Inntöne Jazz Festival, Austria

This year's festival in the fields included Hermeto Pascoal, Samara Joy, Gary Smulyan, Richard Bona, Monty Alexander and Gerald Clayton

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Hermeto Pascoal at the Inntöne Jazz Festival 2022. Photo © Patrick Spanko

From 22 to 24 July I was back at the barn, or shall we say “outside the barn” as the Inntöne Jazz Festival’s main stage was moved a couple of years ago next to the corn fields of the Zauner family farm. The organiser of this wonderful outdoor festival, trombonist Paul Zauner, has a longstanding reputation for selecting musicians who haven’t played in Austria or even Europe before – as was the case with Gregory Porter in 2010.

It’s hard to imagine a more festive hors d’oeuvres than a genuine New Orleans band and so it was to get the party rolling with Tuba Skinny, a US septet born in 2009. Their gig on the main stage on Friday evening would be followed by two other successful appearances in the barn on both Saturday and Sunday. As explained by cornetist Shay Cohn, Al Cohn’s grand-daughter (music runs in the family, her father Joe Cohn is a guitar player), they actually even prefer to play in barns whenever they can, with people stomping their feet and dancing as they did that weekend. Between Jelly Roll Morton and Clarence Williams’ pieces, the band successfully performed their own tunes as well, all in front of a captivated audience.

Paul Zauner likes having a few vocalists here and there and you can trust him to bring the best ones. This was the case on Friday with Samara Joy and on Saturday with Dana Masters. Having listened to Samara Joy’s debut album on Whirlwind, I was persuaded back then, as was Paul, that the vocalist’s live performance would be awesome and so it was, notably thanks to Pasquale Grasso. As the sun was slowly descending upon the fertile plains of Diersbach, the guitarist illuminated the stage in a trio setting with Groovin’ High, Samara Joy having left the stage briefly. To cover famous standards is not something to be taken lightly and both the vocalist and guitarist know their way around perfectly. As Samara told the crowd, they have been playing a few years together and you can definitely feel that. The best way to actually test a vocalist (think of Sheila Jordan, the innovator of the bass and voice duo) is to have him/her team up with a double-bass player. When partnering with Ari Roland on a couple of tunes, Samara Joy certainly exceeded all expectations.

The 86-year-old Hermeto Pascoal was a silent sitting conductor for most of his gig but he occasionally played the keyboard, and every single time he stood to a solo was a treat. Miles Davis once dubbed Pascoal “one of the most important musicians on the planet”, and his immediately recognisable and colourful compositions sent shivers through the crowd. According to the white-bearded wizard himself, the colours of his music were perfectly captured by Aurélie Freoua who, as last year, painted every single gig of the festival.

In the land of Mozart, music seems to start at an early age. The aptly named “Youth-Jam-Lab” is a kids-only band that knows how to entertain the audience in between the main gigs, notably with their passion for Stevie Wonder’s tunes. Alongside the barn where those kids were playing, a smaller indoor venue called St. Pigs Pub (it was in a pig farm) was the home of Dameronia’s Legacy All Stars, a post-bop band co-led by trumpet player Jim Rotondi and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. Together with sweating Bernd Reiter on the drums, Andrea Pozza on the piano and Aldo Zunino on the bass, they delivered loads of high-powered tunes through the whole weekend. As jazz aficionados never seem to get enough of it, a jam session was hosted every night in the same place by Czech Hammond organist Jan Korinek’s trio with Wolfram Derschmidt and Oliver Lepinsky.

The second and third day started as early as noon under the auspices of a scorching sun that seems to be at every outdoor festival so far this summer. Following the subtle, meditative music of Markus Stockhausen and Alireza Mortazadi (a Persian composer and master of santur), Nicole Glover and her trio premiered an impeccable set of originals.

While Samara Joy’s set on Friday was a mix of well-interpreted standards, Ulster-relocated South Carolina-born Dana Masters alternated her own material, co-written with her piano player, with well-known standards such as Autumn In New York. She referred to her grandmother, a celebrated civil-rights activist, with a song entitled Little Girl.

As the only Austrian band on stage that day, clarinettist Christoph Pepe Auer’s quartet presented their White Noise project, a modern-jazz programme that was followed by something completely different. Versatile Richard Bona’s collaboration with Alfredo Rodriguez dates back to 2016 thanks to a common mentor, Quincy Jones, who produced their first album, Tocororo. Their 2022 summer tour as either a septet or trio brought them to Diersbach in the latter format. The band gave us their take on well-known Cuban pieces but one of the best parts of their concert was Alfredo Rodriguez’s solo performance. It was followed by an explosion of sounds and colours when the trio was reunited in front of a dancing audience.

With Cuban-infused memories from the previous night lingering on my mind, day three started with another voyage, this time across the South American continent. Aguamadera is an Argentinian duo formed in 2015 when Marco Grancelli and Maria Cabral met in Buenos Aires. Now relocated close to Toulouse, the two continue to share their passion for South American folklore.

Having travelled from the rhythmic shores of Venezuelan joropo to Argentinian chacarera, it was time to discover a terrific guitar player by the name of Jonathan Kreisberg, yet another clever addition to an already rich and eclectic programme. After a special arrangement of Moonlight in Vermont, the talented Kreisberg, who used to play with Dr Lonnie Smith, dedicated the piece Devika to his mentor. That famous tune, first featured on Lonnie Smith’s 1975 album Visions Of A New World, was played in many different ways by the keyboard wizard when he was still among us.

As people were trying to escape the heat, some even lying down under the stage, another piano wizard started his gig with Summertime. The Gershwin tune was followed by No Woman No Cry. Yes, Jamaica-born Monty Alexander was entertaining the audience with plenty of well-known tracks that took us back to the start of his US career in the 1960s. His set ended with Estate (with such unbearable heat, I was dreaming of winter and snow by then) for which he invited on stage the Italian singer Katerina Zappone, his wife of 27 years.

After the Alexanders had brightened the stage the space was left to the Austrian trio, Mario Rom’s Interzone. You might at first think the trumpeter is the leader, but it’s fairer to see them as a trio: the double-bass player Lukas Kranzelbinder played a pivotal role alongside Herbert Pirker on the drums. Together with Shake Stew, another group featuring three Austrians, Mario Rom’s Interzone is one of the best and well-exported Austrian jazz bands these days.

As things were slowly moving to an end (until the midnight jam session that is), Gerald Clayton hit the stage with Joe Sanders on double bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. The pianist plays with Charles Lloyd and occasionally with Bill Frisell, but his elegance and finesse impress even more in a trio setting.

Thanks a lot, Mr Zauner, for your fantastic festival. I’m already counting the days until next year.