring Lisette Spinnler on vocals (pictured above) – a dark and brooding singer who wrenched every ounce of emotion from the songs – Stiefel is an inventive player, one who does not waste notes for the pursuit of show or speed. The perfect appetiser for what was to follow.
Lloyd, a sprightly 76 – now probably the legend of sax to see live now that Sonny Rollins is no longer touring – has a new band, again. A bit like Dr Who, Lloyd reincarnates himself through his sidemen – the pianists particularly – Keith Jarrett, Bobo Stenson, Brad Mehldau, Geri Allen and more recently Jason Moran have all had their influence and been influenced by Lloyd. The new band is the Gerald Clayton trio – Clayton on piano, Joe Sanders on bass and Justin Brown on drums (all pictured below). Clayton has some big shoes to step in.
Actually the pianist is the perfect fit for Lloyd – he is young (of course) he is a four-time Grammy nominee and has played with some of the biggest names in jazz. Playing all but one Lloyd composition the band and Lloyd were brilliant – the saxophonist by no means taking the limelight, although his solos were as good as I have ever heard him play – he was visibly glowing when Clayton or Sanders took their solos – as though he was hearing his compositions for the first time (although he has probably played them all dozens of times before). These included ‘When I think of a Peaceful World’, ‘Bookers Garden’, ‘Horace Blues’, ‘Evanstide’ and ‘Passin’ Thru’ – while Justin Brown got his solo spot in ‘Rabo de Nube’ (by Silvio Rodrigues). I spoke to him afterwards and he told me:
“You know, I look up from the kit and I see him there – I say to myself, woah! That’s Charles Lloyd”.
You and me both Justin. Lloyd has a new band and a new lease of life and for the moment at least – he is the hottest ticket to see live and Gerald Clayton has taken a massive step forward in his career. Palatia Jazz has three more weekends to run with Emil Brandqvist trio and Caro Josee Band (9 August); Heiko Plank and Nils Petter Molvaer (16 August); and Big Band Nights (30-31 August).