Luxembourg Jazz Meeting - Day 2

Saturday 10 nov 2018, Abbaye de Neumünster – neimënster, Luxembourg

Text and pics: Storm Bakker

ProgJazz attended the Luxembourg Jazz Meeting 2018, with 12 showcase concerts in the 'Salle Robert Krieps' in the Centre Culturel de Rencontre Abbaye de Neumünster – neimënster. Saturday 10 November was the second evening, with again four showcases of 30 minutes in a row. Entering the theater Salle Robert Krieps, we immediately receive an inviting signal of the charming Canadian delegate Marie Lapointe, to come and sit next to her. Since we had a nice encounter the day before, (immediately being on the same page: “Storm, nice to meet you, let’s go to the wine bar”), her being a trained pianist and working as a writer too, we gladly accepted and took the seat in between the Canadian delegates Marie and Alain.

Pol Belardi’s Urban 5

The first showcase of this second day of the Luxembourg Jazz Meeting was Pol Belardi’s Urban 5. The group represents multi-instrumentalist Belardi, who we yesterday already witnessed as a vibraphonist/synthesizerist, but today as a bassist. In fact, we were very keen to hear this talented young man, who studied in Brussels with Michel Hatzigergiou (AKA Moon) and in Amsterdam with David de Marez Oyens, two of Europe's finest bass masters we adore. Pol Belardi is a very interesting musician, with impressive projects like ‘Force’, ‘Klein' and ‘Claire Parsons’, and many more and to be honest: we were hoping for a continuation of these initiatives at the Jazz Meeting in the Abbaye de Neumünster. But sadly, this was not the case with Urban 5, a groove-driven blend between jazz, soul, hip-hop and electronic music. The band is presented as “thrilling beats and bass lines right out of the big cities” (…) “music to move your hips or nod your head”. Indeed it is well performed groovy music with a touch of soul and bossa, but it is not that thrilling, just not that good as the American examples that are apparently being followed. Because the musicians are fine, this must be due to the concept, build around German vocalist Mara Minjoli. She studied at the Folkwang Universität der Künste in Germany and in Amsterdam. According to the liner notes in the festival guide, she sings with “a powerful, yet sensitive and honest voice”. In fact, she has a hoarse voice, leaning towards a vocal twang we just don’t like. No dynamics, no thrill. Minjoli is a nice lady, but she lacks the skills of a real musician, also the charisma of a natural performer. Therefore, she adds nothing more than a faint impression. It’s a pitty that Claire Parsons (who can really sing and perform), isn’t the lead vocalist of this group. Suppressed by this fact, the music of Belardi’s Urban 5 becomes easy listening , sometimes even close to elevator music . The leader limits himself to obligatory less-is-more groove playing on the bass guitar. Eran Har Even, a highly creative guitarist from Israel, living in the Netherlands but adopted by the Luxembourg scene, gets only one small solo. Because Pit Dahm was prevented, Jerome Klein played drums and Dorian Dumont (a French pianist living in Bruxelles), played Nord Stage electric and acoustic grand piano. An interesting understudy, who covers Aphex Twin in his spare time. His soloing was quite good, as was the playing of the whole group, solid and nice, but Urban 5 strives to be a suitable commercial band, willingly tilting to the background, in stead of standing out as a mindblowing act at a serious Jazz Meeting and leaving the audience flabbergasted.

Maxim Bender’s Universal Sky

Second timeslot was allocated to saxophonist Maxim Bender, currently the most acknowledged jazz artist from Luxemburg, but living and working in Germany. Bender is leading several projects, including his Awake Quartet featuring famous pianist Joachim Kühn in the German realm. Kühn is one of our all time favorites, playing with jazzrock masters like Jean Luc Ponty, Christan Vander (yes, in Paris in ‘69), Philip Catherine, Jasper van ‘t Hof, Jan Akkerman, Charlie Mariano, Mike Brecker, Randy Brecker and many more, so one thing is sure in advance: this Bender must also be very good!

This Saturday in the Abbaye de Neumünster, Bender presented his project Universal Sky. Again, Jerome Klein was featured, this time (again) on drums. During the 15 minutes break, Klein (who has a master’s degree in jazz drums at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels) replaced the snare and cymbals, presumably to get a more jazzy sound. Klein is a remarkable man in the scene; originally from France, but quite tall and fun to hang out with, utterly laconic about pretty much everything and laughing out loud a lot with his low voice. But first of all, he is a fine musician, equally skilled on drummer as on keyboards.

In the middle, Jean-Yves Jung was stationed with his Hammond Organ stage keyboard. Like Bender and Klein, Jung enjoys a successful career, performing as a leader and sideman with a broad variety of projects. He works with the Organic Trio and shared the stage with Bireli Lagrene, Philip Catherine, Billy Cobham, Andre Cecarelli and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Recently he played with Hungarian saxophonist Tony Lacatos, who calls Jung “the best pianoplayer in Germany” in a video of JazzKellar Frankfurt. Jung has a distinguished melodic consciousness, shown by smart impro, harmonically distant from the given chords.

And finally, there is Manu Codjia, a guitarist with bounderless roots, also originating from France. After his studies in Paris, He won numerous prizes at the Concours national de jazz de la Defense. He worked with Bulgarian trombonist Gueorgui Kornazov, Daniel Humair, Stephane Guillaume, Erik Truffaz (2003-2006), Aldo Romano, David Linx, Simon Goubert (2006, ex-Magma), Sophia Domancich and many others. He won the Django d’Or in 2007. Codja mixes elements of Brolin and Scofield, also bits of Frissell and Holdsworth and maybe even Marc Ducret. He plays his electric guitar with a touch of reverb, in most of his projects beautifully merging with acoustic double bass, in the case of Universal Sky with Hammond organ. He is constantly generating outside licks by side-stepping and -slipping. Doing so, Codja moves away from the tonic and is giving the group its distinctive flavor and sound. Like Bender and Jung, Codja plays with his head in the clouds.

The works of Universal Sky are told from the perspective of a group of musicians, who are fascinated with the dreamy side of jazzrock, resembling the legendary records by guitarist John Abercrombie, with Hammer (Hammond Organ), Brecker (sax) and DeJohnette (drums). A real treat for the ear. My Canadian friends agreed, while walking towards the wine bar.... “This was the best band so far,” according to Marie, “although I don’t like the sound of the keys. I prefer acoustic piano.” Her partner Alain from Canada, on the other hand, could appreciate the Hammond stage keyboard very much. Although Marie is far more attractive, we had to chose side with the man on this matter, but not without mentioning one little imperfection: Jung played the basslines with his left hand and when the band moved from jazz towards heavier rock, it was lacking the accuracy and brilliance of a real bass guitar. Happily, we all agreed on the fine playing and sound of the total Universal Sky featuring Manu Codja.

Dock In Absolute

Third band was the trio Dock In Absolute, led by Jean-Philippe Koch, a calsically trained pianist who studied jazz at Berklee. We had the opportunity to meet him the day before, in line for the Jazz Meeting dinner. A friendly young man, very charming and witty, open minded and outgoing. Clearly (also knowing he is a virtuoso pianist), not someone one leaves his girlfriend alone with! Because DIA was chosen ‘Export Artist of Luxembourg 2017’ the group played at Amersfoort Jazz last year and so, we immediately had something to talk about. We remerbered Dock In Absolute as a welcome element in the programme, being a virtuoso jazzrock piano trio and giving two impressive concerts at the festival. Koch remembers Amersfoort Jazz as a very fine festival, but also good for his career, because it was over there that several international tour dates were booked.

Koch composes kind of progrock and neo-classical influenced music that has not much to do with jazz. First of all, the improvisation is brought back to an absolute minimum. Second, the piano chords have almost none of the extensions, so characteristic for jazz music for over a century; there is a total absence of dissonants and no scales outside the given chords are allowed. Third, but this seems to be the case with all modern creative music and jazz since the sixties: the swing element is eliminated. Koch looks for adventure by exploring the dynamic possibilities of the music, combining melodies with dazzling arpeggio’s, building up crescendo’s together with bass and drums, or just play loud for a while. The trio is tight and has a sublime sound, playing virtuoso synergistic music, really together and with one goal in mind.

But close to the end of the showcase, something started to bother us. The band just came back from touring in the far east and apparently, the fact that they are going strong is making them a little over-confident. Drummer Micher Mootz was hitting his cymbals too loud and Koch was enjoying his own talent so much, he wanted to join the audience in applauding. Our Canadian friend Marie wasn’t that aroused… Not only the spasms of Koch, but the whole concept had begun to annoy her. Unfortunately, because it all started very good, we had to admit that the last piece was indeed disappointing, melodically, harmonically and rhythmically a bit boring, yes, almost tasteless and surely overdone.

Michel Reis Japan Quartet

The last showcase on Saturday was by pianist Michel Reis, presenting his Japan Quartet to the European public. Elsewhere on this website, we talk about Reis and his projects, but here we focus on his Japan Quartet. In the past three years, Reis ihas toured with this band in Japan. Now, november 2018, it is the first time the Michel Reis Japan Quartet plays in Europe. The band contains fine young players from the far east: Akihiro Nishigushi (sax), Takashi Sugawa (Bass) and on drums, Shun Ishiwaka. Immediately it is clear: this band has a far more freely approach to music than Reis' other projects, although it still has the clear melodic aspect he is known for, also more freely than all the other Luxembourg bands performing at the Jazz Meeting. There were even moments the music was totally free, convoluted, ambiguous report with no real coherence, but in time interspersed with arranged passages, apparently with odd meter things to complicated to analyze at such short notice. Shun Ishiwaka is a young classically trained virtuoso from Tokyo, and his playing made a big impression. The only danger with Ishiwaka’s busy and highly energetic rudiments, -his sticks constantly hitting the edges of the kit in stead of the drums and cymbals-, is that the flowing and subtle compositions of Reis are being overly complicated and after a while, the music almost gets on ones nerves.