26 October 2016

Ridiculous to sublime

We’re not the only ones to visit Reeberbahn and surrounds, either for the Beatles or the sex. It’s certainly a raunchy area. Beatles Platz looks innocent but the street behind, Grose Freiheit, featuring two venues that the Beatles played at, Indra (site of their first German gig on 17 Aug 1960) and KaiseKeller, is colourful and has it fair share of raunch. (The Beatles are perhaps better known for playing at the Star Club in Hamburg, but that’s since burned down). But Herbertstrasse with its girls in windows, supposedly locked off for women and men under 18, is in a genuinely beery and sleezy area. It’s a badge of honour, this sleeze, and the Reeperbahn deserves it. Easily up there with famed Amsterdam streets. So, the Beatles and raunchy Reeperbahn was our first port of call.

The day ended with vespers at 7pm. We’d found a pamphlet listing Kirchen musik in Hamburg for Oct/Nov and three events were listed for this one evening. We chose the easiest to get to, which was vespers at (Lutheran) Hauptkirche St Trinitatis Altona, sung by soprano with organ accompaniment. Vespers are an ancient rite, one of the daily prayer services and perhaps the last to remain. We received a handout of words and some written music on entry. We arrived to hear the musicians preparing (that’s the pic: they were in white garb for the service). The German was difficult, but we could follow and sing along at times. The soprano singing was deeply satisfying and the organ was powerful and impressively deep with several massive pipes, perhaps 5/6 metres. The Beatles can be sublime, so my title may be a little unfair to them, but Reeperbahn is in no way sublime and the Vespers certainly are.

Oksana Lubova (soprano) sang the vespers at Hauptkirche St Trinitatis Altona with accompaniment by Hanno Schiefner (organ). The Beatles performed in the Reeperbahn in Hamburg in the early ‘60s.

25 October 2016

Top dog

Hamburg is on the Elbe River, thus the Elbphilharmonie. We were only in Hamburg a few nights and all the music we could find on the Net was through Elbphilharmonie and the Elbphilharmonie was just next door to where we were playing. Too bad that it was still under construction (to open Jan 2017) and the gigs were elsewhere. But first that construction. I’ve read that in our era, concert halls and opera theatres have taken on the public pride role that cathedrals had in the mediaeval period. Certainly, we meet people who want to see the Sydney Opera House. And Elbphilharmonie is a beautiful work: wedge shaped with wavy roof, brown brick base topped with a box of glass panels that glow variously in different light enclosing a modern concert hall (presumably multiple halls and strangely including a hotel) reminiscent of the Berlin Philharmonie and promising excellent acoustics and lodged between canals/channels with water on three sides and activity all round. But for now it’s closed.

Our jazz was at the Elbphilharmonie Kulturcafe in the middle of town. It was probably rebuilt after the war, with statue out front and colonnades and in its own square, so it’s attractive. It’s also the local Starbucks and labelled thus; the Kulturcafe happens upstairs. Traeben (=Top Dog) is a Danish-Dutch quartet touring its third album of rock-jazz. The compositions were strongly rock to my ears with frequent rock drum grooves and mostly steady bass and heavily distorted guitar. I like that! Plenty of guitar solos, all dirty, sometimes unison lines with tenor. Tenor tended to play head with choppy tongued lines although would smooth things out in solos. No walks that I remember; plenty of syncopated, sustained passages. A few bass and drum solos. I liked the drums and his sense of time, unerring, as you’d expect in a drummer. I expect all original compositions, medium up or ballad tempos, with titles like Do you think you’re any good, Ends unresolved, No, Better than the other one. I liked the syncopations, especially the final tune which I think I counted as 9/8 with a 4/4 bridge. Otherwise there were plays on time, like 4 over 3 or rock-insistent unison 8 to the bar or ends left unresolved. Traeben had me musing over where bands set their balance in crossovers (not that it’s a conscious decision). This seemed pretty rocky to my ears, less flexible in the rhythm section and that blaring guitar (I’m an old rocker and I like it) with a layer of jazz-aware improv over.

Traeben played at the Elbphilharmonie Kulturcafe in Hamburg. Traeben comprise Soren Ballegaard (tenor), Jens Larsen (guitar), Olaf Meijer (bass) and Haye Jellema (drums).

24 October 2016

2 from 3

That’s three free lunchtime concerts at the Berlin Philharmonie and twice we’ve run into friends. It’s like that at tourist haunts. Celeste and Bill had just arrived in Berlin and this was about their first outing. It was good. Three bassoons (!) playing JS Bach: Prelude and fugue Emaj, Organ sonata Eb maj and Organ sonata Cmin. All arranged by Mor Biron, one of the three bassoons. Not such a log concert; just ~30 mins. But what an amount of work to prepare for this concert, meaning, to make the arrangements. You can only love Bach’s interlacing lines, his counterpoint and parallel but displaced fugue lines. And how nice to hear Bach on three bassoons; the thicker, heavier bass notes; the sonorous and sometimes tense higher registers.

Mathis K Stier, Marceau Lefèvre and Mor Biron (bassoons) performed JS Bach for a free lunchtime concert in the foyer at the Berlin Philharmonie. Our friends were Celeste and Bill Barker of Brindabella Orchestra and Leigh Barker fame.

23 October 2016

Ricky reaches Berlin

Rickenbacker is a bass or guitar of ‘60s fame so I was amused to hear of an R+B bar called that in Berlin. I’d been told Mondays at Rickenbacker’s Music Inn was the Pro Jam night and it was. There’s little work on Monday nights and they tell me the professionals hang out here. I caught a few outfits and they were superb examples of the art. Tight, calm but explosive, great solos and voices and inviting to the dancers. This plus smoke and friendly bar staff and people falling over each other to get around. What such a club should be. Hot and sweaty with the girls up for the dance and the guys lurking.

22 October 2016

Hot lines

Bad Plus were in Berlin last week but I missed them. The Yellowjackets were at ZigZag for two shows on one night about a week later. Fusion is not so much my thing these days and then they were booked out. I went down anyway and got in for the last few tunes. Hot playing, lots of synths tones from keys and bass and ewi, lithe but firm drumming, solos and swapped eights (interestingly sax and bass), lots of smiles after tight lines falling nicely, not that we’d expect otherwise. These guys are tight and convoluted and get off on their solos. I only heard a few tunes, but one was all fast swing with e-bass twists behind. Bassist Dane is the youngest of the band and the newest member (this being a long-term outfit, Russell dating back to the start of the band in 1977, Bob and Will being long-term members and Dane the newbie) but he’s a big feature on stage, playing fast 6-string with all techniques and some devastatingly quick fingered and sharply toned lines. Bob and Russell took their share of solos but I missed any by drummer Will. A common approach is drum solo on the final tune, but not this time. I enjoyed the show, was blown out by the quick playing and tight lines, the audience was in raptures and I was glad to have caught one touring US jazz act in Berlin. And did I mention that bassist Dane was an Aussie?

Yellowjackets played at ZigZag jazz club in Berlin. The Yellowjackets are Bob Mintzer (tenor, Ewi), Russell Ferrante (keys, piano), Will Kennedy (drums) and Dane Alderson (bass).

21 October 2016

Being there

Now for a change from buskers on the street and even from the Berlin Phil’s Digital Concert Hall. A virtual reality concert, seen in the foyer of the Konzerthaus Berlin. The camera was located amongst the strings in front of the conductor, so looking forward was to see the conductor and audience. Looking around was to see the other players and even the floor and ceiling. Looks like it's visual only, no 3D audio, but impressive. Never seen that before.

  • Virtual Concert hall at Konzerethaus Berlin
  • Demo on YouTube
  • 20 October 2016

    Bursting with Beethoven

    They are called the Klassische Philharmonie Bonn (Classical Philharmonic Orchestra of Bonn?) and they seem to be a touring orchestra celebrating their 50th year, if I’ve understood the German correctly. We caught them at the Berlin Concert hall (Konzerthaus Berlin) for a full Beethoven program to start their Wiener Klassik series. The leader was Heribert Beissel and the piano soloist was Florian Glemser. The Beethoven program was Egmont overture, Piano concerto no.3 and Symphony no.7. Not quite Berlin Phil (that’s no great put down to most any orchestra) and not too loud in that large box space, but a very capable orchestra skimming through some busy lines. I particularly liked the Symphony no.7 but it’s well known and I’ve played the second movement. Again, solid dynamics, quick and capable playing, if a small a group for the space (I counted ~50 players including four basses). But how can you miss with music like Beethoven 7th? A worthy outing in an impressive concert hall with its oddly tiered access to the performance space.

    The Classical Philharmonic Orchestra of Bonn performed Beethoven at the Konzerthaus Berlin under Heribert Beissel (conductor) and with soloist Florian Glemser (piano).

    19 October 2016

    One for James

    Amongst a plethora of jazz and jams, I chose the Hank Mobley Project at the Bardenscher hof jazz club, because ‘50s hard bop is close to my heart (and to my Tilt colleague James) but also for the new musos and new club. I arrived to find Tony and Olaf (trombone and bass) standing outside and we chatted. Inside, it was fairly small and informal, more Sowieso than A-Trane. But again that immense commitment and great skills that I’ve come to expect amongst musos (and maybe even more broadly in society) in Berlin and Germany. This is not the music to find twisted syncopations or dense polyrhythms, but if you want earth blues-infused drive and nicely formed heads and plays of rhythm changes and the blues, this is it. Funny titles, too. They started with Funk in deep freeze then No room for squares. I’m thinking bongos and goaties. All Blue Note hard swing, solid grooves and blues scales (but not only) and laid back sensibilities (one solo was so far behind the beat I could have fallen from my chair) and occasional quotes. I was wondering if the quotes suggest how this music was learnt, by listening and playing with others. It’s a strength. I checked the Hank Mobley discography and it’s big: his own albums and subbing with Miles and Jazz Messengers and Horace Silver and Lee Morgan and Donald Byrd and more: so many of the names of that period. The music started hot but just grew more loud and insistent. Not much rest here. The band was all Berlin residents other than saxist Martin who’s now in Vienna but this was a get together: they have played together before; the smiles and easy conviviality showed it. Both Martin and trom Tony up front would sit in lovely harmonies on the head or in fills against piano solos. Tony would insert various grunts and vocalisms amongst some rabidly quick and tuneful and rhythmically playful soloing. Martin was more a quieter stage presence with the melodic twist. Pianist Reggie was all full handed chords and choppy left-right combinations with playful touches of stride and jazz history. Bassist Olaf walked with authority and drive and could take some devastating solos himself. (Just another hugely strong bassist in Berlin and another using Genssler strings). Drummer Michael sat in the rear with volume and drive but he, too, took on solos with verve. Two sets eventually running well past midnight. That’s another thing with this blowing music: it doesn’t let off easily. Soul station, blues and rhythm changes, Solftly, I think of you. A great night of authentic ‘50s hard blowing in contemporary Berlin. How could you not love it.

    Martin Kern (tenor) and Tony Hurdle (trombone) led a quintet with Reggie Moore (piano), Olaf Casimir (bass) and Michael Kersting (drums) playing the music of Hank Mobley at the Bardenscher hof jazz club in Berlin.

    18 October 2016

    Busking the drizzle

    It’s been bitingly cold when the wind is out, so maybe that explains why I haven’t noticed many buskers. But we were on Museum Island as tourists, so we caught some. Adote was on a bridge and exposed so well rugged up. I heard his short, flighty, clever jazz soprano sax lines from a distance so went over for a chat. Turns out he’d been to school with Christof Titz who I’d heard a few nights before at ZigZag. The other busker was around the corner playing a far more obscure instrument, a glass harp. I’ve rung crystal glasses at a dinner party with a wet finger on the rim like many others, but I’d never heard the technique developed to play classical hits (I asked about jazz but he was reticent; his CD features Bach, Mozart and Boccherini). Sergey Karamyshev’s collection of glasses was a veritable instrument, chromatic and with a multi-octaves range, tuned for each performance by adding water, all crystal mounted and moveable in a flight case with its own period-styled, curve legged table. And he was fluid (excuse the pun) playing light classics (inevitable for such an audience) and friendly in answering many questions about his instrument (also inevitable). It’s a lovely soft and ringing tone when played with such rapid, multi-fingered skill. It has been drizzling rain but even so I wondered how he kept fingers moistened and I feared for any chipped edges, which seem a too common occurrence for our crystal glasses. But I was entranced by something truly new to me. Nicely played.

    Adote (soprano sax) and Sergey Karamyshev (glass harp) busked in the drizzle for tourists on Museum Island in Berlin.

    17 October 2016


    It was after the Berlin Phil so late and we just caught two tunes. Back to ZigZag for a Miles Davis Tribute. We arrived to Freedom Jazz Dance that lasted a good while and that was to finish but we got an encore of So What. Even this was a generous bit of music, perhaps 20 min of playing. More excellent performers, two from the jam session host band a few days before, with different bass, trumpet and added sax. At least for these two tunes that we heard, this was all strength, harmonic and rhythmic freedom with driving pulse, intriguing solos. So What was all relentless speed; FJD all twisting melody. Solos for all players and all wonderful but I particularly noted the extended play on diminished triplets up and down the bass neck. Relentless, extended and a tour de force. I mentioned that one to bassist Igor and he’d obviously enjoyed it. I also chatted with drummer Tobias and his accent immediately surprised me. It turns out he’d lived in Melbourne and recently recorded in Berlin with Jeremy Rose, Jackson Harrison and Kurt Rosenwinkel. The recording is not yet released. Germans often observe the distance to Australia (and it’s annoying talking to European visitors to Berlin who can come for just a few days) but the world can seem small, too. Just a taste of Miles with some more wonderfully capable Berlin playing.

    Christoph Titz (trumpet, flugelhorn), Marc Doffey (tenor), Uri Gincel (piano), Igor Spallati (bass) and Tobias Backhaus (drums) played a tribute to Miles Davis at ZigZag Jazz Club in Berlin.