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Thread: Zappanale #30 Review

  1. #1
    Member MaikH's Avatar
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    Zappanale #30 Review

    Life and work got a bit in the way when my impressions from Zappanale #30 were still fresh, so this is literally a review. Hopefully it will serve as a bit of a memory jog for those who were there, and as an advertisement for next year's edition for everybody else. This was my second time attending. The first time, in 2018, I was lured to the Baltic Sea by acts that had no actual connection to Zappa or his music (Monika Roscher and the fabulous Lindsay Cooper tribute Half the Sky, especially), but I loved the whole crazy festival so much that it will be a fixture in my summer itinerary for the foreseeable future.

    Thursday

    Before the start of the festival proper on Friday, a nice aspect of the Zappanale is an evening of free concerts in the central park of Bad Doberan, the small town that transmutes into Zappatown for a week in July every summer.

    MagNiFZnt, a swedish duo that has cleverly arranged nuggets from the Zappa portfolio for two acoustic guitars, was a perfect choice for a starter. Good weather provided, the warm-up evening has a very picknicky atmosphere, with everybody greeting friends they only see once a year and drinking and snacking on the green. Well-played and well-known Zappa tunes were a nice accompaniment for those who were not mainly concerned with the music, but the two guys were certainly good enough to be a worthwhile listen if you focused on the stage and not on the chat.

    While I enjoyed the next band, NTS Trio from Prague, a lot more, they were perhaps too bold a choice for the relaxed atmosphere of the free Thursday concert. Additionally hampered by a late start due to technical difficulties, they switched from angular and intricate jazz/fusion pieces to more free electronic interludes. While the audience got in on the ride during the times when there was a recognizable groove, the improvised parts - which I found to be even better than the very good composed pieces - were perceived by many as a license to pick up their conversations again. All in all, I was glad to be introduced to this band and enjoy the CD I purchased a lot, but would have preferred to hear them later during the festival.

    Since this was the last evening with my lovely wife (she will brave death metal and the most abrasive avant-garde, but a severe case of brass allergy, with the saxophone ('Tröte') as enemy #1, made the festival program very unappealing to her), we left the warm-up early for an excellent dinner and so missed the last two bands.

    Friday

    A splendidly sunny afternoon got kicked off on the main stage by the Zappanale house band Jazzprojekt Hundehagen, a five piece band led by guitarist Michael Käckenmeister (no, not a pseudonym).They steamed through a very enjoyable set of 70s jazzrock and their own compositions, all played with verve and good band interplay instead of overlong soloing. Not a single Zappa tune, which I did not mind and the rest of the audience also took in its stride.

    In addition to the main stage, the festival has the smaller mystery stage, where more intimate or demanding or just plain weird bands will usually play. Two nice things about this: there are never parallel gigs, so you need not miss out anything, and the soundcheck usually happens during the concert on the other stage, so there are no long waiting times.

    This year's opening act on the Mystery stage was the duo Zement from Würzburg, touted in the program as Neo-Krautrock. While I can see where that label came from, I'm not sure how appropiate or fair it really is. They did not feel at all like a retro act to me, but a rather fresh approach to instrumental rock. Layered patterns from the guitar/keyboard player are propelled along by the drummer, who possibly is the strongest argument for the Krautrock label: this is a guy who obviously loves and, more importantly, understands what Jaki Liebezeit did. At first glance, just a very reliable no-frills rhythmic backbone, but behind that front, a lot of subtle shifts in patterns and emphasis make things very interesting if you care to listen.

    The very talented Treacherous Cretins from England were this years first act that played Zappa covers exclusively. They won the crowd's hearts early on with the announcement that they had been in the Zappanale audience for a couple of years, and now being up on the main stage was a dream come true. They had certainly earned that spot, with an excellent rhythm section - I found especially notable how well a crisp funky drum sound goes with a lot of Zappa tunes - and a great guitar player who was hopefully not as young as he looked. The song arrangements made good use of the interspersed trombone playing of the lead singer, often managing to fool you into hearing a bigger band than the one actually playing in front of you. Good stuff, and they would undoubtedly have been an absolute highlight of the festival in a leaner year.

    Ali N. Askin was Zappa's assistant for the Yellow Shark project, especially involved in arranging and transcribing the music for orchestral ensembles. That much I knew. He also composes a lot for film and TV, and, more relevant to his Zappanale gig, is the mean keyboard player and leader of a sextet that dips its feet in jazz, electronica and modern chamber music, but is mostly unclassifiable. And breathtakingly good: very intricate composed parts mutated gently into improvised passages, all colored by the unusal horn section of trumpet and clarinet. Great music that would need and deserve repeated listenings to properly appreciate, but me and a lot of other instant fans were disappointed to hear that there was nothing available from this band to take home and love. Nothing yet, I'm hoping.

    This years lineup included two bands, or ensembles, rather, from outside of the common rock/jazz hunting grounds, more at home in modern classical music. Percussion Under Construction, founded by members of the percussion of the Saarländische Staatstheater (the state theater of the Saarland province), was the first of these, and managed to captivate the audience with a sly mixture of Zappa pieces (the Black Page was a must, of course) and choices from their more usual repertoire. Presenting occasionally rather cerebral music at an open air festival that is at least approximately geared towards rock music was a gamble, but it definitely paid off for me, and large parts of the crowd seemed to agree. Some interesting visual gimmicks certainly helped with that - although the music itself had stage centre throughout, these guys (and girl) proudly displayed their theatric skills, too. Still, at least one thing underscored the enthusiasm or at least tolerance for unusual music of the Zappanale audience: I'm not sure how many festival crowds you could subject to a full rendition of Varese's Ionisations and have them like it very much indeed.

    With a three-day festival, there is a lot of music to listen to, and that's not even counting the warm up on Thursday. To avoid just being overwhelmed by too much music, I sometimes duck out early from sets that I'm not thoroughly enjoying, and the bar is set a lot higher for the last band on a given day, which has to compete with the lure of bed. Long Distance Calling played guitar-driven prog rock, and they played it very well. My closest comparison regarding their sound would be instrumental pieces by Porcupine Tree's, and I would have listened to a lot more than just two songs if it had been earlier in the day. A reluctant pass, but I was knackered and did not want to start the weekend with too heavy a sleep debt.

    To be continued soonish ...

  2. #2
    The eons are closing
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    ^^Thanks for the above. Awesome.
    No one plans to take the path that brings you lower

  3. #3
    Thanks for the review,
    I was also at the 2018 Zappanale, it was my first also, such a great festival!
    Too bad I don't live nearby...

  4. #4
    Member MaikH's Avatar
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    Thanks for the kind words! I'll try to write up Saturday and Sunday in less than another two months ...

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