Kiefer, Alfa Mist and Masego: Jazz fusion in Berlin

Photo: Benjamin Askinas

There is no doubt that the Berlin jazz scene is healthy. Its two major festivals, XJAZZ and JazzWoche, are essentials on the cultural calendar. Big-name clubs like A-Trane, Zig Zag and Quasimodo are competing with smaller saloons such as Yorckschlösschen, Donau115 and Au Topsi Pohl to stage a sound broadcast of free concerts that have seen the city dubbed ‘the jazz capital of Europe on more than one occasion.

Yet overall, the kind of jazz you might catch at one of these venues on any night bears little resemblance to the genre’s global mainstream. On the one hand, it’s an auspicious omen of a well-maintained musical ecosystem with its own endemic sounds, styles, tropes, and quirks. On the other hand, it is a symbol of insularity and the high barrier to entry that is often erected against a genre with emancipatory roots. Whatever your position in this equation, one thing is clear, jazz in Berlin deserves more fans.

So while the Berlin jazz scene is doing very well by jazz club standards, it is perhaps telling that its most popular creators are rappers, whose jazz-infused beats bring the style, technique and feeling to an audience of several orders of magnitude. .

Among the most popular and impressive jazz bands of the moment – names like Kamasi Washington, Emma-Jean Thackray, Nubya Garcia, Shabaka Hutchings, Robert Glasper – none could ever be described as straight jazz. Of all the influences dismantling the ivory tower that has been built around jazz, hip hop is by far the most important.

So, for anyone looking for a more accessible entry into the world of jazz, three formidable jazz hip hop fusion bands are coming to Berlin from style hubs LA and London. Alfa Mist is one of the biggest stars of the new wave of British jazz which started a decade ago and shows no signs of letting up yet. Antiphon broke the mold of contemporary British jazz in 2017 and 2021 To bring back, the pianist and MC seems more at ease than ever, while offering a new depth to the listener. While the influence of hip hop is omnipresent on the album, tracks like Watch out for the gap are the most successful mixes and see Alfa in perfect company with rising star Lex Amor. It’s the first chance to catch his new material live since it was released in the spring of last year and it’s well worth the wait.

So there is Masego, an artist whose self-proclaimed brand of “jazz trap house” might seem like a bizarre communion, but who has by far the greatest radio appeal of any act mentioned here. An accomplished saxophonist – Masego says he even started swimming as a child to strengthen his lungs – there is a minority consensus that places his career at a crossroads. One trajectory could be that of the SoundCloud rapper, the other in R&B pop. But, while the success of similar artists like Thundercat and Anderson .Paak is anything to go by, it’s those who can do both that take it to the next level.

Kiefer is the latest act to catch this month, and his new album When there’s love around marks a transitional moment for a musician who has been known primarily as a hip hop beat maker. His jazz leanings are no secret, however, and his presence on the Stones Throw label – formerly of J Dilla and MF Doom –, which houses crossover artists like Madlib and Sudan Archives, gives an idea of ​​his talent. On this album, however, Kiefer is thoroughly and firmly grounded in a jazz groove, and he wears it well. Fans of his usual brand of smoke-fueled West Coast optimism will get a lot out of this album, even as it moves in entirely new directions.

In terms of impact on live music here in Berlin, the three musicians are doing a great job of opening the genre up to a lot more ears. However, while it’s true that serious jazz or hip hop fans are undoubtedly familiar with these three artists, it’s also true that fan crossover is relatively low. With two such great traditions already present, the time has come for Berlin culture to present itself.

Kiefer February 18 Gretchen.

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