How Did They Do? Jazzahead! report


Photo: Michael Hornung

It’s a strange beast: the jazz trade fair. There’s networking, business talks and sets of exactly 30 minutes, with audiences legging it from one hall to another to catch as much music as they want. It’s pretty intense. Wisely, Erika Stucky, with Marc Unternährer and Lucas Niggli, had been invited to open Jazzahead – not only is she an anarchic ‘force of nature’ but she embodies a side of the Swiss spirit I like: bohemian, gifted and pushing music as far as they can (see video of her in the men’s toilets at Jazzahead below).

Erika Stucky with Lucas Niggli and Marc Unternährer, filmed by Chris Philips of Jazz FM.

“I see what you mean about the drummer.”
Generally, the Swiss night was one of super-quality, despite most bands starting nervously. The better musicians were able to get drawn into their own sound and so, lead the audience into places where magic can happen. I wrote of Elina Duni‘s voice before and it rang clear and true in this gig with her quartet – I wasn’t the only one whose neck hairs were electrified when she sang ‘Fëllënza’. I’d pointed out to a UK promoter how wonderful Norbert Pfammatter is in the band, his playing is so sensitive it’s as if there is no drummer but a sweeping landscape in which Elina stands. During the gig this promoter leant over and said, “I see what you mean about the drummer.” From the audience’s response to Elina they were equally captivated. In the future, whatever context she performs in, I want to see her going places.

Maybe the most obviously successful act was Julian Sartorius’ drum solo
Someone else who made their mark was Christoph Irniger, warming into Pilgrim‘s set and launching a cracking sax solo that blew the cobwebs away. His time in New York came


Plaistow. Photo: Ingo Wagner

through in the attack he gave it. I was holding my breath at the start of Plaistow‘s gig because like so many bands they are an experience that needs time and a concentrated atmosphere – not what you get in a showcase. However, their narcotic concept with it’s fascinating rhythms had a booker for a big London club tell me they were the most engaging band of the night. Another, and maybe the most obviously successful act was Julian Sartorius‘ drum solo. It was a big ‘wow’ and my mate, Jez Nelson, a key jazz radio presenter said, “It’s hard to do something like that, but he was genuinely inventive.” Elisabeth Stoudman gives a wonderful in-depth review below.

Next year I expect to see more Swiss women onstage
Julian is also part of the Colin Vallon Trio – another artist I expect much of. His set was not only elegant but so assured; it showed the quality of Swiss musicianship. Luca Sisera’s Roofer played a more traditional style well, whilst pommelHORSE had more character but were also left wanting. To be fair they’d been delivered a bit of a blow when key member, Lukas Roos, left the band two weeks before this gig. I see a nugget of some possibility, especially with Olivier Zurkirchen on keys and one UK programmer said the band brought a narrative to their music he liked. Weird Beard looked more comfortable on stage than they did last year and delivered their ideas clearly with Martina Berther on bass. Next year I expect to see more Swiss women onstage – and that’s an order…

Thomy Jordi nearly blew my hair off
It was a pleasure to attend the Gala Concert at Die Glöcke with Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin and Hildegard Lernt Fliegen because this is where some of the showcase bands could be heading: a high level of recognition with audiences delighting in their music. Both received genuine standing ovations. Ronin’s music and lighting design isn’t messing. It delivers punch after punch, even when Sha is at his most sublimely subtle with his saxophone becoming a hoarse and whispering human voice, or when Nik delivers a melody so painfully sweet that it’s a beautiful surprise. Kaspar Rast is equally imaginative on drums and Thomy Jordi nearly blew my hair off with some electric bass notes worthy of Goldie’s Metalheadz label.


Hildegard Lernt Fliegen. Photo: Ingo Wagner

Such a touching ending
Hildegard’s show was a superbly staged bonanza of ingenious ideas with Andreas Schaerer even conducting the band in an improv – pretty risky in such a context. You may think a vocalist sounding a muted horn or beatboxing whilst singing isn’t your thing, but I would challenge anyone not to fall under his spell. The highlight was how the band brought it right down to such a touching ending. In the encore they sat with their legs dangling off the front of the stage, looking like a bunch of kids playing a charming round on blockflutes. It was a rip-roaring success. Schaerer has driven himself hard since I first saw Hildegard play in 2012 and he’s showing how Swiss music can make a big impact on the world out there. Boom!

Julian Sartorius @ jazzahead! 2016 by Elisabeth Stoudmann


Julian Sartorius

Unlike Colin Vallon or Elina Duni who are already well known on the European jazz scene, Julian Sartorius is the new boy at Jazzahead! Although his solo project is not constrained by any genre barrier, he’s been considered before, part of alternative rock circuit. Backstage, Julian is tense: he’s coming down with the flu and fears this will hinder him. The Bernese drummer comes on stage, as always, aloof and a little shy. Had he not been announced, one could almost have mistaken him for the technician come to do one last check before the set. He sits down and turns instantly into a one-man band.

The audience holds its breath…
Sartorius puts on an impressive show. As expected, there are rhythms that interlock with each other like pearls in a necklace. Some sequences are set up in advance, others are totally improvised. His pockets brimming with drumsticks, Julian Sartorius stays unperturbed throughout. He can drop the sticks at any second to suddenly strike a percussion with his hand or place a felt mat on a cymbal. He then puts odd objects on his snare drum: percussive bits and pieces that he strokes, rubs and strikes with amazing feeling. Tension mounts in a jubilant crescendo. The audience holds its breath, captivated, when without warning, Julian Sartorius stops everything. Time’s up. The thirty minute showcase – that only felt like five – has passed. The audience is galvanized, excited, happy. We can only hope that Julian Sartorius has the flu before every gig. It seemed to serve him well!

Videos of bands at jazzahead!

Arte TV
Elina Duni Quartet

Luca Sisera’s Roofer


Weird Beard



Cully Jazz festival 2016 – Switzerland gets down to bizniz (day 3)

AKKU Quintet – Chapiteau, Cully, 10/4/16


@J-C Arav

Supporting a very traditional jazz vocalist, (Dianne Reeves), the Akku Quintet played as a very untraditional ‘jazz’ quintet – holding their weight very well as the alternative, slightly dark option on the Cully musical menu. A year ago the band were described as a work in progress, today the quintet comes across as a well-oiled machine full of maturity and articulation.

Underpinned by a definite focus on rhythmic and repetitive elements laid down essentially by the drums and keyboards, this quintet is not in a hurry. Their spacious, unhurried approach leaves plenty of room for interplay between all members who get to shine in totally different ways at very different times.



@J-C Arav

The most attention-grabbing sound is Markus Ischer’s electric guitar which verges towards the psychedelic and is played out to full effect, fuelling the terms ‘jazz rock’ and ‘jazz fusion’ that the band is often labelled with.

Some of the sound particles in the Akku atmosphere are made of of bleeps, hallucinogenic wails, squeaky outbursts. Music to immerse yourself in like a rich, pulsating heart-beat which occasionally slows down, skips and jerks. As Jonas Fehr’s live visuals suggest, the molecules are in gradual full expansion. Expect a new LP from Akku Quintet in spring 2017.

Some questions and answers with AKKU Quintet drummer and bandleader, Manuel Pasquinelli:
Describe the musical dynamics within the quintet

@J-C Arav

Manuel Pasquinelli: We are a quintet with saxophone, but the the sax is not the only leading instrument. The focus on an instrument changes all the time. We are all leading at different times, each member influences the whole thing. Groove and mood are as important as the solos. A solo is always part of the composition and leads from one part to the other. We try to create a piece of music as a journey. We leave space and don’t always play everything we could. We don’t tell a prefabricated story to the listener, so that the listener can derive their own story or mood.

Do you think you fit easily into the ‘jazz’ genre?

Manuel Pasquinelli: People often say to me “I don’t usually like jazz, but I really like what you do”,  so I think that ‘jazz’ is maybe not the right word to describe our music. It’s minimal, ambient, rock with the playfulness of jazz, influenced by different kinds of music (from Nik Bärtsch to Steve Reich, Yann Tiersen, Pink Floyd and beyond).

Akku Quintet “Molecules”

Band members:

Manuel Pasquinelli – drums & composition
Michael Gilsenan – sax
Markus Ischer – guitar
Maja Nydegger – keys
Andi Schnellmann – bass
Jonas Fehr – live visuals

Cully Jazz festival 2016 – Switzerland gets down to bizniz (day 2)

‘Levitation’ by Tobias Preisig & Stefan Rusconi – Le Temple, Cully, 9/4/16

@J-C Arav

Tobias Preisig and Stefan Rusconi are Swiss pillars of the Cully Jazz musical institution. Their Saturday night performance at Le Temple church marked a return to sacred ground that the duo had already trodden a few years ago. This is the venue that inspired and housed their Levitation project that tonight is played out to an eager audience, most of whom are already familiar with the powerful, intimate exchange between violinist and pianist.

The key feature of the Levitation project is the sensitive, gradually drawn out soundscape created in great part by Rusconi on the church organ which is then supported and teased out by the strings. In practical terms this means having the two musicians play upstairs in the church gallery, heard but not seen from the audience down below. Deciding that this year’s jazz audience needed something to look at, the entire concert was projected on screen at ground level, which, ironically – because of the very bright projector light that was aimed right at the audience – meant that many of us listened with eyes tightly shut, (it was a bit like staring at the solar eclipse without eye protection). Possibly the best way to appreciate the moody, almost Gothic sounds raining down from above.

Some questions and answers with violinist Tobias Preisig:
What’s your relationship to the Cully Jazz festival?

Tobias Preisig: I have a special attachment to Cully Jazz. I’ve been playing here for the last 6 years, I started off in a small caveau as part of the ‘OFF’ programme, then they offered me residency, then larger stages as part of the main programme. There’s a extremely open-minded attitude here and strong commitment to push the next generation. Young and unestablished musicians find a stage here, right next to the superstars. Playing at Cully is definitely the highlight of the year for me. It’s become almost a family gathering with musical professionalism.

Was the material for ‘Levitation’ tailor-made for Cully?

Tobias Preisig: We played as a duo here at Le Temple in Cully a few years ago, performing for the first time with the church organ. Again, it was an opportunity that the festival gave to us. We fell in love with the sound and came back one summer to record at Le Temple for 5 nights. This music is now released as an LP called ‘Levitation’ and yes, it’s definetely tailor-made. So what’s nicer than to celebrate a recording that was actually made in this enviroment?!

Will there be more live gigs with the ‘Levitation’ project?

Tobias Preisig: This is a special side project for both Rusconi and I whose friendship and collaborations go back a long time. So far we’ve only played the material from Levitation live twice! There are a lot of underplayed organs and oversized churches, so we are looking forward to exploring them and awakening them with new music.

Preisig & Rusconi Levitation bandcamp



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