As a journalist, I’m usually invited to cover the larger festivals that tend to be quite hectic and sometimes quite a sensory overload. So to kick off this years festival season, it was a pleasure to travel to the northern German town of Syke for a compact, but highly interesting, two day event. Stylistically, “the festival’s program is not cast in stone” explained the festival director Gerd Harthus however, jazz, blues and world music have traditionally been the three pillars that the festival has built it’s reputation on and this year was no different.
The festival kicked off with two outdoor concerts in the gardens of the Syke “Vorwerk”, an arts center located on the outskirts of town. The weather was spectacular and the clear blue skies and bright sunshine only heightened the beauty of the location. Indeed this combination of music weather and location certainly went a long way in drawing the large crowd that witnessed day one of the festival.
The first band to hit the stage and kick off the festival was JMO, a band led by Jan Galega Brönnimann together with the Senegalese kora player Moussa Cissokho and the Israëli percussionist Omri Hason. African music was the main theme of day one and JMO was the perfect act to set this scene. Kora player and vocalist, Moussa Cissokho was captivating singing largely in Mandinka, a language spoken in Gambia, Mali and Senegal. The combination of Bass Clarinet and Oriental Percussion together with the Kora created a unique sound bridging the three musical traditions represented on the stage. The band performed music from both their 2016 album “al nge taa“ and there latest release “Dandoula Tala”. My personal highlight from the program was “Nitté” that featured a great groove as well as a quite impressive percussion solo punctuated with rhythmic complex accents in the Bass Clarinet and Kora. It was clear the public enjoyed the program and this was evidenced by the long and loud applause that prompted the return of the band for a well deserved encore.
The following act to play on day one was the band led by Vieux Farka Touré, the son of guitar legend Ali Farka Touré. Vieux Farka Touré has gained himself the reputation as “The Hendrix of the Sahara” and after seeing this performance I can, on one hand, see where this comes from however on the other hand I think it does Farka Touré somewhat of a disservice. While I wouldn’t classify him as a guitar virtuoze in the Hendrix style, he has developed a unique and individual style that is very impressive and this was on full display during the performance. Joining Farka Touré on stage was the Malinese drummer and percussionist Adama Kone and bassist Marshall Henry from the U.S.A. The performance started with a more acoustic flavor and later, with Vieux Farka Touré switching to electric guitar and Adama Kone taking his place behind the kit, things started to heat up. Towards the end of the show, Vieux asked how to say dance in German. Once that was sorted out he encouraged the audience to stand and I have to say this is the first time I’ve seen an entire jazz festival audience on their feet dancing. This was a great performance and as you can imagine finished with a well deserved encore.
On day two the location moved to the Syke concert hall situated above the town’s Sparkasse Bank. On the program was two concerts, the first from Koln based trumpeter Maik Krahl with his quartet featuring Constantin Krahmer on Piano, Bassist Jakob Kühnemann and Fabian Rösch on drums. The second concert on the schedule was by the Dimitri Monstein Ensemble, a group combining a piano trio format together with a string quartet.
Maik Krahl is a young Cologne-based trumpeter that has already notched up an impressive set of touring credits that include concerts in Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Canada, Croatia, Lithuania, Serbia, Senegal and the USA. Being familiar with his latest release “In Between Flow”, I was interested to see this band live and the performance didn’t disappoint. Krahl has been hailed as one of Germany’s most promising young players and this performance at the Syke festival confirmed this. While there’s no doubt that Krahl has some seriously impressive chops, it was the quartet as a whole that impressed me the most. I practically enjoyed the way the bands rhythm section consisting of Bassist Jakob Kühnemann and Fabian Rösch on drums were consistently on point throughout the entire performance forming a rock solid basis for both Krahl and pianist Constantin Krahmer to explore the complex yet highly assessable repertoire the band presentedpresented.
The Dimitri Monstein Ensemble was the following band to take the stage. Led by drummer Dimitri Monstein the band consisted of Piano, bass and drums together with a string quartet. Monstein’s latest album “The Cello Sessions”, on Unit Records, presented a set of compositions penned by Monstein that featured four separate cellists in the solo roll including Fany Kammerlander who joined the ensemble at this performance. Monstein has made a reputation for himself as a player the navigates the grey area’s between jazz, classical and pop and last week at Syke the ensemble did exactly this and with great class. It can be a difficult task to combine strings and amplified instruments however the sound was extremally good with the balance between the rhythm section and strings well balanced.
Fany Kammerlander is well known in the German contemporary scene and delivered a number of highly impressive solo’s specifically in the Adaigo from the Monstien Sonata and the track “Little Brother” that appears on the groups latest CD. I particularly enjoyed their arrangement of ‘Warum syt dir so truurig”, a tune made famous as the theme song for the documentary about Swiss singer Mani Matter. The set ranged in style from the more funk/pop influenced tracks such as “Step it Up” to the more adventurous such as Cogwheel with it’s Odd meter time signature and great solo from pianist Mischa Podstransky. All in all this was a great performance that left the audience begging for more.
For a small niche festival the Syke Jazz Folk and Bike festival delivered a program that exactly fits with the festival’s name. The African focus was extremely well programed with a unique take on the genre. JMO was in my mind a great discovery and will I’ll definitely be on the look out for more music from this group. The Maik Krahl Quartet certainly delivered for the hard core jazz fans and Dimitri Monstein and his group was the perfect closing act for a festival that delivered a great range of interesting music with something for everyone. I’ll be looking forward to returning in 2024 and seeing what the Syke Jazz Folk and Classic organization come up with.
Last modified: June 11, 2023