September 16-18, 2011, the 4th annual Smooth Jazz Festival took place in Augsburg, Germany. After Bregenz and Munich, the festival now found its permanent home in Augsburg, Germany where the festival was held for the second consecutive time in the Park Theater at Kurhaus G�ggingen, a historic building which provided the perfect backdrop for the concerts. There were plenty of bars and catering areas to take care of our needs.
Like last year, the headlining players were backed by a local band of professionals who played with many great smooth jazz instrumentalists over the years and had extensive experience from musicals, tv and touring, so we had to make no deductions from quality and overall experience, this band delivered and was always up to the task at hand. Musical director Lutz Deterra on keys, G�nter Asbeck on bass, Andy Pilger on drums and Martin Weiss on guitar provided the perfect accompaniment to the smooth jazz stars who came over from the US to play for us.
Friday night, the festival was opened by the lovely Jessy J on tenor saxophone, her soft and smooth saxophone sound reminded me of John Klemmer and in parts of Gato Barbieri, she played several songs from her brand new album Hot Sauce and more material from her previous catalog - like the classic "Tequila Moon" - she was joined in the middle of her show by Swedish keyboardist Jonathan Fritz�n who she collaborated with on one of his albums. Later her mentor, producer and friend Paul Brown entered the stage to play a couple of songs with her on guitar, kicking things up another notch. Jessy J proved to be not only a good looking woman, but to be most of all a credible sax player that was well in command of her instrument. Her performance was well received.
Next was guitarist Paul Brown, who started his career as a producer and luckily decided to step away from the mixing console into the spotlight onto a stage, his guitar playing comes straight from the George Benson/Wes Montgomery school, but with a contemporary and funky twist. This was my first time seeing Paul Brown doing an own show, it was a total treat to see this man immerse himself into grooves and melodies and play his heart out. He did a song originally recorded with Marc Antoine, having Martin Weiss on acoustic guitar stepping in, it was total bliss. Not totally unexpected, Jessy J came back to the stage to return the favor, also Jonathan Fritz�n joined the party, along with Italian sax player Rocco Ventrella, to end the night in an exciting fashion. This was another special evening of smooth jazz by some outstanding players.
Saturday night was opened by Rocco Ventrella on sax, who hails from Bari, Italy. Rocco Ventrella is a regular of the festival and almost played at each one, he is a crowd pleaser with his emotional and energetic style. He opened with "Soulful Strut" and got the audience in the palm of his hand right away. During his short set, he invited Paul Brown on guitar for one song, before he had to make way for the next performer. Rocco Ventrella sounds better each time I see him and I always look forward to hear him. He has a new album to be released soon.
Swedish keyboardist Jonathan Fritz�n is the son of a Swedish mother and American father, he lives in Stockholm and is a rising smooth jazz star. He plays his keys with an emotional intensity that is very special, his songs are catchy and groovy, making you feel good. He played songs from his first three releases, among them one track he did with Jessy J on sax. It was done over the Internet without the two actually having met, and tonight it was the first time for the two players to perform this song together live, which was a truly special affair. Another highlight of the show was his stroll with a little Korg synth strapped around his neck wandering into the audience. I was totally blown away by this player and hope to be able to experience him live soon again.
Next was probably the biggest star of the whole festival, legendary saxophonist extraordinaire Gerald Albright. He was in a relaxed mood and played flawlessly, his clean sound and trademark staccato lines were a joy to listen to. He did his trademark song "George On My Mind", "My My My" and other tracks from his vast catalog. At the end of his show, Jessy J, Rocco Ventrella and Paul Brown joined the stage to end the show in an all-star frenzy. As expected, this show was the highlight of the festival and it was great to have Gerald Albright playing at our shores.
Like Friday night, after the show our beloved DJ Ralph "Jazzcrusader" Schulz took care of the after party with a mix of smooth jazz, funk and disco for those not ready to hit the sack yet.
Sunday morning we got the Martin Ehlers Trio featuring trumpet player Ingolf Burkhardt, the acoustic piano trio did their program of acoustic, very melodious and easy on the ear songs, which was just the right thing for an easy Sunday morning.
This was another great festival and I applaud Christian B�ssner to pull it all off. The next Smooth Jazz Festival Augsburg will take place Sept 14-16, 2012, so mark your calendars!