Schaffhausen proves there’s much to discover on the Swiss Jazz scene

Christoph Giese
Monday, May 15, 2023

Schaffhausen Jazz Festival is the perfect spot to experience a wide range of jazz from Switzerland

Louis Matute Large Ensemble - Photo by Peter Pfister
Louis Matute Large Ensemble - Photo by Peter Pfister

The Schaffhausen Jazz Festival’s focus on Swiss jazz alone makes this festival so interesting. It’s also the fact that it’s well organised; the main venue, the Kulturzentrum Kammgarn, is a pleasant, good sounding place; and on top of all that, Schaffhausen is also a pretty town in the very north of Switzerland.  

The festival organisers are daring: on the opening evening in the theatre of Schaffhausen, they place the Bernese duo Bureau Bureau directly in front of the symphonic programme ‘Clazz’ by the bassist and composer Luca Sisera from Chur. First the performance of spoken word, singing and various percussion by vocalist Sonia Loenne and drummer Michael Cina. This duo, who don’t skimp on social criticism, delivers an anarchistic performance, powerfully pushed against usual listening habits. You have to like it. This is much easier with ‘Clazz’, a work between jazz and classical music, written for Sisera's jazz quintet Roofer and the 50 or so musicians of the Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden. For the music on offer is euphony in five movements, with fine combinations of opulent, sometimes hymn-like orchestral sounds and the jazz band embedded in them. A large, accessible orchestral work that’s a huge contrast to the tousled duo before.

All alone at the concert grand, pianist Yannick Délez enchanted the attentively listening crowd in Schaffhausen the next day. Those who experience the pianist from Lausanne live, wonder why the man still operates a little under the radar of achieving wider fame. He captivates with his impressionistic sound paintings, with sparkling, sensitive chamber music, which also impresses with intense runs. ‘Intense’ is also the word for the performance by the trio of Swiss tenor saxophonist Christoph Irniger, with Dutch alto saxophonist Ben van Gelder as guest. Two strong saxophone voices that rub up against each other, are wonderfully able to play together in unison, but also solo individually with the fantastic rhythm section with bassist Raffaele Bossard and Ziv Ravitz. This band knows how to redefine the core of jazz music.

Clemens Kuratle is also an exciting voice of current Swiss jazz. With his quintet Ydivide, which includes two Brits, pianist Elliot Galvin and alto saxophonist Dee Byrne, the Bern-born drummer starts the concert very free-spiritedly, but then continues almost conventionally. But this is never boring with this band, because the participants are constantly looking for creative breaks, play their way through varying rhythms, tearing up too much beautiful sound.

The Chopin project by Swiss pianist Jean-Paul Brodbeck and US guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel comes across very nicely. transferring Chopin etudes, preludes or even a waltz into the jazz cosmos with great virtuosity. Rosenwinkel is mainly responsible for the virtuosity on his electric guitar. Swiss bassist Lukas Traxel, a very busy man at this festival, and the Catalan drummer Jorge Rossy complete the band and provide the modern jazz foundation.

And then there is the Louis Matute Large Ensemble, the formidable sextet of the Geneva guitarist with Honduran roots, consisting of two excellent wind players, an amazing pianist, a very strong rhythm duo on bass and drums and of course Matute himself on electric guitar. The rising star of the Swiss jazz scene has titled his current album Our Folklore. But you shouldn't let that tempt you into thinking in the wrong direction. Because his top-playing troupe, which he guides wonderfully through the pieces with his sophisticated guitar playing, combines invigorating, rousing, well-played modern jazz with cliché-free Latin elements into a gripping mixture that goes down so well and is fun to listen to at every moment. Sometimes good things can be so simple. What a discovery in Schaffhausen, where there is always much to discover.

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