Gifted Female Artists in Spotlight at Upcoming Berlin Jazz Festival


Mantana Roberts (clockwise, from left), Ingrid Laubrock, Eve Risser, Myra Melford, Mary Halvorson and Mette Henriette will appear at the Berlin Jazz Festival.

(Photo: Courtesy the artists)

Turning 53 this year, the Berlin Jazz Festival—aka JazzFest Berlin—is one the oldest on the jazz circuit. It continues to be one of the most intriguing, too, especially on the autumn festival calendar, with a generous and adventurous program for the 2016 edition, which runs Nov. 1–6.

This will be the second festival overseen by the current artistic director, British jazz scholar Richard Williams, who is fluent in the legacy and adventurous artistic agenda of the festival.

Many acclaimed female musicians, from numerous countries, are in this exciting 2016 lineup. The program includes a “pre-opening” event with sound artist Matana Roberts’ “For Pina” (a tribute to famed German choreographer Pina Bausch) at the Martin-Gropius Bar.

On opening night, the main “festspiele” theater will host performances by German pianist Julia Hülsmann (with her quartet) and alto saxophonist Anna-Lena Schnabel, presenting music composed for this festival.

A Norwegian-German connection lands on the main stage when young Norwegian saxophonist Mette Henriette is joined by a large band, presenting the music from her much-discussed, as yet untitled album for the ECM label—a premiere, in live form.

Also on the program: American vocalist Julia Holter, pianist Myra Melford with her group Snowy Egret (including a videographer in the visual mix), and pianist Eve Risser with her White Desert Orchestra. Polish saxophonist Angelika Niescier joins German pianist Florian Weber in leading the group NYC Five.

A short distance from the festspiele hub, the nightclub setting of the A-Trane is an intimate and ripe location for a series called “Brooklyn-Berlin Dialogues,” with duos comprised of four musicians—saxophonists Ingrid Laubrock and Charlotte Greve, guitarist Mary Halvorson, and pianist Aki Takase.

From the “big things in small packages” niche of the program, saxophonist Joshua Redman and pianist Brad Mehldau bring to Berlin their recently revived duo project, documented on a bold live recording, Nearness (Nonesuch). Drummer Jack DeJohnette will perform with his noteworthy trio—saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Matthew Garrison—which recorded In Movement for the ECM label.

Reedist Steve Lehmann, sophisticated rhythm conjurer and alum of Steve Coleman’s group, appears with an octet on the main stage, with a program of music influenced by the leader’s recent interest in the atmospheric yet rigorous French compositional school of “spectral music.”

A 50th anniversary concert from the Globe Unity Orchestra, led by legendary avant-garde pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, nods to this festival’s historical attention paid to both large ensemble music and sounds from the improvisational left end of the spectrum.

In other big band news, post-rock-inflected jazz guitarist Nik Bärtsch combines his small group, Ronin, and the hr-Bigband, one of the many potent, government-supported big bands in Germany, linked to the radio network of the Hessischer Rundfunk.

In the historic Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on the Ku’Damm (severely damaged by bombs during World War II), trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith—also performing at the festival with his Great Lakes Quartet—will present a special duet with keyboardist Alexander Hawkins, who will play the church’s pipe organ.

That venue’s organ has been put to good use in the last two years, by The Necks last year and Jasper van’t Hof, in a duet with Archie Shepp, in 2014.

Programming for late nights in the festspiele structure’s side stage tends to focus on emerging talents. This year’s lineup spotlights the rapidly expanding ranks of established female musicians, including British trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, with her band Family Hafla, and Swiss vocalist Lucia Cadotsch, whose trio will tap material from her recent album Speak Low—fresh takes on old favorites.

Meanwhile, the festival’s opening night concludes on a Finnish note, with the band Oddarang, mixing up Nordic influences and post-rock moves, with its own Finnish flair.

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