Upcoming Berlin Jazz Festival Pursues the ‘Sound of Surprise’
Posted 10/22/2013

Founded in 1964 and now one of Europe’s longest-running jazz parties, the Berlin Jazz Festival (Oct. 30–Nov. 3) steers clear of the common “festivalization” of jazz, wherein largely the same artists travel, almost en masse, to perform in multiple cities from June into the fall each year. Berlin takes a different approach, presenting music that is a mix of Europe’s most inventive artists (many of whom don’t have high profiles in the United States) along with a sprinkling of well-known American jazz leaders.

Among the fest headliners based in the States are John Scofield’s Überjam Band (Nov. 3), the Jack DeJohnette Group with Don Byron (Nov. 1), Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence (Nov. 1) and Christian Scott (Oct. 31).

In their opening remarks in this year’s program guide, Bert Noglik of Jazzfest Berlin and Thomas Oberender of Berliner Festspiele state their manifesto for the festival by noting that jazz is, after all, “the sound of surprise,” and that “the multifaceted currents of improvised music strive for areas of the unexpected or opt for renewable energies.”

That programming philosophy underlies this year’s festival by focusing on a couple themes, one being an emphasis on music from Africa. The fest will present a German-language panel discussion on Oct. 30 titled “Calling Africa: Fiction and Reality.” The panel will examine political, cultural and social issues, and be moderated by Wolf Kampmann.

On Oct. 31, one of this fest’s unique shows, “Gnawa Jazz Voodoo,” features pianist Joachim Kühn’s Africa Connection ensemble augmented by tenor saxophone guest Pharoah Sanders. It’s a show that will fuse jazz, Moroccan gnawa music, and West African drums and percussion traditions.

Another concert that features a European-American collaboration will take place on Nov. 2, when Polish pianist Michal Wróblewski invites trumpeter Terence Blanchard to play with his trio.

A second major theme at the fest is a focus on big bands. Michael Riessler’s pipe-organ driven Big Circle will perform on Nov. 1. There’s an intriguing Nov. 2 doubleheader featuring Michael Wollny, Tamar Halperin and hr-Bigband with David Krakauer’s klezmer-meets-funk-meets-hip-hop project Abraham Inc. with guest Fred Wesley. For the first time at any German jazz festival, young upstart Monika Roscher’s rowdy big band will perform on Nov. 3. (Roscher’s album Failure In Wonderland was a DownBeat Editors’ Pick selection for April 2013.)

For a festival that stretches the jazz envelope, one of the key bookings is hip young British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings with his Sons of Kemet quartet, which concludes the festival late on Nov. 3. Hutchings is referencing his Caribbean roots with this new quartet.

For more information, including a complete lineup and schedule, visit the festival’s website.

Dan Ouellette


At this year’s Berlin Jazz Festival, Monika Roscher (left) will lead her big band and John Scofield (right) will perform with his Überjam Band. (Photo of Roscher: © Juan Martin Koch)

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