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Eclectic improv for all: Jazzfest

Apart from a focus on Chicago and Europe, US guitarist Mary Halvorson shapes this year’s Jazzfest as its artist in residence.

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Mary Halvorson, Photo by Amani Willett

Jazzfest 2018 will, once again, see eclectic concerts by 200 musicians from more than 15 countries, with a particular focus on one of them: this year’s artist in residence Mary Halvorson. For quite some time, the prolific improv guitarist, who has participated in 27 album recordings over the past three years, has been known for pushing the genre’s boundaries. “I’ve never been one to want to get pigeonholed. It keeps things challenging and interesting,” Halvorson told us. “To some degree it might be a product of the age we live in where every kind of music is at your fingertips all the time.” For music lovers unfamiliar with improv, that’s good news. From art-rock to avant-folk, they’ll certainly find something to connect with. Apart from giving a masterclass in improv jazz, Halvorson graces the stage at A-Trane with bass player Chris Dahlgren, trumpet player Liz Allbee and vibraphonist Taiko Saito (Nov 3, 21:00). Together with Kim Myhr, she takes improv to the streets paying visits to a hair salon, a gallery and a living room around Fasanenplatz (Nov 4, 11:00). On the festival’s final day, the more orchestral Mary Halvorson Octet celebrates its European premiere on the big stage at Haus der Berliner Festspiele (Nov 4, 20:15). If you truly want to experience the focuses of the festival in one place, make sure to visit the festival’s opening. At Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Halvorson’s performance with trio Thumbscrew (Nov 1, 19:45) coincides with a rich selection of concerts juxtaposing US American jazz traditions with its European off shoots. Examples of the latter are the Black Earth Ensemble’s concert led by Chicagobased Nicole Mitchell (Nov 1, 18:30) and Melting Pot: Made in Berlin, an interdisciplinary project comprising performers from across Europe (Nov 1, 19:30). Other noteworthy concerts throughout the festival include Jaimie Branch (Nov 2, 20:00), Philadelphian rapper and poet Moor Mother paired with sax player Roscoe Mitchell (Nov 2, 18:30), and Estonian Maria Faust’s chamber-music inspired composition “Machina” (Gedächtniskirche, Nov 4, 15:30). Talks, e.g. on Afrofuturism and jazz (Nov 2, 16:30), screenings and a tribute to ragtime and jazz composer James Reese Europe round off this year’s programme (Nov 3, 16:30).

Jazzfest, Nov 1-4 | Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Wilmersdorf and various other venues, full programme at