• Markus Brandstetter

"We are family": ACT celebrated 30 years of label history at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall


David Helbock, Michael Wollny, Iiro Rantala © ACT / Georg Stirnweiß.

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To celebrate its 30th birthday, the renowned German jazz label ACT celebrated together with musicians, friends and guests at Berlin's Philharmonie for two evenings. On the second of these, Swedish trombonist and label veteran Nils Landgren led a generation-spanning and rousing program in which long-established greats joined hands (or rather, instruments) with younger artists.


"We are family"


It got quite crowded on stage during the ACT family celebration. At the end of the evening, three drummers, Wolfgang Haffner (on this evening quasi permanent drummer), Diego Piñera and Eric Schaefer shared the rhythmic duties. There was no shortage of pianists either - with Michael Wollny, Iiro Rantala, David Helbock, Johanna Summer, Anna Gréta and Jan Lundgren, no less than seven artists played the piano that evening. Because such a wild mix also needs a master of ceremonies who leads through the evening and gives the whole thing something cohesive, trombonist, singer and composer Nils Landgren acted as the evening's emcee and also played along with the majority of the pieces.



The plan for 30 years was to have 30 musicians perform - but because Julian and Roman Wasserfuhr were ill with Corona, in the end there were only 28 who celebrated the success story of the label and its music that evening. In addition to the musicians already mentioned, this evening included Lars Danielson (double bass), Nguyên Lê (guitar), Ida Sand (vocals), Jakob Manz (saxophone), Viktoria Tolstoy (vocals), Nesrine Belmok (cello and vocals) and Ulf Wakenius (guitar).


There was a cross-section of the ACT cosmos of the last years - from reduced line-ups to quasi big band line-ups, everything was there. A special highlight was the piano trio Helbock/Wollny/Rantala - three actually fundamentally different pianists, all world class and fabulous as a trio. Helbock opened before Rantala - mischievous as ever - announced a ragtime he had written as a cardio program, giving his left hand a high-intensity workout. At the end of the three-piano set (which in itself had full-length potential), Wollny, Rantala and Helbock ran back and forth between the pianos/Rhodes and ended up working the same grand piano.




Unsurprisingly, there was a high density of Swedish acts this evening. One could almost have believed at the beginning that ACT was a Swedish label, reminisced label founder Siggi Loch in his opening speech of the evening, The label's most internationally known act (no pun intended), the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, was also from Sweden - Svensson, who died in a diving accident in 2008, was commemorated several times that evening. His former bandmates Magnus Öström and Dan Berglund were sadly missing that evening - one who was also missed was saxophonist Marius Neset.


At the end of the evening, things got really busy again. Almost all musicians came on stage and played the Canned Heat classic "Let's Act Together". Once more they came on stage for the encore - and delivered the Sister Sledge song "We Are Family" as the finale. Three drummers, several pianists (Wollny and Summer four-handed at the grand piano), Tim Lefevbre on electric bass and Lars Danielson on double bass giving each other space, lots of choral singing, the spotlights directed again and again into the meanwhile standing audience.


Siggi Loch © ACT / Georg Stirnweiß

On that evening, special applause (and a standing ovation) went to label founder Siggi Loch, who now runs the label with his partner Andreas Brandis. It was Loch who had the vision of a jazz label 30 years ago. This became one of the most important European jazz labels, which has produced international stars and still focuses on promoting young talent.


Happy birthday, ACT. Here's to the next 30.