Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sister Cities relationship between Cologne and Indianapolis bears jazz fruit, too

Monika Herzig talks to IU students in master class with Andre Nendza last week.

Several decades ago, according to German jazz bassist Andre Nendza, there were probably just two bassists in Germany capable of playing with such A-list American expatriates as saxophonist Dexter Gordon.  Today, he told me Monday at Central Library, between 50 and 100 bassists in every large German city can play creditably on that level.

Nendza testified to this huge growth of jazz competence in Germany as a student ensemble he works with in Cologne, Indianapolis' sister city, prepared to perform, anchored by Nendza on electric bass. Under the supervision of Open Door International program director Hartwig Pruessmann, Nendza and the four students spent a week in Indianapolis and Bloomington.

Monday's gig in the spacious Atrium of Central Public Library came toward the end of a Sister Cities sojourn that included taking in a Billy Cobham set at the Jazz Kitchen, performing at the Chatterbox on Mass Ave and Bear's Place in Bloomington, and meeting with students and faculty in the jazz program at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music.

Nendza's involvement not only steadied the student group of violin, vocalist, guitar and drums in its library set, but also provided links to aspects of the central Indiana jazz scene — chiefly through his reunion with one of its reigning current figures, keyboardist-composer Monika Herzig, well-known for more than two decades of teaching and performing in both Bloomington and Indianapolis. The two knew each other in the mid-1980s, before Herzig and her now-husband, guitarist Peter Kienle, emigrated.

The German jazz scene has matured immeasurably since then, and Herzig and Kienle stay abreast of it with periodic trips back to their homeland, keeping family, friendship and professional ties intact. "The basic feeling is that it's a scene that's been growing for 30 years," Nendza said, "There are now  20 German institutions that offer a proper degree in jazz."

The club scene survives, but many jazz performances are scheduled in concert halls, he said.  There is  probably more crossover between jazz and classical audiences than the U.S. is used to, he added. Still, German  jazz musicians have to play weddings and miscellaneous studio gigs, just like most of their American counterparts.

Nendza's imaginative range and technical adeptness is well demonstrated in three CDs on the Jazzsick label. Tria Lingvo's "At Its Purest" is a bold, successful effort to sustain interest in original music for  soprano saxophone, double bass and percussion. Nendza's mates are Johannes Lemke and Christoph Hillmann, respectively, and the three work with simultaneous abandon and exemplary rapport.

His A.Tronic group, in "Spectacles," follows some electronic and vocal paths that I have less affinity for, but I can recognize there is nothing haphazard or commercially focused in Nendza's approach to those well-integrated timbres. The short second CD in this two-CD package includes a lively 2005 session with a peerless American master of the soprano saxophone, Dave Liebman.

Finally, the 2011 CD, "Rooms Restored," which won the German equivalent of the Grammy Award in 2012, is an outstanding example of Nendza's fecundity as a composer. And the quintet he leads is fully in command of the material: I especially enjoyed the searching, well-deployed single-line solos of pianist Hendrik Soll, the dour intelligence of Claudius Valk's reed playing and the unpredictable flash and  pep of Stephan Meinberg's trumpet. Completing the band (in addition to Nendza's rhythmically acute bass) is the sensitive, tonally varied drumming of Hillmann.

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