Jürg Frey at hcmf

Jurg Frey2015An advocate of silence as sound

Jürg Frey allows musical notes to appear on his blank sheet in a playful way, ‘Not because I have something in my mind…but I like to draw dots and strings. And through this process, the impression of what this piece could be, starts to come into the foreground.’ From there he begins a dialogue with the music; it’s a mindful approach, apparent in his work. Part of the ’90s Wandelweiser group, Frey has been an advocate of silence as sound; the contrails of which are still present in his slow-moving pieces or long, solitary notes.

‘We feel the ‘handwriting’ of Graham McKenzie’

He is being truly celebrated at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf) this November with the UK premier of String Quartet No.3 played by Quatuor Bozzini and world premier of Accurate Placement with double bassist, Dominic Lash, amongst other work. This highly respected event is nearly 40 years old and as Frey describes it, ‘We feel the ‘handwriting’ of Graham McKenzie,’ the innovative festival director who added improvisation and electronica to the contemporary classical menu. This year even features an interdisciplinary piece with Graham Massey of 808 State and visual artists.

Mavericks striving for the boldest version of their music

Originally a clarinetist, Jürg was brought up in the ’50s with his dad playing violin in an amateur orchestra and sax in a jazz combo – a rarity then – as Frey says, ‘We played Mozart and Benny Goodman.’ As a composer he found his form and took inspiration from the ‘individualists’ that Switzerland is so good at producing. It’s also what drew me to Swiss artists: mavericks striving for the boldest version of their music, unrestrained by conventionality or the mainstream.

Their paint strokes affected the rhythm of his pulse

This is hard, hard work though, and risky. And for Jürg there are traps in his highly reduced music; how can it be so minimised yet still breathing? ‘The danger is that you have something that is death…10 minutes of music and 20 minutes of death material!’ It was the abstract painting of Agnes Martin that showed there was a way. ‘It is flat on the wall, but floats in space, and fills up the whole space,’ is Frey’s magical description of Martin’s artwork, and as he spoke of her and the still life painter, Giorgio Morandi, I sensed how they had changed him, and it is this changed person who composes. As if their paint strokes affected the rhythm of his pulse.

JurgFrey_CirclesandLandscapesListening to the new album, Circles and Landscapes (out on Another Timbre), it has the solo pianist Philip Thomas press the keys with such resonating deliberation I felt I was at the piano with him. There is not only vibrant life in this music, but maturity. Frey’s journey continues, he is not ‘there’ yet, but he is beyond the need to prove something, or make a point. His music just is.

Jürg Frey at hcmf
22 Nov: Quatuor Bozzini
24 Nov: Konus Quartett
27 Nov: Ensemble Grizzana
27 Nov: Philip Thomas

Anschläge auf das Musikverständnis

Andreas Schaerer bekommt in Hamburg den Echo Jazz als „Sänger des Jahres International“

andreas_schaerer_201510990_ret_swAndreas Schaerer ist in Deutschland angekommen. Im vergangenen Jahr gewann der Berner Sänger mit seiner wilden Band Hildegard lernt fliegen in München den mit immerhin 10.000 Euro dotierten BMW Welt Jazz Award. Jetzt durfte er in Hamburg den Echo Jazz in der Kategorie“ „Sänger des Jahres International“ – sein direkter Vorgänger war kein Geringerer als Gregory Porter – entgegennehmen. Zwar undotiert, aber vom Renommee her inzwischen doch eine Art deutscher Grammy. „Ich freue mich unglaublich über die Auszeichnung“, sagte Scharer, kurz bevor er den Spießrutenlauf auf dem roten Teppich zur Fotowand nach amerikanischem absolvierte. „Das ist ja eine Form der Anerkennung, die einen in seinen Überzeugungen bestätigt. Eine Resonanz, die einen motiviert, das oft unglaubliche Arbeitspensum auf sich zu nehmen, Gas zu geben, alles auf eine Karte zu setzen.“

Schaerers Auszeichnung hat Signalwirkung

andreas_schaerer_201510685_ret_swSo wie der Begriff Jazz inzwischen kein fest definierbares Genre mehr beschreibt, sondern für individuelle Musik heterogenster Quellen steht, so ist auch die Kategorie „Sänger“ bei Andreas Schaerer ein hilflose Untertreibung. Er setzt nicht nur alle Stile von der Opernkoloratur und dem klassischen Liedgesang über Crooner-Swing und Bebop-Scat bis zu expressionistischen Vokalisen und Experimentalgesang ein, er imitiert auch Geräusche und Instrumente und beherrscht überdies Multiphonic-Beatboxing. In den verschiedensten Projekten, vom Duo mit dem Schlagzeuger Lucas Niggli über das Trio Schaerer-Rom-Eberle über die Kollaboration mit dem Arte Quartett und dem Bassisten Wolfgang Zwiauer bis zum Vorzeige-Sextett Hildegard lernt fliegen er damit gleichberechtigtes Instrument, ja als Komponist vieler Stücke auch oft Erster unter Gleichen. Als weiteres Alleinstellungsmerkmal kommt der direkt der Musik entspringende wie in den Moderationen gepflegte Humor dazu, der seinen Auftritten oft schon kabarettistische Züge verleiht. Leider durfte Schaerer beim Echo nicht auftreten, der wie viele andere beim Festakt selbst die Musik jenseits des Mainstreams vermisste.

Orgien der Fantasie
Andreas Schaerer, Brigitte Wullimann ECHO JAZZ 2015,  © Markus Nass / BVMI

Andreas Schaerer, Brigitte Wullimann
© Markus Nass / BVMI

Dafür gab es eine schöne Laudatio von Mr. Tagesschau Jan Hofer , der Schaerers Auftritte als „Orgien der Fantasie, famoses Chaos und Anschläge auf der Musikverständnis“ rühmte – obwohl er ihn noch nie live gesehen hat, wie er im kleinen Kreis bei der anschließenden Party verriet. Schaerer griff in seiner kurzen Dankesrede die Erwähnung seiner klangexperimentellen Jugend in den Emmentaler und Walliser Bergen gewohnt humorvoll auf: Er habe sich als Kind oft gefragt, wie das Echo aussieht, das ihm aus dem Tal zurückkam. Jetzt – und dabei reckte er die sperrige Trophäe empor – wisse er es. Wie ein Schweizer Echo idealerweise klingt, das erfahren demnächst die Besucher von „Bingen swingt“ und des Südtirol-Festivals, bei dem Schaerer zu den favorisierten Stammgästen des innovativen Festivalleiter Klaus Widmann gehört.


Andreas Schaerer wins ECHO Jazz Award

Andreas SchaererI met Andreas Schaerer two years ago almost to the day, when he was on a week-long course for jazz musicians in the UK. It was about 10pm and he was the last of seven interviews I was doing, we were both pretty exhausted. There’s a softness to people zapped of the energy to be nervous or erect the usual social barriers. The room was lit only by the evening sky outside and Andreas was slumped forward, his head rested in his hands. “I’m a bit f***ed up,” he said. Lack of planning and things going better than expected meant everything was coming at him at the same time, “Too much work, pressure and expectations,” he explained.

In a way he didn’t need to tell me. When I’d checked his website for my research I could see this was a man who liked to say, ‘Yes’ and play ball with everyone who asked. He wasn’t shy of taking responsibility, but that evening it felt like there was a truly heavy weight on his shoulders.

On May 28th of this year, Andreas will be walking up the ‘red carpet’ of the ECHO Jazz Awards to collect International Vocalist of the Year, a prize won by Gregory Porter in 2014. This is massive, not only for Andreas, but dare I say, for Switzerland. Another building block increasing the country’s reputation for distinctive music of quality. It was just as well Schaerer didn’t take my advice to slim down his commitments! Instead he developed bigger muscles to face the challenges, releasing four albums in just over a year. Admirably he also scheduled in time for a proper long holiday with his young family.

As I write this, Andreas is at home in Bern surrounded by sheets of scores he’s composing for his band Hildegard Lernt Fliegen and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, no less. That’s music for almost 70 musicians from two harps to eighteen violins and a tuba. “There’ll be some Beatboxing meets classical percussion meets three marimbas,” he told me, “there’ll be fairytale-ish harmonic moments and lots of madness….” That sounds about right. It will be a prestigious, one-off concert in Lucerne on September 5th and I can’t wait.

I know it’s not a Swiss characteristic to ‘blow your own trumpet’ (shout about yourselves) so I like to do it for you. Along with the ECHO Award, Schaerer was nominated for the Swiss Music Prize and voted International Newcomer of 2014 by French magazine, JazzMan. Hildegard Lernt Fliegen won the BMW World Jazz Award – both the jury and the audience prizes (!) and their album, The Fundamental Rhythm Of Unpolished Brains was voted as Best Vocal Release of 2014 by New York City Jazz Record. The album Arcanum with Lucas Niggli won the Deutscher Schallplattenpreis and was chosen as a ‘CHOC’ by JazzMan Magazine in 2014. So not a bad year then. And one that clarifies the importance of originality and drive in a highly competitive and crowded market. I think it helps that Schaerer can have an audience giggling whatever their language, we all need a laugh every so often.

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