Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Sugar Club: [em]

This represents another of my visits to Jazz Alley. Thanks to the Goethe Institut, I managed to go not merely go to see German jazzers [em] (great stupid spelling of your name, guys), but I got to see them for free and with a pre-gig discussion about the jazz scene in Berlin and the effect of urban environments on musical and artistic scenes. Result. And this was in the Sugar Club, where you can relax into plush seats and have servants bring you brandy alexanders, although you did have to pay for these.

The chit chat featured the musicians, a Berlin architect, some noted Irish jazz critic, and a couple of other people who had wandered in off the street. It mainly focussed on how Berlin is currently a city in a state of permanent flux, and this feeds into the music, which develops its own dynamic of permanent change. Etc. I was maybe a bit more amused by the attitudes of the musicians, which seemed to be straight out of classic urban anthropology book Outsiders by Becker, which features a chapter on The Jazz Musician, wherein various examples of this social type talk about the distinction between straight jazz (the sort of thing audiences like) and types of jazz you play to earn the respect of your fellow musicians. Wow, this really took me back to first year in college, deadly stuff. The other great thing about the discussion was being reminded of the disdain that all right-thinking jazz commentators have for Wynton Marsalis.

[em] themselves comprise three people, Michael Wollny on piano, Eva Kruse on bass, and Eric Schaefer on drums. They resist the description of themselves as a piano trio (I think the terms has connotations of the band being led by the pianist) and came across in the discussion as rather droll people, something very impressive with people talking in a second language. Their music was very enjoyable to this cloth-eared listener who knows next to nothing about the jazz. Their music retains a lightness of touch, but never seems to be straying into the realms of straight jazz. They are interesting to compare to Jan Garbarek's band. One thing that was said in the pre-show discussion was that the current cohort of European jazzers are band oriented rather than focussed on individual musical talent (hence the resistance to the piano-trio term), and this came across in [em]'s playing. Whereas Garbarek's lot seemed to play a succession of disembodied solos, [em] seemed to be playing together, and their music was the better for it.

Lacking the vocabulary to say any more about [em]'s music, I will now draw a discreet veil, apart from mentioning that I liked this concert so much that I bought their album II, presumably their second. It has a nice cover with drawings of the band in the style of that guy who did that Blur record cover. I also have it signed by the band, so when they reach Garbarek levels of fame and fortune I will be able to sell it on e-Bay for slightly more than I paid for it. I particularly like the track 'Walpurgisnacht', and hope it signals the creation of a new spooky jazz genre.

Picture from: The ACT Company

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