Don’t shout it out too loud but Dottendorf is rapidly establishing itself as a top address for the modern jazz scene. There are only around two hundred seats available at the Kulturzentrum anyway, and lately you need to get there early to secure one of them. Friday’s appearance by Berlin-based Lisa Bassenge was further proof of the quality music that Dottendorf has to offer jazz fans.
Bassenge enchanted everyone with her current stage show dedicated to the ‘mothers’ of popular music. There are some surprise names in that set too. Dolly Parton’s ‘Wildflowers’, was particularly special for Bassenge, who, as the daughter of an Iranian immigrant knows how it feels to be uprooted
“So I uprooted myself from my home ground and left. Took my dreams and I took to the road.
When a flower grows wild. It can always survive. Wildflowers don’t care where they grow”
An evening of beautiful songs, beautifully sung, taken from a varied and talented selection of music ladies. Tammy Wynette (‘Til I Get It Right’), Lady Gaga (‘Joanne’), Joni Mitchell (‘Woodstock’, Robyn (‘Dancing on my Own’). There were powerful interpretations of songs by men too, especially the meditational flow of Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice’ and the moving Warren Zevon song ‘Keep Me In Your Heart For A While’. Nick Drake’s ‘Parasite’ too was memorable, with dramatic swirling, chaotic piano perfectly underpinning the swirling mind of Drake himself whose genius was blighted by depression.
Bassenge’s husband Andreas Langknew perfectly when to shine and when to blend in (“I loved his playing so much that I married him” she smiled). Almost as powerful as Bassenge’s voice on this emotional evening was the piano accompaniment of Jacob Karlzon who really made his keyboard weep and shout out throughout an evening that will long be remembered by those lucky enough to have discovered this little gem of a concert hall tucked away in Dottendorf.
For lovers of American southern rock music, The Harmonie was THE place to be last Sunday evening. Hailing from Orange County, California Robert Jon and The Wreck were really on fire for the closing night of their European tour. The only complaint I could make is that Sunday shows have to finish so damn early – who wants to go home from a concert at 9:30 pm? Not when there’s a great band onstage who seem like they would happily play all night!
First a quick catch-up for those who are not familiar with the name Richard Bargel. Growing up in Bonn Bad Godesberg, Bargel started out as a folksinger but even early on was thinking outside the box and formed his own puppet and theatre company ‘Lumpentheater’. The ’70s saw him building up a following in England by playing at some of London’s premier pubs and clubs (100 Club, Dingwalls, Half Moon in Putney). He was in some excellent company too embracing a mixture of styles with the likes of D.P. (Elvis) Costello and Wizz Jones. The ’70s also saw Bargel forging his blues links through concerts with luminaries of the genre such as Champion Jack Dupree and Memphis Slim.
If you’re a Henrik Freischlader fan then you will be playing this with great trepidation. 2009’s ‘Recorded by Martin Meinschäfer’ is unarguably one of, if not THE, best disc the Wuppertal Wunderkind ever put together. Does the new release measure up? Well truth is, it’s not as good – it’s better!
It’s been nine years since Layla Zoe and Henrik Freischlader last collaborated on an album together, the result being arguably Layla’s best to date ‘The Lily’. The intervening years have seen Layla with her own band deliver the excellent double disc ‘Gemini’ and 2020’s ‘Nowhere left to go’ which, despite its patchwork band born out of Covid regulations at the time, was by no means a disappointment (see my review on this site). Certainly, the current world situation has created plenty of fuel for creative songwriters, which Layla most certainly is. It’s certainly significant that the last release by Layla was not a music CD but a book of poetry. Given that Layla pours her heart out in every song I was disappointed not to find a foreword in said poetry book – events to hang the words on, so to speak. The same goes for this new CD. The intimacy of the lyrics suggests nothing is pure imagination, everything is experience. Why else call a song ‘Jasmine’? and have a lyric “I’ll care for you tonight, little black and white pearl”. The devil, as they say, is in the detail. And in Layla’s lyrics here, there is always so much tantalizing detail.
As always with Cable Car releases, the disc is beautifully presented, with an eye-catching black and white ink illustration by Caroline Sandmayer who also designed Henrik’s own ‘Missing Pieces’ cover. The very first two tracks illustrate the breadth of emotions on the disc overall. Track one, ‘Dark Heart’ is indeed a dark tale of life at its lowest ebb, yet track two, ‘Honey pie’ is the opposite – a “child of love and light” who, it transpires, plays xylophone. Again there’s that little hint of detail that this is perhaps from real life, and therein lies for me the strength of Layla’s lyricism. How deep do you want to go as listener?
Tracks like ‘The world could change’, ‘Man behind the curtain’ and ‘We’re all the same’ possibly have roots in the turmoil of War that we currently live in – if we are fortunate, only diffusely – through news bulletins. Elsewhere though there is tenderness as “Baby bird, I’m sorry I couldn’t help you fly” and fierceness as in “Life ain’t worth a shit, if we can’t look fear in the eyes”. Finally, throughout the disc, hope is always there. “Every villain, every house of cards, crumbles to the ground” (Truth song), “Secretly we light a candle, whose tiny flame must never waver” (The world could change), because, quite simply, “In the end we’re all the same. We fight to smile and survive. To live and love and be” Am I suggesting this is a very complex disc? Well it is. And then again it isn’t. Good versus Evil. There’s that “tiny flame to disable the evil plans” and the choice to “Stand up in your courage. You don’t have to lose”. If all else fails, there is the haunting final song/prayer ‘Shine brightly‘ that is for me the discs high-point. With all the world’s troubles we can rise up; physically as individuals, and spiritually too- from birth to death “To shine brightly as we transcend. To shine brightly even in our end”
So, I have written a great deal already. Really a powerhouse performance lyrically and emotionally by Layla. Poetry put to music. But this is a music CD and not a poetry book. Of course, the music side is where Henrik Freischlader very much comes in on this disc – as the player of every instrument bar the keyboards (Henrik’s band keyboard player Moritz Führop keeps things ‘in house’ here i.e. Cable Car records). Ordinarily, The talents of Mr Freischlader would be more than enough to embellish any vocalist’s solo disc. Layla though here has set the emotional bar high, and, whereas Henrik’s guitar playing is always tasteful and doesn’t dominate with its Peter Green/Gary Moore Bluesrock tone, I wish he’d kicked a bit more a*s as he does on his own new release for example on ‘Hall of shame‘. Freischlader understandably lets Zoe do the real shining on here, and that’s maybe a conscious decision. The rhythms and beats he provides are all watertight, no complaints technically. No great guitar solos and no bad ones. When one musician plays pretty much everything a ‘live take’ goes out the window, and I rather miss that edginess. Will we ever get a chance to hear Layla take this on the road with her own band? I hope so. The World can change – believe in the Firegirl and her words from the heart.
Back to Kunstrasen’s ‘Klein aber Fein’ Vsecond Stage. Roxanne de Bastion and Daniel Bongart were on the bill on a day when all the threat of rain during Sunday’s VIP lounge concert arrived with a vengeance from early afternoon on Tuesday evening. An hour before the music was due to start there were regular peals of thunder from the Rheinaue direction. A wise man would have stayed home. I set out – with a raincoat and strong umbrella. Well, there was an English lady waiting for me. Waiting for an audience of any sort I suspect as the lightning lit up the early evening sky.
Not having been back to my home country for over two years it was rather pleasant to walk down to Kleines Theater in the Bad Godesberg Kurpark on Monday. For one, it was slightly drizzling with rain. ‘Even the weather will be Best of British’ I sighed happily inside my waterproof jacket. Music from the British Isles was what it said on the flyers. But what exactly was that? I mean, we all know Irish jigs and Scottish bagpipes, but can you fit four individual territories into one evening, indeed into an evening ending at 10 pm, in the park in one evening? If anyone could, it would be the man stepping promptly onto the stage at 7:30 pm.
“Die Bühne hier gehört jetzt mir. Ich könnt‘ hier wohnen!“ – from ‘Jamsessions‘
For Cynthia Nickschas a stage, any stage, seems like a second home. Even no stage, when she is playing on street corners for change collected in her famous ’Mad Hatter’ top hat. So why tonight, for her Unter der Zeder concert, is she nervously plucking at her guitar strings and chattering like a nervous sparrow in a tree full of sparrow hawks? Looking round at the sold-out seats in front of her, Cynthia explains her predicament. “I know everyone here personally!” It’s a ‘home concert’ for Cynthia, playing in her own backyard of Bad Godesberg, and that’s the source of the nervosity. She’s actually relieved later on when the light dims and the stage lights mean recognizable faces are hidden from her sight.