I’m just back from a fantastic trip to Bern, Switzerland, playing at Jazzwerkstatt‘s tenth anniversary festival with Word Of Moth. Dee and I were invited by Marc Stucki and Benedikt Reising, the artistic directors at Jazzwerkstatt, to bring a LUME ensemble to the festival and collaborate with some Swiss musicians. Two sax players who have spent the last decade building up the festival into its current five-night form, Marc and Benedikt share a lot of common ground with us, so it was a great to chance to get an insight into the Swiss take on artist-led endeavours like our own. They both appeared several times across the programme as players, popping up in horn sections of various different ensembles and as part of established collaborations. It was clear that Jazzwerkstatt inhabits the same territory that LUME aims to; creating self-produced gigs and festivals that allow the artistic directors to develop their own work within the context of a wider community of artists and collaborators.
The festival venue was Turnhalle, the converted gymnasium of an old school building that is now inhabited by a truly amazing cross-arts space called PROGR. The building houses artists’ studios, venue spaces of different sizes, two cafe/bar/restaurant options and a new ‘living room’ open for use for small events and meetups. It was immediately evident upon walking through the school gates that this is a place with a strong artistic community around it.
In discussion on email with Marc and Benedikt before the festival, we decided to expand the usual Word Of Moth lineup of me, Dee, Seth Bennett and Johnny Hunter to include Oli Kuster (keys), Simon Petermann (trombone) and Lukas Thöni (trumpet). LUME suggested the instrumentation, Jazzwerkstatt picked the players, and the rehearsals were booked in. Rather than writing new music for the collaboration, we arrived in Bern armed only with the existing quartet repertoire and a plan to arrange new versions of the music through rehearsal with the Swiss musicians. This approach felt slightly risky, but it was closest to the spirit of how Word Of Moth usually works (simple frameworks for pieces, that we flesh out into arrangements together). We had spent the past couple of weeks working intensively as a quartet for the recording of our first album and two UK performances, so the band felt in good shape as we set out. Oli, Simon and Lukas turned out to be a great fit, and over the course of two rehearsals at PROGR we assemble a set of music for the gig.
The technical team working on the festival were a total joy to work with, and the gig had possibly the best live sound on stage I’ve experienced. They also used a very pleasing 3D stage plan (see above) to discuss how we wanted to set up. As our second rehearsal was a public one taking place on the stage, we worked on the music as the team simultaneously set up the microphones and monitors, and by the end of the afternoon everyone was ready for the gig. I liked this approach as it meant we had quite a long period to acclimatise ourselves on stage, which I think meant I felt more comfortable in the space when it came to the performance.
Our set was on the festival’s opening night, and we played to a packed house of enthusiastic listeners. After months of discussion and preparation, the gig felt like it was over in about two seconds (as these sort of things usually do); but the unanimous feeling after the show was that it had gone really well. Thanks to Jazzwerkstatt’s very generous hospitality we were able to stay on for the rest of the festival, and conversations with our three Swiss bandmates during that time revealed that everyone was keen to play together again in the future. We left Bern having made many new connections, heard all sorts of new music, and encountered a new city and its artists. Thinking back over the trip as I write this I’m left with a feeling of optimism; that exciting taste of a new creative thing emerging and looking around for where to go next. We have already started talking about how to make a UK return leg happen, so I have a feeling that the next LUME/Jazzwerkstatt encounter will be making itself known before too long…