XJazz Festival: More sun than rain

Wait a minute, where are we again? If you visit the XJazz Festival in Kreuzberg on Thursday evening, you will be beamed to Gothenburg Central Station. A few cranes are poking at the misty sky, the railway track, which we are apparently looking at from a train window, glides past.

The film sequence that is thrown against the wall fits the sound that the four gentlemen create on the Lido stage: restrained, dreamy, of fleeting beauty. Nobody dances, some close their eyes, let themselves be carried away to the words Theo Croker breathes into the microphone: “Where will you go? After the rain drops…”

After the chorus, the band glides into a 6/8 groove, Croker splashes isolated, echo-soaked dabs of color from his trumpet onto the spread soundscape. No sign of haste.

The 36-year-old from Florida became known as an exceptional talent on his instrument. Last year he played the tribute concert “Sketches of Miles” in the Berlin Philharmonie with members of the orchestra to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of the jazz giant.

Stormy solo excursions

Without having to make an artificial comparison with the work of Miles Davis, parallels can be made out in XJazz. Like Davis, Croker has a soft touch, occasionally letting his trumpet ring almost like a flugelhorn. The space between the notes and the restrained flourishes are also reminiscent of the legend.

His compositions from the new album “BLK2Life / A Future Past” are driven by Eric Wheeler’s keyboard playing, which forms the counterpoint to the tidy band sound in sometimes stormy solo excursions. The lively game Wheelers never drifts into the hard.

This also has something to do with the instruments before him: a Yamaha CP80 electric grand piano and a Fender Rhodes, both instruments that shaped the pop and jazz of the 70s and 80s with their bell-like keyboard sounds.

The latter is also on stage in the Festsaal Kreuzberg, where a little later Emma-Jean Thackray presents compositions from her album “Yellow”, which was released last year. Like Croker, the 33-year-old Englishwoman is at home on the trumpet, like him she intensively explores her voice as a medium.

“Be yellow, be mellow…”

But in contrast to the Americans, the musician from Leeds and her band rely on a throbbing beat that uses both disco grooves and the Afrobeat patterns of Tony Allen. Thackray’s music hits you straight away.

Her band around drummer Dougal Taylor plays towards a trance-like state that creates community through dance and song. Dancing is also possible, as the concert hall was fortunately not completely filled. Lessons have been learned from the pandemic.

“Be yellow, be mellow, be kind to your fellow humans. We’re all made of sunshine” is Thackray’s message. The scraps of song sound as rhythmic chords from the device. “Ye-llow, Ye-llow” is heard again and again, harmonized by Thackrays in a way that suggests a solo chorus from the Englishwoman.

On the mic, she sings flourishes over it as other sounds rush out of the sampler, including a swaying groove of claps that flash in syncopation and land on the beat just enough to slant the groove further. Or – speaking in the jazz idiom: make him swing.

With Thackray, too, it is a keyboardist who sits at the Rhodes and drives the band forward as a soloist: Lyle Barton, who lives in London like the trumpeter. Thackray’s pieces are based on the groovy jazz of the 70s, which, despite being danceable, doesn’t have to be any less profound, as keyboard player Lonnie Liston Smith’s albums have proven.

As with Smith, many of Thackray’s pieces can be seen as modern adaptations of a modal playing style: often a “vamp” of one or a few chords that overlays the driving groove of the drums and sets a clear tonality on which the soloists express themselves .

This vamp is then shifted, often a whole step up or down, increasing the trance effect on the audience. This is also the case in the ballroom, where the very young audience enthusiastically demands an encore.

Back to the lido. Here the French pianist and composer Christophe Chassol closes the festival day. Not only music, but also video material plays a central role in his work. The method, which he calls “ultrascoring”, is based on video recordings that Chassol sets to music in such a way that the chirping of a bird, the dribbling of a basketball or a human speech become musical phrases.

What is jazz? Who is included?

With uncanny precision, the sound artist places his sounds on the events in the film recordings. From these he creates loops, to which he plays with drummer Mathieu Edward. Both have been a duo for years.

Sometimes the narrative levels are layered with each other in a breathtaking way. In one sequence, children play a gossip game in a schoolyard, the names of the three protagonists become rhythmic phrases.

Then drummer Mathieu Edward suddenly appears in the video, behind the real Edward, who now plays to his alter ego on the screen, while Christophe Chassol solos on a Rhodes keyboard, of course.

The duo’s performance is far removed from the improvisational character of jazz – after all, even the smallest phrases have to be subordinate to the video material. There is hardly any musical freedom. But the highly individual artistic expression of Christophe Chassol is as close to the core of jazz as it gets. But it seems that few people at this festival are interested in what jazz is and who belongs to it. Maybe that’s better.

By Editor

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