Jazzfest Berlin has seen its share of changes since first taking flight, as Berliner Jazztage, in 1964.
That inaugural edition is perhaps best known today for an opening address by Dr. Martin Luther King, who declared: “Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music.” For some listeners, it may also ring a bell because of a sterling set by the Miles Davis Quintet, recorded and released the following year as Miles in Berlin.
A few years ago, Jazzfest Berlin — now one of the most celebrated events of its kind in Europe — appointed an intrepid new artistic director, Nadin Deventer, who wasted no time in experimenting with form and function.
“In 2018, Deventer’s initial year as the festival’s first woman director, she programmed music in unfamiliar spaces, shaking up expectations. In 2019, she added, “Deventer took the radical next step of interrogating how artists create utopian and practical spaces for themselves, and crafted a related program of immersion and collectivity that extended from audience placement to the music itself.”
That exalted aim would seem even more critical this year, months into the massive disruption of the global coronavirus pandemic. Jazzfest Berlin has converted into an all-virtual affair, with a welcome twist: for the first time in its history, the festival will take place not only in Berlin but also in Brooklyn, home to many of the artists it often features.
“Bringing people together, facilitating art and building bridges are key duties of our cultural work,” Deventer tells WBGO. “More than ever, international exchange is needed in these times, in which the world is falling back into national, regional, local and even personal isolation. Jazzfest Berlin-New York is also a symbolic act of holding on to our transatlantic community by bringing together two of the most thrilling music scenes on both sides of the Atlantic.”
WBGO is also a proud media partner of the event — subtitled Jetzt erst recht: Now is the time! It takes place this Friday and Saturday both at Roulette, in Downtown Brooklyn, and the Underground Hall at silent green Kulturquartier in Berlin. Check the festival website for a full schedule, and watch this space for a livestream.
I’ll be the host and moderator onsite at Roulette for Friday’s lineup, which starts at 10 a.m. ET with saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin. She’ll be playing music from her new album Pursuance: The Coltranes, with Charenee Wade on vocals, Zaccai Curtis on piano, Lonnie Plaxico on bass and Darrell Green on drums. Then at 10:45 a.m. ET, the Canadian trumpeter Lina Allemano will present her band Ohrenschmaus from Berlin; it features Norwegian bassist Dan Peter Sundland and German drummer Michael Griener.
At 1 p.m. ET on Friday, flutist and saxophonist Anna Webber leads her sextet, featuring top improvisers like bassist Christopher Tordini and pianist Matt Mitchell; they’ll draw from her acclaimed 2019 album Clockwise. Then at 1:45 p.m. ET from Berlin, Deerhoof drummer John Dieterich collaborates with video artist Işıl Karataş for TRAINING, a festival commission.
The final shift in Friday’s lineup begins at 4 p.m. ET with Craig Taborn’s New Trio, consisting of Taborn on piano, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Ches Smith on drums. The closing set will feature Y-Otis Remixed, with Dan Nicholls on keyboards and Ludwig Wandinger on drums, and both making use of samplers.
On Saturday, the moderator and host will be Keanna Faircloth, host of Afternoon Jazz on WBGO. The music begins at 10 a.m. ET with Joel Ross’ Good Vibes, featuring a lineup much the same as on their new album Who Are You?: Ross on vibraphone, Immanuel Wilkins on alto saxophone, Brandee Younger on harp, Jeremy Corren on piano and Jeremy Dutton on drums. (The bassist will be Or Bareket, filling in for Kanoa Mendenhall.) At 10:45 a.m. the action shifts back to Berlin for MEOW! — a project featuring Liz Kosack on synths, Cansu Tanrıkulu on vocals, Dan Peter Sundland on bass and Jim Black on drums.
Black, who relocated from New York to Berlin years ago, will play again in the next set from Berlin — after a 1 p.m. ET duo hit from Roulette by German saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and pianist Kris Davis. The 1:45 p.m. ET Jim Black Trio will feature Elias Stemeseder on keyboards and Felix Henkelhausen on bass.
Finally, at 4 p.m. ET, Roulette will host Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double, featuring Fujiwara and Gerald Cleaver on drums, Ralph Alessi and Adam O’Farrill on trumpets, and Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook on guitars. Then the German saxophonist Silke Eberhard will close out with a new take on Henry Threadgill’s music, in a Jazzfest Berlin commission called Potsa Lotsa XL: Silver and Gold Baby, Silver and Gold, with collaborators like Jürgen Kupke on clarinet and Taiko Saito on vibraphone.