A couple weeks ago I was in Germany, and the end of my trip included a visit to the Moers Festival, whose reputation had been impressed upon me long ago by a series of superb live recordings made at the event (and released by its label) in the late 70s and early 80s by the likes of Fred Anderson, Philip Wilson, John Carter, Anthony Braxton, Phalanx, and Wadada Leo Smith. These days the fest isn’t as thoroughly devoted to free jazz as it was when it began in 1972, but in general it does present adventurous sounds. A few years ago Moers built a permanent festival hall, which eliminated the annual expense of constructing a massive tent on the grounds, and most of the concerts are there. But one of the best things I saw during my two days happened in a nearby school as part of the event’s Morning Sessions series, each of which was an ad hoc grouping intended to be a surprise to the audience.
I’ve been a fan of Cologne-based Polish saxophonist Angelika Niescier for quite a few years, and my admiration was cemented when she played at the Chicago Cultural Center as part of European Jazz Meets Chicago in 2012. At Moers she was partnered with bassist Yasser Morejon Pino and drummer Ruy Adrian López-Nussa, who also serve as the deft rhythm section for explosive Cuban pianist Harold López-Nussa. That pianist is a fiery performer, and together their playing bursts with high-energy pyrotechnics. With Niescier they were cooler, trusting in their rapport and focusing on a subtler but no less rewarding approach. Niescier evoked the disparate sounds of two alto greats—the bright melodies of Ornette Coleman and the airy bounce and rhythmic grace of Lee Konitz—and the trio’s entirely improvised performance traversed lots of peaks and valleys, fueled by deep, organic grooves.
Earlier this year Niescier released a fantastic album with German pianist Florian Weber called NYC Five (Intakt), titled thusly because it was made in New York with drummer Tyshawn Sorey, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, and bassist Chris Tordini. Both of the Germans have worked in New York often, and the saxophonist’s previous studio album, 2011’s Quite Simply (Enja), was made with Sorey and bassist Tomas Morgan—as a result, this doesn’t feel like a pickup session, where visiting musicians hire a top-flight band to burnish their own reputations but end up generating few creative sparks. Each of the leaders wrote half of the six tunes, and Niescier brings an aggressive, driving vibe, while Weber generally opts for a more contemplative feel. Below you can hear the album’s opening cut, Niescier’s “The Barn Thing,” a tightly coiled burner that constantly seems on the verge of exploding but instead stays reined in throughout its series of concise solos stoked by Sorey and Tordini.
Lau Nau, Valohiukkanen (Fonal)
Björk, Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
The Unthanks, Mount the Air (Rabble Rouser)
Ulrich Gumpert Quartet, A New One (Intakt)
Sir Richard Bishop, Tangier Sessions (Drag City)