The Inntöne Jazz Festival, Austria

Held on a family farm in Austria since 2002, the Inntöne festival this year included Michel Portal, Gerd Dudek, Bill Frisell and Nat Adderley Jr

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David Helbock and Camille Bertault at the Inntöne festival, 2021. Photo © Patrick Španko

In the middle of nowhere but still somewhere, the Inntöne Jazz Festival – also called “Jazz am Bauernhof”, literally translated as “Jazz at the farm” – does indeed happen in the middle of corn fields next to the Upper Austrian village of Diersbach, itself not far from the border German city of Passau.

This wonderful festival was created by Austrian trombonist Paul Zauner in 1985 and has taken place since 2002 at the family property. While well-organised shuttles brought jazz passengers to their final destination, quite a few people were able to use the camping facilities provided at the festival site.

The three-day festival kicked off on Friday 30 July with the Michel Portal trio, the first of five French projects among a total of 15 gigs spread over the weekend. Some 10 years ago, Michel Portal’s all-star sextet already featured Lionel Loueke on guitar and vocal, so it was no surprise to see the two men together on stage with another African musician, namely drummer Christi Joza Orisha. Alongside Michel’s original music, the two men supplemented it with their own African touch.

In an outdoor festival, weather conditions unfortunately play a big role and while we were lucky at the start, pouring rain momentarily brought the last gig of the evening to a halt. Fortunately, Bill Frisell was allowed to resume his performance after a 30-minute break and together with Thomas Morgan on double bass and Rudy Royston on drums he played without interruption until the wee hours of the morning, delivering the folk songs and standards that Bill enjoys interpreting on an ongoing basis.

From the very start, Paul Zauner’s educated ears brought on stage a vast array of musicians across all styles of jazz, with quality prevailing as a main criterion. It was he who invited in 2010 a then unknown vocalist by the name of Gregory Porter.

This year’s eclectic program continued on Saturday with the first gig starting at noon. Polish pianist Krzystof Kobylinski first played a couple of original solo pieces before he reunited on stage his multicultural quintet made of Israeli Reut Rivka on vocal and Dima Gorelik on guitar. While those two brought Ukrainian and Middle East motives, Columbian born bassist Edi Sanchez and Polish drummer Waldemar Lindner complemented the ensemble with their own style.

One of the highlights of that sunny afternoon was definitely the presence on stage of Brazilian seven-string guitar virtuoso Yamandu Costa, who had barely made it after being stuck in traffic on the way from Vienna airport. Although he showed some signs of fatigue, his performance was still outstanding. Music is a universal language and alongside his own versatile Brazilian compositions, the guitarist also explored Colombian porros and Argentinian tangos.

And now something totally different. The famous statement from a 1971 Monty Python sketch comedy clearly applied to the next project, a Coltrane tribute by German jazz legend saxophonist Gerd Dudek accompanied by Martin Sasse trio. The Cologne-based trio did really a fine job alongside Dudek’s particular phrasing.

Contrary to so many other jazz festivals where food plays a limited role, Paul Zauner takes great care of his guests by offering high-quality catering based on excellent local products ranging from perfectly grilled trout to the (unavoidable) bio schnitzel or delicious juicy pulled pork burgers. You would even want to become a vegetarian after tasting the wild mushroom stew, all this with a good choice of beers and wines.

Food digested, the time had come to get back on the field and enjoy the last gigs of a long but yet enjoyable day. After the French Lagrimas Azules trio (Geoffroy Tamisier on trumpet, Didier Ithursarry on accordion and Laurent Jaulin on guitar) had enchanted the audience with their colourful Mediterranean and Balkanic jazz, the time had come for Paulette McWilliams to set fire on stage.

The singer is best known for her long-time collaboration with Luther Vandross – she recorded with him on every album he did. She was joined on stage by Nat Adderley Jr’s trio as they performed all kinds of well-known jazz and soul standards. At one point, she invited on stage for a couple of tunes special guest vocalist Chanda Rule, who had recently sung with David Murray at the Porgy & Bess club in Vienna as part of the pair’s gospel project.

Sunday was probably the best day of the festival, at least musically speaking, because the weather turned out to be far worse than the previous day. It all started with Daniel Holzleitner’s sextet, the trombonist and composer having written well-crafted pieces that captivated the smaller audience present in the early part of the day.

Later, as the crowd got bigger and the rain stronger, the Belmondo brothers came on stage alongside Eric Legnini on piano, Sylvain Romano on bass and Laurent Robin on drums. The brothers, who usually follow very distinct musical paths, have reunited on the aptly named record Brotherhood and before their next gig at the Marciac jazz festival, Stéphane and Lionel’s powerful solos had the audience jumping from their seats.

Taking the stage next was a fantastic duo, a first time for David Helbock and Camille Bertault as they are normally joined by Médéric Collignon. After such a brilliant performance, we can only hope that they find themselves in a recording studio sometime soon for a future Act Music release.

A lot of artists have seen their CD releases either postponed or not properly followed by a tour. This was the case of Céline Bonacina’s latest CD, released at the end of 2019. With her Fly Fly trio project, the saxophonist alternated elegantly written original pieces between her baritone and soprano.

While many musicians managed to captivate our ears and made us clap our hands or even dance, there was one person in the audience who went one step further. A young French artist based in London, Aurélie Freoua, already responsible for the cover and inner sleeve painting of Henrik Jensen’s CD on the Babel label, painted directly on site, sometimes even during a rainy episode. With her coloured paintings, she captured the energy of the musicians rather than the usual dark colour of their clothing.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and one must eventually return to the daily routine. But at least for three days we could all forget about pandemics and live in the old world which we all wish had never ceased to exist.

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