Gentleman, bio-farmer, musical mastermind – an interview with Paul Zauner

Image

photo via paul-zauner.com

For over six months I’ve been looking forward to my trip to rural Upper Austria, to be part of a unique musical experience which has earned a cult following in Europe and beyond. The INNtöne Jazz festival, organized on a farm and bringing together a wide array of stunning and diverse musicians (this year, among others: Paul Kogut, George and Camilla Mraz, Jazzmeia Horn, Mario Rom, Nino Josele, Raul Midon, Pablo Held Trio) is the brainchild of one man: musician, bio-farmer and record producer Paul Zauner.

The festival was every bit as interesting and unique as I had expected, from the intimate setting (Zauner is basically welcoming you into his home), to good food and refreshing beer, and the opportunity to enjoy said food and beer in the company of a varied and select audience and a group of outstanding, hand-picked performers. INNtöne is a wonderful opportunity to create some very personal musical memories, more akin to a large annual family gathering than an organized entertainment event. It is a rare cultural phenomenon that values the myth as much as it does the music and the creator of this myth is Paul Zauner.

At the end of the third and last evening, as I was getting ready to go home, I looked for Zauner to say goodbye and thank him for the experience. I had planned on interviewing him but, understandably, he was not very easily approachable during the festival, with everyone vying for his attention. After a few failed attempt at talking to him I gave up on the idea of an in-person interview. Luckily, when I went to say goodbye he told me he finally had time for a sit-down, so we went looking for a quiet place to talk. The aptly named St. Pig’s Pub (by the looks of things a former pig-sty converted to an impromptu bar for the duration of the festival) proved too noisy. We crossed the yard and entered the building behind the food stands, where the living spaces are located. A flight of stairs took us to his office, a crowded and pleasantly silent space where we both sat down at a big desk. When he crashed onto the chair opposite mine I could see just how tired he appeared. The hectic rhythm of the last three days had no-doubt taken its toll on him. With the noise of the courtyard reduced to a murmur and the only other noise coming from a group of children playing in the hallway, I finally had a chance to get a glimpse into the mind of this great patron of Jazz.

The INNtöne festival, now in its twenty-ninth year of existence, is truly one-of-a-kind. Please tell me how the whole thing began.   

It was like this: I used to play piano in a blues-band and I wanted to further develop the music, so I studied piano and trombone. I was initially into stuff like Emerson, Lake & Palmer but I also started listening to a lot of free jazz, Anthony Braxton and Art Ensemble of Chicago, and also swing music. Because of this I developed a very personal concept of a particular type of sound that I was trying to create. So I provided this blues-band with a horn section and it became the Blue Brass Connection. It was always about the sound. Not just creating some instrumental music, but creating a particular sound. Whenever we played anywhere in Upper Austria, many people showed up. Back in the ‘80s this type of blues-music was very popular.  A friend of mine, with whom I had worked for the Vienna  Jazz Festival, told me that Lou Donaldson had a free day in May and asked me if I would be interested in playing a double-concert with Donaldson. We asked if we could play in a castle in one of the neighboring villages. The mayor asked the governor of the province for money but he misunderstood and thought we were planning on holding a festival and not just a concert. So we received money for a festival. It all began entirely by accident.

Once we had the money we started bringing in diverse artists like Workshop de Lyon and Rypdahl and all these Austrian musicians. It was the same as today, very diversified. We also did things like accordion solo concerts back when nobody would have thought of putting an accordion in Jazz. People used to say ‘you can’t do this. an accordion solo-concert in jazz – this doesn’t work’. I always said ‘ok, let’s do it anyway’. I never really cared if it was traditional or not, it just had to have heart. So that’s how it started and it all grew from there.

Tell me about choosing the artists. Do you do this personally?

I choose everything personally, as a matter of fact. To me, everything has to amount to a dynamic musical whole. After loud comes quiet, there is a particular dramaturgy to the whole story. Everything has to fit together.

 How did the public change in these almost three decades?

The public is, as always, very open. They open their hearts to the music. This is the same today as it was in the beginning. Whenever I get criticized, whether people say it’s too “free” or it’s too “traditional”, I accept the criticism but I move forward with my own agenda, so to speak. I do what I think is right. I do that because I try to take people with me on an emotional journey, an emotional journey of hearing and feeling.

Your festival has the reputation of showcasing young talent. Talk to me about that.

Well, that’s part of the big picture; giving a chance to new people who are extremely promising. Because they play fantastically and they make people happy. In three or four years, perhaps Jazzmeia Horn will cost as much as the rest of the line-up put together. I’m not saying that will definitely happen, but it could. So our chance of bringing these people here under these circumstances, while keeping the festival at this particular level, is now. Because I don’t want to make (the festival) any bigger. I’d like to keep it at this level, maybe even a bit smaller. Of course I can invite Gregory Porter again now, but that’s not the point of the whole thing. We need to create an entirely new composition. I don’t want people coming just for Gregory Porter.

I guess the effect of that would be to turn the other performers into opening acts for the bigger stars, in a way.

That can’t happen. It has to be like Friday, when Mario Rom became the unexpected main event. And for that, a lot of research is necessary. You have to invest a lot of time and work into getting the most outstanding people. They don’t necessarily have to be young, they can be very old, if they were forgotten. They can be at the peak of their careers but maybe they aren’t as compatible with this industry  as a Paul Kogut – who incidentally plays incredibly well. So it’s not just about discovering young talent, it’s about discovering the already existing grandiose musicians or allowing the forgotten to come into their own.  It’s also about justice in life, musical justice so to speak. People who don’t make as much “noise” as others tend to be more easily forgotten. It’s imperative that I don’t let that happen.

This brings me to something I have been very curious about. You mentioned before that you didn’t want the festival to grow and I’ve been really fascinated with the fact that the festival managed to remain this size for almost three decades. It makes me think of the Gărâna Jazz festival in my own country, which started similarly (held in the backyard of a local Inn) and developed into a phenomenon that now draws thousands of people every year. How have you managed to purposefully prevent that from happening with INNöne?  

I wouldn’t allow that to happen. Because then it becomes a flow that I can’t stop; economically too.

If you could travel back in time to the day you first got involved in the music business, what advice would you give yourself?

I would advise myself to never, under any circumstances, lose perspective. Because if you start doing something and you lose perspective then it becomes a problem. All sorts of unwanted problems can arise.

You are involved in so many things and have a very active lifestyle. You’re a musician, a record-producer, a bio-farmer and event organizer. How do you manage to balance all these things? What’s’ the secret?

Wake up early, practice as much as possible and just simply do everything from the heart. If you do everything with great love, then it works out.

And don’t lose perspective…

That’s right (smiles). Don’t lose perspective.

by Andrei Cherascu

Advertisements

Carrying on the legacy through conscious music – an interview with Jazzmeia Horn

IMG_9093

 The Music and Myth proudly presents an extensive interview with Jazzmeia Horn. At the time of this writing it is the only one of its kind on the internet.

For The Music and Myth, the INNtöne Jazz festival was a nice opportunity to hit the countryside, hang out at a farm, eat pork roast and drink beer while listening to some of the greatest Jazz in the world. But it was also more than that. This unconventional event offers another, very valuable experience: the chance at a glimpse into the future. Event organizer Paul Zauner has a knack for recognizing promising young talent and getting them in front of audiences a short while before they become prominent players on the Jazz scene. The most recent example is Gregory Porter, who performed at the festival in 2010 and won a Grammy for his record Liquid Spirit just this year. Seeing a young musician – perhaps only a few years away from international acclaim – in such a cozy, intimate setting is something truly special. The artist opens up in a way that becomes almost impossible after their eight hundredth’ gig and in front of very large audiences.  Just imagine being at the Apollo in 1934, the night Ella stepped on a stage for the first time and sang “Judy” and “The Object of my Affections”.  I know I would have loved to be at a Frank Zappa concert back in the ’70s and see a scrawny kid named Tom open with bawlin’ piano-ballads. At INNtöne, I knew I would get a similar opportunity, and one name that caught my eye was Jazzmeia Horn.

The twenty-three year old musician, fresh out of the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, has certainly been garnering much praise for her determination, her charismatic stage presence and her old school approach to music. I was looking forward to her set and to interviewing her afterwards. While her performance certainly exceeded my already very high expectations, so did the interview, where I discovered that Jazzmeia is just as warm, graceful and charming in person as she appears on stage. She also possesses an outspoken nature and an air of wisdom which seems to contradict her young age. That comes from an acute awareness of her place in the music industry and a powerful feeling of cultural responsibility. Like I’ve mentioned in the article covering her performance, when you are in her presence, you get the feeling that a very bright future awaits this musician. I am certain that the readers of this interview will get the very same feeling.

 Jazzmeia, what do you think of the Inntöne festival so far? How do you like it?

It’s great. Look at that!  Right there, see…(she points at a lady carrying a tray with plates of pork roast)

It’s why it’s called Jazz at the Farm. This is what it’s all about.

(laughs) Exactly, all this meat. I don’t even eat meat.

You’re in the wrong place then. 

Oh no, they have some good pasta. I ate some pasta earlier.

You had a great set, congratulations!

Thank you.

You’ve got a debut record coming up, is that right?

I’m working on it. We’ve only been in the studio one day. What happened was that the bass-player Eric Wheeler plays on the road with Dee Dee Bridgewater a lot. So I don’t want to just tell him ‘hey man, if you don’t get off the road with her you can’t play with me’ (laughs). That would be rude. I’m happy that he’s working elsewhere, you know?  But it’s hard.  Victor Gould, who plays piano, is occasionally on the road with Wallace Roney. Sometimes getting the guys in to have another session is just really complicated.  So I’m working on it.

Can you talk to me about the record? Is it going to be standards or original compositions?

Yeah, original compositions. They sound like standards. They are definitely swinging, definitely classic jazz. If you were checking out Ella or Bettie or Carmen McRae, it would be a mixture of that with maybe some Lauren Hill and a little bit of Erykah Badu and maybe some Jill Scott and Marvin Gaye. You know, it’s just a mixture of soul, really.

My music is conscious music. It’s about being aware of the food that you put in your body, being aware of the community that you’re in and how the environment affects you in the community that you’re in, but in music. ‘Cos that’s what Jazz is, you’re telling a story, you know? And why not speak about the story that’s happening right now? I think the music is definitely important and, especially since my name is Jazzmeia, why not carry on the legacy, right?

Because a lot of the young people are really not that interested in Jazz. I’m talking about the mass population. Especially people of the African diaspora, which is where the genre came from. They’re really not interested in the music because of the way the media portrays Jazz just in general. It’s not on the mainstream.  So people are not really conscious about the movement and how it’s going. I just want to free people’s minds, that’s really what I want to do. Everybody: white people, black people, Indian people, orange people, yellow people. Seriously, I’m so serious. I just want people to be happy. Be happy with themselves, ‘cos that’s what we can do. If we’re happy with ourselves we can have love to give to everyone else, you see? So that’s what my album is really about.

What will it be called?

Probably – this is about 70% right, it might not be this – but I’m thinking The Naked Truth Dipped in Culture. I’m hoping it can be released mid-September or early October.  It’s coming out this year. Hopefully by the fall, so that way I can submit my music in December or January to festivals, to book them a year in advance. That’s my goal.

 You’ve moved from Dallas to Harlem, what can you tell me about the Jazz scene in New York? What are the biggest challenges for you?  

I don’t really have any now but I used to. Being in school was really complicated because in America there are no schools that teach you what you want to learn. Especially college, but education in general. You have to be your own school. Schools have their own agenda as far as what they want to teach the students. They’re trying to teach you something that you’re not even going to need, something that’s not necessary for your day to day life, you know? But you can definitely learn from it.

So, with that being said, I moved from Dallas in 2009 and went to school in August 2009. It was very hectic for me because I couldn’t understand why, coming from Dallas, I’m learning less than I learned back home. And I’m in New York, where the Jazz scene is five thousand times better than it is in Dallas. And still I was learning so much more back home. It’s because the people are real to the music. Not to say New-Yorkers aren’t real to the music, because most of the population in New York is not made of people who are from New York anyway, especially in the Jazz scene. You’ll find that 30% of the Jazz musicians in New York are actually from New York . So it was just really hard trying to go to school and deal with somebody else’s agenda, when I have my own agenda. Because I was trying to learn how to improvise better as a vocalist, how to improvise better as a musician in general, how to work on my technique and find out really who it is that I want to be musically and what I have to offer other than a beautiful sound. Sound is there, that’s actually the gift. But then, how do you mold it? How do you manifest it into actually what you want it to be? So that was really hard because the New School was like ‘do this, do that’ and it had nothing to do with the goals that I was trying to reach so that…sucked. (laughs)

And then I learned how to cope with it. I said, ‘ok, this is what the New School wants me to do, and this is what I want do, so this is how I have to balance it out’. That was the good thing about it, I learned how to balance them. Then, once I graduated college, it was so much better for me because now I have my own agenda and I can check out other people and what they’re doing as well. Everything on Earth is recycled. Fashion is recycled. What we wore in the 1920’s, that shit is going to come back around again, we’re going to wear that again (laughs). So that’s what happens. We evolve but we recycle and keep on traditions as we grow. So I feel the same way with Jazz. A lot of cats are not really interested in playing straight ahead. They want to play out, they want to play all this other stuff. And I only know that because I was allowed to go out and check out the scene.

There’s so many killer musicians, I’m not the only killin’ vocalist on the scene. I feel like what I can do for people is just be professional and show musicians and other people that I want to work and that I want to be playing, and be professional about it. If you’re not professional you can definitely get cut. Like, if you don’t show up…forget about it!  They can just call another vocalist because everybody’s killin’. You’re not the only killin’ one so…you just got to be on your p’s and q’s with that kind of stuff. And also practicing.

It’s hard because I want to go around and say ‘hey guys, you wanna play, you wanna shed?’ and they’re like ‘no!’ But if I say that to a musician who is not a vocalist, maybe a tenor player or trumpet player, they’ll be like ‘yeah, yeah…what are you working on?’ We just vibe instantly. And I want to feel that way more with vocalists.

The elders – the vocalists who might be in their 50s or 60s – of course, yeah, they can understand it. It’s because they relate to the Jazz. Not that the young cats don’t relate, but the elders understand where I’m coming from and they’ll come to me and say ‘I’ll do it’. We all get together and we sing and stuff. But the vocalists who are my age, they are not trying to hear. They’re like ‘I have my own agenda, I have my own thing, I don’t care’.

Do you think that’s because of competition?

Yeah, and that sucks. I don’t like that. I feel like, if I can go to a trumpet player and say the same thing, I should be able to go to a vocalist as well. We’re all musicians, you know? That hurts my feelings a little bit. I take it personal sometimes. I have to learn how to stop doing that. But I’m working on it.

The scene (in New York) is just great. There’s so many great musicians. If my bass player can’t make a gig, I can just call somebody else. Whereas in Dallas, there’s only five or six other players I can call. So if I didn’t have a bass player I’d have to find another way to make it work, any way that I can. And there’s a club on every corner.

I just wish two things: that the clubs were reachable to the younger generation, kids who are younger than me, so…like…high-school. In a lot of clubs you either can’t go because you’re too young or you can’t go because it’s like fifty dollars. With the way the economy works right now how the hell are you going to charge a kid fifty dollars to get in a club? It’s really inaccessible. And not only that, I wish a lot more of the elders would come out to the sessions. Roy Hargrove comes out to sessions, you know what I mean? We can learn from the elders. So when they come out to the sessions that’s like hip, you know. If you went to the sessions back in the ‘50s or ‘60s, if you went to Lenox Lounge or you went to St Nick’s Pub you could always find…like…Gregory Porter used to hang out at St. Nick’s pub, Jimmy Heath used to hang out and you could just go to them and be like ‘hey man, can I get a lesson?’ Now you can’t do that, and that sucks. That’s why all these cats want to play this out shit that has nothing to do with the legacy of the music. Because the elders have disconnected themselves. So what happens when the young generation falls behind and the elders disconnect themselves? There’s where I feel like I come in.

I know you are heavily influenced by the older generations, but what about the younger artists? Who influences you? Who do you listen to?

Oh, we can go on for years about what I listen to (laughs). But right now my top 5 are: Rachelle Ferrell, Bobby McFerrin, Jason Moran, Christian Scott. I like Ambrose, the trumpet player, he’s killin’. I also love Dee Dee Bridgewater. I like Kirk, of course (piano-player Kirk Lightsey). I like a lot of Gretchen’s stuff but I wouldn’t…I don’t consider Gretchen a Jazz musician, but who the hell am I?

How do you write your music? Can you talk to me about your creative process?

This recorder that you have – let me see! I have one of these, and it’s an Olympus too. So what I do is I take it around with me everywhere. I have it in my pocket upstairs. And sometimes I’ll think of something and it will turn into a song. I’ll just record that little bit and then when I get home I can sit down at the piano and figure out what it was that I was thinking about two hours ago. So I have just this recorder with like a hundred short snippets of something. So what happens is, over time, as I practice and my musicality gets greater, I usually have a tendency to go back and listen to tune number 5, instead of say number 555. And I find that the way I thought about it then is so much different than the way that I think about it now because of the growth spurt. So I’ll go back and fix this and tweak that and do this and do that. I just have sheets of music that either I’ll turn into a song and play or I’ll use it as a jingle. That’s another thing that musicians don’t really know about, writing music for film.

Film scoring and stuff like that – the money is so good. I learned that from Carmen Lundy. I did the Jazz Ahead program in 2013 and she told me about film scoring and how to write compositions for films and for TV shows and for all kinds of stuff that has to do with media. Once I found out about that, some of my songs that I didn’t like or didn’t think that I would be able to perform on stage, I turned them into little jingles or something like that. So it really just depends on where I am and how I’m feeling.

I just keep that recorder with me because if I’m in a bad mood, I’ll sing a song about it ‘cos that’s who I am. I’m a vocalist. I have to vocalize no matter what I’m doing. I’m on the train sometimes singing and people are like “shut the f**k up!” (laughs) But I can’t help it, that’s just who I am. And my voice is the way to do it. I just keep that recorder on me.

One last question: where do you see yourself in 5 years? What are your goals?

I would just like to tour all over the world and have my music reach the mass population, simply because I feel like they need healing. There’s not a whole lot of music out there that reaches the mass, like Beyonce’s fans or Jay-Z’s fans. Those people are brainwashed. Seriously, they have no sense of who they are, where they come from. They don’t care because the media tells them who to be, what to eat, what to drink, what to think about, how to dress. And I just want to show them that not everybody is like that. And that can make the world a better place, you never know. I feel like I can choose my gift that God gave me to just bring people to the light. And that’s really what I want to do. Even if it’s on a small stage. Because as long as people are hearing and it’s touching somebody, even if it’s one person , I’m satisfied.

With that being said I thanked her for her time and, with a big hug, we said goodbye. A while later I tweeted the  following phrase:

Prediction: you will see Jazzmeia Horn at the 2015 Grammys, you’ve heard it here first folks!

That’s the effect that this artist has on you. She makes you think of great things – for herself and, implicitly, for the future of Jazz. Jazzmeia Horn has everything going for her. She’s got the look, she certainly has the talent and she seems to possess an innate understanding of the subtleties of artistic expression, demonstrated through the ease with which she connects with the audience. But she also has one more thing which I think will prove vital to her success: a personal mission.

by Andrei Cherascu

INNtöne – Jazz on the Farm: the perpetual proto-festival

Image

Chapter 1: Jazz on the farm

A small, almost unnoticeable, arrow-shaped sign marked JAZZ confirms that we are heading in the right direction. It’s comical in its candor, especially since we are in the heart of the Upper Austrian countryside and there is nothing around for miles but grassland, forest  and a few scattered farms. One of these farms is of great interest to us because it hosts the INNtöne festival, arguably Europe’s best-kept secret when it comes to Jazz music of the highest caliber.

Every year since 2002, legendary musician, record producer and bio-farmer Paul Zauner turns his farm in the small village of Diersbach into the home of one of the most unique festivals in Europe (and probably the world).  A giant barn becomes a concert hall where accomplished veterans and up-and-coming names from the international Jazz scene grace the stage over the course of three days (in this case June 6th to 8th), creating a colorful and  fascinating musical tapestry.

By the time the first signs of life become visible – cars, trailers and RVs parked on the spacious meadow in front of the estate – we have already been driving through the woods for a while. The place has a surreal feeling, created by the contrast between the loose, unrestrained vibe of what is basically a giant camping spot and the very urban image of men in orange vests directing you to the nearest parking space. When we step out of the car and into the heat of early-June midday we are met by the distant sound of Daniel Nösig’s trumpet and Jure Puckl’s tenor sax. Unfortunately, our long drive prevented us from making the first evening of the festival,  so we missed the Friday line-up of James Blood Ulmer with Pierre Dorge & New Jungle Orchestra, Mario Rom’s Interzone, Melvin Vines Harlem Jazz Machine ad Chicago Blues A Living History. With me are my wife and in-laws, all fellow jazz-enthusiasts and all excited about the plethora of concerts that await us (in total – including the ones we missed – there were eighteen, a generous offer for any festival). I’m especially excited about one gig in particular. The Music and Myth’s favorite Jazz guitarist, Paul Kogut, is playing later in the evening, accompanied by the incomparable George Mraz. In fact, Paul is the main reason I came to the festival, as I was looking forward to hearing him play and meeting him in person. We had been introduced via e-mail by a mutual friend (shout out to Lindsay Curcio of Brooklyn NY) about a year earlier, shortly before I reviewed his excellent record Turn of Phrase.

Once we pass through the gates we are treated to a picturesque view: to the right, the barn that houses the show and to the left a series of long tables under an enormous tent where people feast on roast pork and beer under the watchful gaze of Mansur Scott. Seated on a chair overlooking the yard, with his back against the wall of the so-called St. Pig’s Pub (which will host the after-party) and his walking staff in his right hand, the accomplished vocalist looks like the Patron Saint of Jazz, watching over the event. I have the honor of shaking his hand and telling him how much I respect and appreciate his work and that I’ve just reviewed his latest record, Great Voices of Harlem. I find out that this festival has “the best food, the best drinks and the best music”. Later in the day I get the opportunity to test and confirm his enthusiastic claims. Meanwhile, inside the barn, the Nösig Puckl Quintet grants the stage to Pablo Held Trio as I search for Paul Zauner to set up an interview.

IMG_9095

A wonderful sight: the legendary Mansur Scott with the charming Jazzmeia Horn

Chapter 2: Saturday – Pablo Held, Nino Josele, Jazzmeia Horn and Kogut/Mraz

Image

I find my family on the balcony (read haymow). The sound is surprisingly good and the view is really something else but sadly the heat quickly becomes unbearable and we have to look for seats at ground level. I tell my wife that I managed to locate Zauner, who told me that we can do the interview a bit later in the evening, at around six or seven.

Unfortunately, because it’s still early on in the day, people are moving about, either coming in and looking for seats or going out to get a refreshing beer so it’s a bit difficult to properly appreciate this talented young trio’s raw, haunting music. I plan on catching one of their gigs in the near future to immerse myself deeper in their work as their performance has left a good impression on me. I especially enjoy drummer Jonas Burgwinkel’s “controlled chaos” approach.

The change of pace is striking when the stage is occupied by Spanish flamenco guitarist Niño Josele, whose performance is forceful and uplifting. His impressive skill is enhanced by a very capable band: Julian Heredia on electric bass and Guillermo McGill on drums and percussion. The young bassist is a delight; his technique is impressive and his chemistry with Josele becomes immediately apparent. McGill is one of the revelations of the festival with an outstanding performance that makes me definitely want to check out some of his work as a leader.

Up next comes one of the gigs I’m looking forward to the most. Dallas-born vocalist Jazzmeia Horn, fresh out of the the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, has generated quite a bit of buzz, with many people comparing her to some of the great voices from the past. I’m interested in interviewing the young musician after her set and also finding out if all the hype is justified.

To say that Jazzmeia’s performance exceeded my expectations would be an unforgivable understatement. Before I start the praise for this powerful and charismatic singer, let me write about the band a little bit. On stage are the wonderful Kirk Lightsey on piano and the very talented Wolfram Derschmidt and Dusan Novakov on bass and drums respectively. I was excited about Derschmidt especially because his recent work on Great Voices of Harlem is slowly but surely turning him into one of my favorite bass-players (and he just looks like a genuinely nice guy). Needless to say, he did not disappoint.

Image

Wolfram Derschmidt

Now on with the praise for Jazzmeia: She is absolutely delightful. Her stage presence exudes charisma and vitality, but also a deep-routed love not only for the music itself, but for the tradition and the cultural significance of Jazz. The balance between her old-school delivery and her youthful energy really make you feel like you are listening to something special. You can just feel how much she enjoys herself on stage. Her voice is powerful and educated enough to strike that emotional chord, while still maintaining a tiny drop of that rough, raw youthfulness, which goes away with age and experience but which I find particularly refreshing. When you watch Jazzmeia Horn perform you get a palpable sense of the wonderful future that no-doubt awaits this incredibly promising musician. I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to see her at this early stage in her career and in this intimate setting. I look forward to seeing her again.

When her set ends and she exits the building I follow her, leaving behind that distinctive sound of applause from an audience that has been very pleasantly surprised. I catch up with her and manage to get my interview, which you will be able to read on the Music and Myth in the following days. However, I’m not so lucky with Paul Zauner, who suggests we postpone it for the next day in what would for me become the recurring theme of the festival. As the beating heart of this animate event he is understandably busy, approached from all directions by artists, journalists, event staff and guests but I’m determined to talk to him and find out the workings of this one-of-a-kind festival.

I hurry back to my seat because a round of applause announces my good buddy Paul Kogut. When I reviewed Turn of Phrase  (which also features George Mraz, who is doing double duty at INNtöne – but more on that later) I used the words “flawless construction and perfect symmetry”. That could easily be used to describe their set. The technique is absolutely flawless. Paul’s fingers barely seem to touch the chords and, in the parts where George is front-and-center, he accompanies him so gently it seems as though his fingers are merely levitating over the strings, producing the equivalent of a guitar whisper. George, of course, is fantastic and drummer Klemens Marktl (filling in for Vinnie Sperrazza who couldn’t make it) shows no signs of the short time he must have had to prepare (but then again, this is Jazz). The trio displays at once the cold, calculated craft of a scientist and the warm fluency of a master storyteller, to put on an immaculate show that the audience does not fail to reward with forceful ovations. My only regret is that it didn’t last longer than the roughly fifty minutes it was granted (the duration of the sets varies greatly).

After the gig I have the opportunity to hang out with Paul for a little while. We talk about a show we were trying to put together in my hometown and which unfortunately fell through, but I do find out that Paul plans to do “more of this” (which I assume means festivals and events in Europe) in the future. Unfortunately I can’t stick around for Raphael Wressnig and Soul Gumbo feat. Craig Handy & Johnny Vidacovich as I have to get back home –  a comfortable bed and breakfast in the neighboring baroque town of Schärding – in order to prepare for my interview the following day.

IMG_9099

Paul Kogut

Chapter 3: Sunday – Carlton Holmes, Raul Midon, George & Camilla Mraz

“After the Raul Midon concert, ok?”

Once again I approach Zauner in between gigs and once again he is restlessly running around, trying to juggle his many responsibilities. I nod and make my way back to my seat for the next performance. Unfortunately time constrains made us miss Unterbiberger Hofmusik & Matthias Schriefl and Mathisen-Robin-Borlai. We got here in time to see Carlton Holmes’ solo set. As the New York pianist tells his tuneful story he completely captivates the audience with his hypnotic playing that is as delicate as it is delectable. I have the opportunity to talk to him afterwards and I use the word “hypnotic” to describe his performance. “Good, that’s kind of what I was going for,” he says before he graciously signs his record You Me and I for me. You can read a review of the record on the Music and Myth sometime in the following weeks.

The next scheduled performer is Raul Midon. I’m very excited about Midon because of his spotless reputation as a live act. First of all, let me just say: you know a gig is going to be good when the sound-check guy gets a hearty round of applause.  However, nothing could have prepared the audience for the inspiring performance of this incredible songwriter, vocalist and musical multi-tasker (he effortlessly plays his guitar with one hand, a pair of hand-drums with the other while using his lips as a makeshift trumpet when he is not regaling the audience with his angelic voice). This is more than just a fantastic set. The combination of the lyrical power of his music and the magnetism of his personality, which he displays through humorous anecdotes in between songs, turns his concert into a profoundly spiritual experience. Needless to say the standing ovation is so loud it nearly blows the roof off the barn. I’m pretty sure he is already in the dressing room by the time the audience stops cheering.  After Midon’s excellent gig I walk over to Zauner, ready for the interview.

“We’re going to get something to eat right now,” he says, and I say “Sure, no problem,” though I’m actually starting to doubt that our interview is going to take place. Clearly, he is busy, and the last thing I want to do is distract him during these hectic moments. I grab something to eat myself and return to my seat. I know Midon will be a hard act to follow but I also know that veteran bass player George Mraz – back on stage with Pavel Zboril on percussions and the lovely Camilla Mraz on piano – will rise to the challenge. Indeed, they deliver a complex, cerebral performance characterized by great chemistry and intuition. The band’s regular set is followed by an original performance of live film scoring, where they provide the soundtrack for the short film “Dance of the Blue Angels” by Czech director Steve Lichtag. The motion picture was touching, if tad too predictably sentimental for my personal taste. Overall it was an interesting, novel experience and the performance was flawless.

The end of this concert also announced the end of the festival for us. Because of the long drive back the next day we have to get home early and sadly can’t stick around for the next acts: Raab/Godard/Heral/Hegdal, Sun Ra Arkestra and Hazmat Modine.

The concerts I did see made me realize the cultural phenomenon that is the INNtlöne festival. Paul Zauner managed to create a living entity, a musical gathering that has remained intimate and small in size in spite of its almost three decades of existence. It constantly showcases outstanding performances from legendary artists and young musicians on the brink of major breakthroughs. The audience itself is a very select, musically cultured crowd, and the bond between artists and audience is heavily emphasized. It is an event in which the myth certainly matches the music. It made me think of the Gărâna Jazz Festival (a similarly rural affair, held in the mountains of Western Romania) in its infant years, before word got out and it started attracting mobs of thousands, not all of whom are necessarily interested in attending a quality music event.

It’s interesting that this never happened to Zauner’s festival. I’m curious if perhaps the organizer is consciously keeping the event at this stage of development but, sadly, it doesn’t seem like I will get to find out this time. I comfort myself with the fact that I managed to take part in this amazing experience and I figure I will ask Zauner for a Skype-Interview sometime in the near future, after the hectic INNtöne days have passed. However, before I leave, I want to thank him for organizing this festival and for graciously providing me with a press pass. I ask my family to wait for me in the car, that I will be back in a few minutes, and I go looking for him. Predictably, I find him surrounded by people, one of whom is telling him about “this great festival in Russia, which I organize and which is exactly like this one”. When Zauner looks at me I take a step forward and shake his hand, prepared to say goodbye when he says “Two minutes, I’ll be with you in two minutes and we can do the interview.”

TO BE CONTINUED

IMG_9166

The Music and Myth’s favorite Jazz guitarist

by Andrei Cherascu


Hey everyone, if you like my articles on The Music and Myth, perhaps you will also enjoy my novel Mindguard. You can find it exclusively on Amazon.

Mindguard Cover

Great Voices of Harlem – spellbinding stories from the iconic New York City neighborhood

Image

For The Music and Myth the month of June falls under the jazz-strological sign of the INNTöne Jazz Festival. The Music and Myth will be attending and covering the legendary event, held from June 6th to June 8th at the bio-farm of the equally legendary Paul Zauner in Diersbach, Austria. In the following weeks this website will hopefully (read: if all goes well) feature interviews with veteran musicians and up-and-coming talent alike. Since June is all about INNTöne, it seemed only fitting to start the month with an article about the recently released Great Voices of Harlem, a record meant to showcase the vocal prowess of Jazz-heavyweights Mansur Scott, Donald Smith and Gregory Porter. It was recorded in 2012 and released by the Austrian PAO label, owned by Zauner, whose band Blue Brass provides the instrumental backbone to this musical monograph. In fact, though the record is spearheaded by the name Gregory Porter – whose own Liquid Spirit was rewarded with a Grammy just this year – Great Voices of Harlem is entirely the brainchild of Zauner, a longtime aficionado of the famous New York neighborhood. The record features classics like “Moanin’”, “Somewhere over the Rainbow” “Mona Lisa” and “Watermelon Man” brought to life by the voices of the three talented vocalists, each adding his distinctive timbre and personality while maintaining a common thread of honesty and dedication.

The album starts with “Moanin’”, an appropriate openening track, first because it features Porter, who is arguably the most well-known of the three, and second because its rootsy groove is sure to instantly capture the listener’s attention. Though Porter brings his usual intense delivery, the song’s highlights are the instrumental bits, especially Martin Reiter’s sprightly piano. In fact, throughout the record, the listener discovers that Blue Brass does not merely provide an instrumental background, but often steps into the foreground where it effortlessly shines, solidifying the record’s consistency (the vocalists are mostly featured individually on separate tracks). The band is such a powerful presence that you could remove the vocal parts altogether and Great Voices of Harlem would still be a thoroughly enjoyable work.

The second song serves as an intro to “Peace” and, though it’s definitely enjoyable in its almost spiritual spoken-word-subtlety-over-poised-thumb-piano, it comes off as a bit out of place in the general construction of the album. Perhaps it would have been better placed towards the end of the record, where the trio of songs (the topic is continued in “Expansions”) could have created the feeling that the narrative is leading up to them. This would have been especially effective since “Peace” is not just the only song which features all three vocalists but also a superb rendition of Horace Silver’s track while “Expansions” is, in my opinion, the highlight of the record. Originally released by Lonnie Liston Smith (Donald Smith’s brother), the song is pulled off to absolute perfection. The “brass” is brilliant and hypnotic, Martin Reiter’s keyboards, Wolfram Derschmidt’s bass and Howard Curtis’ drums provide the flashy funk and Donald Smith’s delivery, complete with soulful screeches, is absolutely breathtaking.

Gregory Porter returns on the next track, an elegant and moving rendition of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” where Porter’s warm voice creates a captivating contrast with the band’s wintry and wistful performance. Mansur Scott then takes the reins and provides an interesting change of pace with the gritty, impactful, spoken-word recount of “Doing Hard Time” before changing ambiance yet again to deliver one of the most emotionally expressive versions of “Stella By Starlight” this reviewer has ever heard.

Smith and Scott partner up on “Watermelon Man” and somehow manage to capture both the bluesy balance of Herbie Hancock’s original and the Cuban cheer of Mongo Santamaria’s cover, while adding an entertaining touch of humor. This song is another example of the dynamic flow of the record, with constant shifts in style and mood that keep the listener alert. The album loses a bit of steam with “My One and Only Love”, if only because Donald Smith’s vocals just don’t seem to be the right fit for this particular take on the 1952 track by Guy Wood and Robert Mellin, but it quickly regains its pace with Mansur Scott’s sharp take on “Days of Wine and Roses”. In “Mona Lisa” Gregory Porter invokes the softness of Nat King Cole’s delivery to once again oppose the cold pensiveness of the band. Once more, the antithesis works wonderfully. Horace Silver’s “Song for my Father”, as performed by Mansur Scott,  closes the album in an eloquent, if somewhat undistinguished manner. It feels like a bit of an odd choice for a closing track and would have definitely worked better with a different placement.

Overall, Great Voices of Harlem is definitely a must-have for any knowledgeable Jazz enthusiast.  The unbridled passion of Paul Zauner and the impressive combined talent of Scott, Smith and Porter transform this record from a compilation of standards into a study of the cultural significance of Jazz and a heartfelt portrayal of the soul of Harlem.

by Andrei Cherascu