September 7, 2009

Smooth Jazz Festival Munich 2009

The Smooth Jazz Festival Munich 2009 was the successor to the first annual smooth jazz festival that took place last year in Bregenz, Austria at the lake of Constance. For a while it seemed to be unsure if the festival would be repeated, but this summer the announcement of the follow up festival at Munich reached the eagerly waiting smooth jazz fans in Europe. While last year's festival was organized by a team of people, this year Christian Bössner did the whole job on his own, which must have been a major chore. I am glad to report that he succeeded on all levels, obviously having learnt a few things from last year's festival.

The festival was moved to Munich in Germany. The location was a former power station called Kesselhaus that had been converted to an event hall. It was a bit smaller than last year's location, had a nice bar/food area and tables and a seating area in the back. The official festival hotel was a few miles away from the Kesselhaus where most of the fans and all the artists were staying, which yielded several opportunities to mingle with the artists and have a few chats with them. I met many friends from the industry, like Hans-Bernd Hülsmann who runs smooth-jazz.de, Craig from smoothjazznews.com and several smooth jazz aficionados I knew from earlier events.

The major artists were backed by a German band called the Heavy Mellow Quartet from Berlin who did an admirable job. They accompanied all the US artists and showed no sign of weakness during their many hours on stage, they did a flawless job and adapted well to each and every performer, additionally they showed their skills with their soloing at many occasions. They must have had to learn over 50 songs and probably had minimal rehearsal time, but at the concerts, they delivered.

The festival was opened by Steve Oliver who gave his great brand of guitar led smooth jazz, topped with his vocal artistry, which is absolutely unique and part of his trademark sound. Among the songs played were also his hits "Chips & Salsa" and "High Noon", providing a decent opening set for the festival.

Next was Michael Lington who played some heartfelt, picture perfect smooth jazz drawing mostly from his own catalog, one of the highlights was his rendition of "Everything Must Change" which he played in the crowd surrounded by cheering fans. For the second part of his set, Steve Oliver joined him considerably turning up the heat.

Friday evening was concluded by Club Des Belugas, a lounge/nu-jazz band from Germany, who appeared with two singers, a horn section, a great percussionist, entertaining the crowd until past midnight.

Saturday was a day off that I spent at the Hofbräuhaus with some friends, a stylish way to kill some time in Munich, before the festival continued in the evening with a killer lineup.

Marcus Johnson played the first set backed by the Heavy Mellow Quartet with lots of funky and soulful keyboard playing, playing songs from his latest release Poetically Justified and some classics from his large catalog, personal favorite was his version of "Moanin'".

First highlight of the evening was the pairing of Peter White, Rick Braun and Richard Elliot who did a high-energy show allowing each of those players to shine and play their favorite songs. Rick Braun played his classic "Notorious", while Richard Elliot gave us "Rock Steady", "Move On Up" and "People Make The World Go Round". Peter White did his R&B medley featuring "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" and "Who's That Lady", later he did "Bueno Funk", the show was closed with "Gazing In The Grass". This was as expected a top-notch, entertaining show by some of the very best players of the genre.

The evening was closed by Brian Simpson and Dave Koz, two of my favorite smooth jazz players. The first half of the set belonged to keyboardist Brian Simpson who just has a knack for a great melody, he also played his biggest hit to date called "It's All Good". Then Dave Koz joined the stage and played some of his classics, special was his heartfelt rendition of "Over The Rainbow" from the Wizard Of Oz. At the end of the show, Michael Lington appeared as surprise guest, turning up the heat and bringing this great festival to a close.

This was a perfect evening of top-notch smooth jazz and a genuine representation of the genre, a thing that was partly lacking last year. This year they hit the nail on its head and I was totally thrilled with the great music on display. The festival was well organized, there was no big flaw, and the number of people attending was definitely better than last year, so I guess the future looks bright for the festival. Smooth jazz is starting to establish itself in Europe, so we all are looking forward to the next issue of the festival in 2010. Kudos to Christian Bössner for a job well done!

More festival pictures

Posted by Peter Böhi at September 7, 2009 6:47 PM