World jazz with JMO, and Rumanian folk/jazz with Ler.che. Certainly, there was no danger that it would be an evening of music you’ve heard a million times before. Given the high standard of concerts already at Stadtgarten this year, the only certainty was that it would be well played.
some two-thirds of the Stadtgarten audience sits on the lawn neighbouring Stadtgartens now familiar stage. I rarely see any of them come down to collect a programme from the boxes stageside. Maybe they look on the internet to see what’s coming? I would much rather like to believe that they have no idea what awaits, but descend on the little grassy (although very yellow this year) embankment with only a blanket, a friend or three and no expectations other than enjoying the sunshine and whatever music comes their way. Beers opened, they wait until around 7pm to see the distant t-shirted figure of Hans-Joachim Over (Hajo) step onto the sun-filled stage, smile out at them, and announce the evening’s music. Judging by reports, even his announcement last weekend of a Heavy Metal evening didn’t send dozens running for home – at least to collect ear-plugs.
There were no ear-plugs needed this evening anyway. JMO were instantly likeable for their friendly smiles and their interesting instruments (my first experience of a Kora!). The trio really makes a very individual sound, call it World Music Jazz perhaps, that results largely from the combination of Moussa Cissokho’s Kora with the clarinet and saxophone sounds from Jan Galega Brönnimann.
Moussa Cissokho is from Senegal, Jan Galega Brönnimann is from Switzerland, Moussa Cissokho from Senegal and percussionist Omri Hason from Israel (hence the name JMO) so it really is a World band. World music but without the usual obvious roots to a particular Country as each man contributes to the music.
The trio themselves have tried to put some identification into their sound with the term ‘World Jazz Griot’ and since the West African word ‘Griot’ means storyteller that’s about as clear as you can get on the music identification front. The casual listener, having seen the tall figure of Cissokho and his ‘strange guitar’ will have put the music somewhere in Africa but this was really refined contemporary World Jazz.
That ‘strange guitar’ is, in fact, a Kora, which Wikipedia defines as a ‘long-necked harp-lute instrument from the Malinke people of West Africa. It’s not something to play Hendrix-like over your shoulders, and instead of a biting Stratocaster sound, it produces a wonderfully mellow tone. Not the easiest of instruments to electrify I would think (I suspect this wasn’t a concern for the original Kora builders) and Cissokho has to regularly tweak strings. The sum of it – and the interesting percussion offered by Omri Hanson (more trips to Wikipedia would be necessary to describe his musical hand-tools) together with more traditional sounds via flute and sax made for a pleasant way to enjoy the sunshine.
Another, equally beguiling, jazz mix was on offer after the break. ‘Romanian avant-garde jazz’ is the description offered by Ana Maria Leistikov to describe her music with Ler.che. It’s difficult sometimes to keep track of Ana Maria’s music – last weekend saw her lending vocals to self-penned numbers with Vlad Vaschenko in front of Bonn Town Hall, later in the year she is introducing an evening of Cole Porter style music from the Harmonie, and here she is interpreting Rumanian folklore (and yes, Count Dracula does get a mention – albeit as a children’s song by Ana herself).
” ‘Ler.che’ is the sound made by a proud Rumanian bird looking at the world with fascination and expectancy yet wanting to retain old-world roots,” says the Stadtgarten handbook. Rather like JMO before them, Ler.che the band maintained the modern part of the plan via trusted jazz instrumentation. Nicolas Simion won the WDR-Jazz prize in 2015, and it’s plain to hear why when he picks up melodies ‘on the fly’ and runs with them so energetically and gleefully on saxophone. He stands beside Ana Maria expectantly, waiting for such moments throughout the evening and a beaming smile at the applause each time he gets a solo is our reward for rewarding his wonderful endeavours.
What could turn out to be a heavy evening of Folklore and Avant-garde soloing thankfully isn’t, and that’s very much down to the mn on keyboards, Norman Peplow, who arranged the music this evening. His own musical contribution is excellent, but the dynamics created by his arrangements are really the key to keeping the evening’s music fresh – that and, of course, the charismatic presence of ‘Astatine’ herself. The interplay between vocals and saxophone was really my highlight of the evening – and the numerous pictures I captured of Ana Maria eyes closed and smiling at Simion’s sax runs tell all that needs to be said about the magic onstage.
For fans of Astatine herself, Ana Maria Leistikow will be playing an evening dedicated to Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington at the Harmonie in January next year (details HERE) that sounds too good to miss.