(Monheim-am-Rhein. June 22-26, 2022. Round-Up Festival by Tony Dudley-Evans)
The Monheim Triennale is a festival in Monheim-am-Rhein, a pretty little town on the banks of the Rhine, about halfway between Cologne and Düsseldorf. The festival has the support of the mayor of the city Daniel Zimmerman who was present not only for the opening ceremony and the closing press conference, but also at a number of concerts. It was programmed by Reiner Michalke with the support of a small team.
This festival, which describes its mission as “documenting innovative artistic positions in contemporary music“, has an approach that differs from most international jazz festivals: the focus is on individual musicians rather than groups, and on the possibility for composers to create a new project for the festival.
No less than fifteen musicians were commissioned to create a “signature project” with a new work, or a new group, or to add a special guest to a regular group. A series of informal duo and trio sessions with different configurations of musicians participating in the festival intertwined with these iconic works.
Most of the sessions took place on the festival ship, the MS RheinGalaxie, moored on the Rhine a few steps from the festival hotel. It’s an atmospheric setting with its two music rooms, one large for signature projects, the other small and intimate for breakout sessions. Other events took place at a café in the city and at a flexible club, Sojus, which worked well with a seated or standing audience.
The opening event, however, took place outdoors on both banks of the Rhine and in the river itself, taking advantage of the location to present an amazing soundscape. It was Entwurf einer Rheinlandschaft (Ebauche d’un paysage Rhenan) which brought together disparate musical elements, solo horn, solo voice and speech from two boats in the middle of the river, choirs of trumpets and trombones on apartment balconies near the river, two groups of accordion and a spoken group of words placed on either side of the center of activity, a roundabout by the river. At one point there was an electronic drone across the river. The focus was on creating and projecting a wide range of interesting electronic and acoustic sounds before two opera singers entered the proceedings, first at various points around the roundabout, then reunite for the stunning climax in which their voices were surrounded by electronics. and brass sounds from the various sites around the river. The piece was composed and organized by an important figure in the Cologne experimental scene, Marcus Schmickler. It was a truly spectacular and unique event.
Here is a personal selection of other impressive festival events:
For this concert, the composer Marcus Schmickler on laptop, was joined by Thomas Lehn on digital synthesizer and Chris Corsano to the battery. They used laptops and synthesizers to create a special sound based on electronics and noise music. While building this sound can be very exciting, it can get repetitive at times. Here, however, Corsano’s clever drum contributions added variety and dynamism that really added to the sound. Stunning decor and a highlight of the day.
Trio by Stian Westerhus
Hearing Stian Westerhus after a long interval, he realized that his music had changed in several significant ways. Stian’s vocals add a whole new dimension, but the intensity of the band’s interaction between Ståle Storlokken on keys and electronics and Erland Dahlen on drums and electronics remains the key element of the trio’s music.
Robert Landfermann ‘Rhenus’
Robert Landferman, bassist and composer, was born and raised near the Rhine, and his flagship project was dedicated to the river. It was an acoustic set with a very seductive writing for a septet comprising two drummers, Christian Linger and Jonas Burgwinkel which complemented each other extremely well, creating a real energy in the music. It was good to see and hear in the band Percy Purslane, now based in Hamburg with the NDR Radio Big Band, and increasingly involved in creative projects elsewhere in Germany. It was very much a group performance of Landfermann’s intricate compositions, but Pursglove’s solos also stood out. (Description of the project here)
Hymns and Lamentations by Sofia Jernberg
by Sofia Jernberg signature project was built around a variety of arrangements made by Jernberg herself and members of the ensemble formed for the occasion, which was a small chamber group, The Resonance Ensemble, more Peter Evans on the trumpet, Cory Smith on the piano and Okkyung Lee on the cello. Jernberg was particularly effective on two arrangements made by Peter Evans, one of Billy Strayhorn’s musicians. lush life, and a silent version of Duke Ellington Come on Sunday. The careful rhythmic adaptation of lush life by Evans and Jernberg’s performance was very special.
Kris Davis Emergence Quartet
In this set, we returned to first-class small-group acoustic jazz with Kris Davis’ complex compositions and solo style. For her signature project, she wrote for a new quartet of young players all taught by Davis. These were Milena Casado bugle, Noah Garabedian on bass and Ivanna Cuesta to the battery. It was a deeply satisfying set with great playing throughout.
Ingrid Laubrock ‘Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamed
Ingrid Laubrock has become an essential member of the New York creative scene and her albums on the Swiss label Intakt have increasingly focused on her work as a songwriter. His work Dreamed Twice, Twice Dreamed presents two versions of his compositions, one for a small group, the other for the group plus a chamber orchestra. Here, Laubrock took the opportunity provided by the festival and his signature project to perform the life-size version with a band featuring Sam Pluta on electronics, Cory Smith at the piano, Robert Landferman on bass and Tom Rainy to the battery plus the eos chamber orchestra driven by Suzanne Blumenthal.
Colin Stetson Ex Eye with Brighde Chaimbeul + Drone
Colin Stetson had two signature projects, the first in the Sojus club, the second on the main stage of the boat. The first involved a collaboration between Stetson’s regular band, ex eye, with Brighde Chaimbeul on bagpipes. Stetson and the band have built an overwhelming and fascinating sound based on Stetson’s circular breathing technique on alto and bass saxophones, and the Chaimbeul bagpipes integrated into this sound adding an additional unique dimension. Ex Eye impresses with its overpowered sound, but everything seems to be at a sound level without much change. So it was interesting that Stetson’s second project, Drone featuring Stian Westerhus on guitar, had a lot more space in the music, providing the opportunity to enjoy the interaction between Stetson and Wersterhus.
All commissioned artists were free to form special bands for their project and one of the advantages was that there were a large number of musicians available for other sets, mainly in duos and trios in the small salon of the boat. However, perhaps the most impressive of these sets was a solo performance by Ståle Storløkken on a church organ in a nearby church in which he took advantage of the full range of the organ. This was followed by a dramatic set with jennifer walshe interact with two saxophonists in the church, Zoh Amba and Maria Grand. Zoh Amba is a real find, a very energetic player with something of Albert Ayler in her playing. Also pleasant is a duet between Ingrid Laubrock and Kris Davis, and installed in the café and the club by the Ugandan percussionists, Nihiloxica. There was also an engaging school project led by guitarist Sam Amidon.
The Triennale de Monheim is an extremely ambitious festival that successfully brings together contemporary jazz, improvised music, electronics and contemporary classical music, and shows that these genres coexist comfortably and, moreover, strengthen everyone’s strengths through collaborations and informal jams. The main event, the Triennale, is scheduled every three years, but we’re promised a SoundArt festival in 2023 and a prequel in 2024.