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Super-Sonic Jazz Festival 2023, a celebration of Dutch talent and modern-day jazz

Updated: May 15

Six days of jazz-related music over three locations in Amsterdam. From the homegrown talents of MoTo TroKo, to the established Mammal Hands, from the album release in Rush Hour to three days in Paradiso, loaded with both national and international artists from all over the jazz spectrum. We look back at a special edition of the Super-Sonic Jazz Festival where the Dutch jazz scene received some, fully deserved, extra attention to celebrate the culture that has been developing for years, has grown so much, and has brought many talents forward. Besides the extra attention for the shows of our national heroes, we speak to the co-founder of Super Sonic Jazz, Kees Heus. We take you through the entire week in this long-read, let's dive in!

All photography by Tijmen de Nooy

Day 1 - Upstairs

MoTo TroKo (Mokums Toeter & Trommel Kollectief)

It’s a rainy fourteenth of November when Paradiso gets surrounded by umbrellas and raincoats. In the small, intimate upstairs room, groups of people, families, friends, and classmates come together. Dirk Zandvliet (Gallowstreet, Brass Rave Unit), initiator of MoTo TroKo makes his way to the stage. Here, on this podium, he introduces “the next generation”.

The six-piece funk band Fata Morgana has a contagious energy. It is admirable how confident, convincing and loosely they present themselves. A cowbell solo gets the crowd going even more and this extra boost of confidence results in a shirtless drummer shortly after. When they announce their song ‘Chromatic Funk’, it becomes clear that real fans are in the building who are not too shy to sing along. After successfully pulling off a sitdown during the encore, they give the audience one last opportunity to jump and dance along, before making way for the next act.

5 musicians enter the stage, all wearing yellow safety jackets. The band Grasblazers, containing four wind instrumentalists and a drummer, is only two months old, but they already present their own songs, one of which is a week old. They embrace the fact that it’s new and that mistakes will be made. It’s part of the experience and the process, and exactly why MoTo TroKo exists. When their melodies merge into joint breaks, the audience cheers. There is a level of support, enthusiasm and wholesomeness that will be difficult to match for the rest of the week.

After a short break, Dirk brings the attention of the room back to the stage. After another passionate introduction, the “new brass generation” enters the stage, one after another, until the stage is filled with MoTo TroKo (Mokums Toeter & Trommel Kollectief). Led by Lourens van der Zwaag (Valvetronic) as conductor, the collective breathes in, followed by a wall of sound. Utmost concentration is seen, and joy can be felt. Lourens, who is very clearly enjoying this moment, regularly encourages the audience to clap for certain sections or individuals, with a consistently high level of energetic responses throughout the show. During the show, “Doctorandus Dirk”, as one of the musicians calls him, explains the origin of MoTo TroKo. Inspired by the “enviable” jazz scene in London, where institutions like Tomorrow’s Warriors and Kinetika Bloco gave an enormous boost to the young, musical talents of the city, Dirk decided to create his own in Amsterdam.

They play a combination of covers, for instance, ‘War’ by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, and songs written by members of the collective. After a solo, Kyra, who wrote the song, receives pats on the back and thumbs up from the others. It embodies the togetherness, supportiveness, and pride of the group.

The highlight is a cover of ‘L’amour Toujours’. It’s euphoric and undeniable to dance or sing along to, something that would make Gallowstreet proud. Finally, Dirk makes a promise to us all: “In 10 years, these musicians will perform on the big stage of Super-Sonic Jazz”.

After the show

The comparison to Tomorrow’s Warriors is clear, but there is one noticeable difference. They focus “on Black musicians, female musicians, and those whose financial or other circumstances might lock them out of opportunities to pursue a career in the music industry.” Although they did present many non-male musicians on stage, unlike their British inspiration, the collective does not include black or non-white musicians.

MoTo focuses on musicians who can already play and have been playing an instrument for a while. There are many communities in Amsterdam in which it is already unimaginable to get in touch with instruments or where it doesn’t seem like a reasonable option to become a musician. That’s where something needs to change, but that is a big challenge.” - Dirk

The inequality in music education already starts before kids enter the MoTo TroKo trajectory, which means his project will ultimately show that inequality. It has become undeniably clear that this is more than a music project. It’s a protest. It’s a critique. But, maybe more than anything, it’s a small but hopeful step for the next generation.

Day 2 - Mammal Hands - De Duif

Fifteen minutes after the official showtime, Mammal Hands enters the stage. The room gets quiet. Softly, the first notes of the piano are being played. The saxophone and percussion follow in an intimate matter. As the music slowly builds, the saxophone begins to echo around the church. The repetitive melodies float round and round, making one feel surrounded by a hypnotic whirlwind of music. Nick Smart, the pianist, can’t help but headbang along to some of the more intense parts. Now and then, Nick speaks to the audience in between the songs. He apologised for the delay, but tuning the piano took some extra time. No one seems to mind. Before you know it, the band takes off again, under the supervision of religious statues and magnificent walls. It is easy to let your thoughts go to their polished silky sounds, but they can take the focus back at any second. They are in control, not only of their instrument but also of our attention.

The drummer, Jesse Barrett, adds interesting textures with tablas and shakers that sound like shells being moved over the ocean floor. Then, the more energetic part of their show begins. Quick rhythms, increasing build-ups and razor-sharp grooves. They got the audience captivated.

In the context of this church, the music feels spiritual, but also ominous and urgent. The piano feels like a mantra supporting the lamenting expressions of saxophonist Jordan Smart. The show is getting to a climax, sounding almost like electronic trance music at this point.

After the final note has been muffled by the church walls, a standing ovation begins. After leaving the stage for a short moment, they return. The musicians seem calm and thankful, almost timid. They take their time to prepare for their final song. Jesse slowly adds some tape to one of his toms, before the trio takes off one last time with ‘Boreal Forest’.

Day 3

Release 'Super-Sonic Jazz Family Vol. 2' compilation

Rush Hour, Amsterdam

Today is different. It’s not a show, but more of a gathering of people that share the same love and passion for music. What better place to do this than at Rush Hour Record Store, a place that is physically filled with music and culture?

Most of the audience would be artists, musicians, creatives and people who are in some way related to the scene that is represented on the Super-Sonic Jazz Family compilation. It’s a real potpourri of insiders. Mo Wrights takes over to spin some lovely tunes and delights us with an unreleased song of his, while the audience enjoys the gathering and the tasty and (shoutout) free beers. It’s a special occasion. Some artists released their first song on this album, some have not met each other in real life yet, and it feels like a special group of like-minded people sharing the same space. At this moment, it feels like the Dutch scene is getting closer. The distance between cities or places does not matter because here it’s all connected through music and shared interests.

In conversation with Kees Heus - Co-founder of Super-Sonic Jazz - Part 1/2

How are you feeling? And how were the first days of Super-Sonic Jazz?

(laughs) It’s going well! It’s so much fun. We have worked towards this event for so long, I’m even working on the next year already, that’s just how it goes. The team is so strong, so many amazing colleagues, and now we can just let loose and try to enjoy as much as possible from what we have built.

What are you looking forward to the most?

Well, today is quite something. We have worked on this compilation for a year, so it feels amazing to be able to share the physical vinyl with the artists today. Seeing their faces, seeing them take it out, their song becoming tangible, that’s a big thing for artists. This talent development, helping artists with their careers and building their ‘mini-economies’, is the reason why Super-Sonic exists. We also pay the artists for the licensing of their tracks and we will never financially profit from this, but that is also not our goal. It’s about facilitating the next step for them.

Looking at this year's edition it shows that the focus is more on giving local artists a podium. How has that changed?

"It hasn’t really changed, but we had to deal with COVID-19, which means we had two weird festival editions with international artists who work with big agents. Many artists we booked the last two years were postponed concerts that we still had to let perform somewhere. Paradiso was dealing with many cases of this and the pile of shows grew bigger and bigger, so Super-Sonic was used as a solution, which meant there were fewer spots for Dutch artists. In the seated edition of Super-Sonic, we had to cancel almost all Dutch artists. On other levels, we were able to do something for them during the pandemic, with the Dragonfruit recordings in Paradiso, an online edition that was broadcasted on NPO, and stuff like that, but not at the festival itself, because it is easier to move those artists to a different date or to book them very last minute.

"This year, we went in a radically different direction with the completely Dutch Sunday program to show what Super-Sonic is about. We are a platform to present talents more than we are a festival. We try to, just like Steppin’ Into Tomorrow, serve the community!" - Kees Heus

What are your hopes and dreams if you look forward to the festival in five years?

I hope we can do a completely Dutch festival. I’m not trying to nag, but it is clear the Sunday tickets do less well because we don’t have acts like KOKOROKO here. We do have Gallowstreet, but we need a couple of acts, like Bnnyhunna and Gaidaa, to get to the point where they can carry the festival.

Is the compilation also something you will keep doing to stimulate this scene and get to that point?

The compilation is a snapshot of the state of the scene, which is cool, so we will keep doing that. It will return, but maybe in a different way, because this was way too much work, to be honest. Maybe fewer tracks, but you live and you learn, right? So yes, it will come back.

Day 4 - Super-Sonic Jazz - Paradiso

The first full festival day starts upstairs. While the first visitors get in, Kees prepares himself for Kara Jackson, his “emo-booking” (an act that gets him emotional). “I have to have at least one of those every year”: he says. Then, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter and poet from Illinois enters the stage. Her relaxed personality and humour make the audience loosen up. After two emotional songs, she says: “Now a funny one about therapy, which is not a traditionally funny topic. I know.” With her melancholic sound, Kara gently leads us into the rest of the night.

Before Sam Gendel starts, SIEM sets the mood with his selection, which he will continue to do during the rest of the festival in between the shows in the main room. Being one of the original founders of the festival, and a selector with impeccable taste, it's wonderful to have his spirit shining through the music from the deejay booth.

Sam’s show contains weird electronic sounds, samples, percussion, and ingenious clarinet melodies that deserve full attention. Unfortunately, this is quite a challenge for a room of people who have just arrived and still need to catch up with their friends. The abstract and experimental show stays lowkey and lo-fi with now and then some groove outbursts of energy. If you manage to get into it, it is beautiful and vulnerable, filled with interesting sounds and textures. These first two shows are, both in sound and setup, the more intimate shows of the weekend.

Upstairs, the vocalist/saxophonist Tallulah Rose and her recently re-named band ROSEYE is the first act to represent the Dutch scene. It’s a well-deserved spot and with her announcement for the coming edition of Eurosonic Noorderslag, it’s also a celebration for the scene, and all the upcoming talents. Her band, with vocalist Helena Casella (who also performed at last years Steppin' & SSJ Family Night) joining for the first time, plays a groovy and soulful mix of hip-hop and neo-soul beats, filled with breaks, chord changes, and polyphony. Tallulah is confident on stage and is dancing every time she isn’t singing or playing the saxophone. Towards the end of the show, MC Hessel Du Mark joins for an energetic feature.

From our local talents, we go to Durand Bernarr. The fabulous-looking singer and his two-person band bring some gospel to the church of Paradiso. It’s a complete performance with dance moves, amazing outfits, cheeky jokes and a special guest, Phillip Lassiter. The singer-songwriter and producer knows how to handle the crowd. His singing is on point and technically impressive, especially while dancing like he does. In a performance filled with hip-hop, funk, gospel, soul and even a jazz ballad, Durand, who is his biggest hypeman himself, delivers a truly popstar-esque performance.

Upstairs, it’s time for ROLROLROL (also announced for ESNS!), a project by Niels Broos and Jameszoo. Behind a table full of gear and cables, the two musicians produce a set full of weird noises, heavy synths and dark beats. The combination of funky bass and piano chords with experimental house, breakbeat and techno beats make it a danceable set in which no moment is the same. After fixing some technical issues, which unfortunately take away the flow and the energy of the audience, Jamie Woon’s vocals on ‘SURPRISE’ lead us towards a sinister and high-energy ending of the show.

Before the festival, bassist Adam Neely and drummer Shawn Crowder promised Super-Sonic Jazz to deliver a show with “lots of notes and time signatures. We are a bunch of dumb instrument nerds, after all.” In reality, Sungazer’s, show is much more than that. Futuristic saxophones and synths combined with tight bass and drums make even the most undanceable time signatures into a party. The music sounds alien and compelling and there’s even a keytar solo. You can’t go wrong with that. After changing up the intensity with ‘Drunk’, which captures the feeling of feeling a bit woozy strangely well, the show ends with a high tempo and intensity cover of ‘Vital Transformation’ by Mahavishnu Orchestra.

We ease into the night-programme with the warm and sultry sounds of Jembaa Groove. Because they start quite soft and subtle it is tempting to talk during the concert. Their African sounds and rhythms led by their charming and energetic vocalist/percussionist Eric Owusu radiate joy. It slowly creates a togetherness in the venue. Although people are dancing, they still need to let loose a little and maybe the audience is ready for more energetic music already. The show felt like it needed more dynamic, something explosive and unexpected, especially at this time of night. Thankfully, the three final songs do exactly this, which led to a great effect in the room. After that it’s a shame the show is over.

Luckily, the music isn’t over yet! The tasty tunes by DJs Shamis and Lucas Benjamin, your two favourite DJs with hats, take over and build the energy towards the show that most new visitors come for: Gallowstreet!

The crowd is hyped as Gallowstreet begins in a flashy and energetic fashion. You would not expect less from them, but the light show, choreography and pumping brass get every crowd dancing and jumping euphorically. Halfway through the show, the four tall standing LED strips turn on and create a rave-like atmosphere on the smokey Paradiso stage. But, this is not all. The big moment of the show is when it gets dark and the LED rings on each instrument turn on. It looks straight out of TRON. The audience got what they wished for.

Unfortunately, a large portion of the audience isn’t here to witness the final act of the night, which is yet another Dutch act. It’s the first time the duo of LYMA and Rebiere aka LIKEMINDS performs with a full band, including Boudewijn and Aron from .multibeat. The funky and catchy songs like ‘Future Proof’ and ‘Motorway’ work well and get the crowd dancing once more. The band, all neatly dressed in white, delivers a cheerful and exciting ending to the night.

All in all, the first main day showed a large spectrum of genres, between the acts but also during individual shows, while still fitting together at one festival. Also, the Dutch acts were impressive and connected with the audience. It’s exciting to look forward to the all-Dutch Sunday program.

Day 5 - Super-Sonic Jazz - Paradiso

The Saturday starts with Brussels-based DJ and multi-instrumentalist Kuna Maze and band. Their warm sounds and floaty funk are ideal for dancing or dreaming away, just the right way to start the evening. It gets groovier and quickly they are going all out with abrupt broken beat patterns on the drums, ruptures of sax and bass lines. The four-to-the-floor kick gets the early visitors to dance and it could’ve just as well been a nighttime show. The live drums and strings-like synthesizer sound familiar to Kamaal Williams, who played at Super-Sonic in 2019. The set is dynamic and diverse and the recognizable sound gives the band the chance to experience different genres, even some reggae/dub towards the end, while still making it work as a whole.

Assisted by drums, keys and double bass, Theo Croker produces a set filled with frivolous and technical jazz with distorted electronics and samples. The avant-garde and partly improvised set is ever-changing and sounds like structured chaos, which means there is always something different to listen to. Towards the end, Theo builds up the energy with some hip-hop beats and brings out Kassa Overall as a special guest, to rap with.

The upstairs rapidly fills up for Yazmin Lacey. On this sold-out day, it is unfortunate that people have to leave the previous show before the end to get into the smaller shows. It is not ideal and maybe some more counterweight in the basement, which was only open from 00:00 for The New Originals Soundsystem, could have prevented this. In this packed room, the audience is quiet, which was more often the case here than in the main room. Yazmin is confident and calm on stage and her smooth and relaxing voice, accompanied by a soulful jazz band, gets all the attention. Although it's a sound that might be a bit predictable, the band doesn’t need to impress with solos or breaks to keep the audience engaged.

It’s time for Gaidaa, the most well-known Dutch artist of this edition. She says it is bizarre to stand on that stage, but it definitely feels right. With KOKOROKO watching, the neo-soul singer and her band play her hits. The goosebump moment is when ‘Storm on a Summers Day’ starts. It gets many filming phones up in the air. The potential of Gaidaa is undeniable and while she asks everyone to shine their flashlights during ‘Morning Blue’ it makes you wonder to which heights she can continue to grow.

“Are you ready to rock?” The charismatic drummer & MC Kassa Overall enters the stage in a full upstairs room. For everyone who’s into percussion, hip-hop and jazz, this is for you. From the second song on, Theo Croker joins and stays for the rest of the show. On sax, keys, and percussion, we got Tomoki Sanders (son of the late Pharoah Sanders) and Bendji Allonce on percussion. The percussion-driven rhythms and avant-garde keys make for an energetic and danceable performance. The show swings between free jazz and hip-hop and even an emotional song in which he gets the room quiet. It’s a diverse show; spiced up with jokes, good energy, and his recent ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ cover.