Punked-up Jazz Skunk

by James Berlyn on April 28, 2015

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Matthias Schriefl is a German-born jazz trumpeter with a unique message.  His many achievements within the German jazz scene include winning a national competition at age 11, directing his school’s big band in the ninth grade, and becoming a member of the Bavarian State Jazz Orchestra and the German Young Jazz Orchestra at age 15.  Now in his twenties, this young musician leads an eccentric quartet described by ACT Music and Jazz.com as playing “awkward melodies, edgy rhythms and darting references to classical music,” “musical pranks” and “daredevil experimental jazz that in no way sounds clean or intellectual.” (ACT music)(Stewart) Currently, Shreefpunk is quickly making a name for itself in European jazz circles.  Critics praise the band greatly for its virtuosity, creativity and edgy nature but don’t even allude to the actual feeling Shreefpunk evokes from its listeners.

Transatlantically, the interesting thing about Shreefpunk is that it a band of jazz musicians that poke fun at American jazz as obviously as it can.  In the composition “Aua”, for example, the members of Shreefpunk sing a simple, patriotic-sounding jazz anthem with awkward coughs sprinkled throughout, interrupting the sublime melody with atonal screeches.  This feels like an intentional political display that pokes fun at America and American jazz music.

Shreefpunk’s “Blues” is a satire of the very foundation of jazz music.  As the title suggests, the piece makes fun of the blues, but simultaneously seems to embrace it as well.  It starts with an awkward melody and presents numerous blues solos that continually get distorted and cluttered in different ways.  These musicians show that they are schooled in the blues, but as the song progresses it becomes clear through the clashing melodies and seemingly random time feel shifts that they are playing the blues to satirize it.

It’s hard to tell what Shreefpunk’s actual stance towards jazz is, since it pokes fun at jazz but is a jazz band in the sense that all the musicians in it are decorated jazz musicians.  according to “The Jazz Breakfast,” Matthias Schriefl himself has played with American talents Phil Woods, Lee Konitz and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  The other members of Shreefpunk (Robert Landfermann, John Behr and Jens Düppe) are also respected jazz artists in Germany.  These artists studying the “American classical music” are spearheading a project that uses jazz to make fun of itself.  I believe this could be a reflection of Germany’s attitude towards jazz.  Germany loves jazz, but the music represents America and there is a deep-seeded resentment and frustration for not only America itself but its mastery of the jazz tradition.

Much as a comedian has to have a sharp understanding of the people around him, Shreefpunk’s satire of jazz demands a great understanding of the tradition from its musicians.  The music combines an understanding of many different styles of jazz to create a full satire and, like jazz music, it utilizes not only jazz but all different types of musical influences.  In this way, does it become jazz?  If one compares Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” to James Booker’s “Black Minute Waltz”, it is clear that satirizing other genres of music through understanding them has long been a part of the jazz tradition.  It can be argued that Shreefpunk’s satire is the very thing it makes fun of.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex Paspa April 30, 2015 at 11:18 pm

I think this is really interesting. Its a fun spin off of Jazz with a lot of attitude. When I first clicked on this article I thought it was going to be Punk-rock mixed with Jazz. Instead its the attitude of Punk mixed with Jazz. Punk is usually a political statement or rebelling against the government. Here it seems that Shreefpunk is rebelling against Jazz itself and the fact America came up with it. Jealous much? They also tamper with the melodies by harshening them, which is an element of punk-rock. It seems that Shreefpunk is making fun of itself. Good article.

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Reid Parler April 30, 2015 at 9:44 pm

This is a very interesting band and concept, I for one can’t tell whether they are trying to make a wise social commentary or are simply just having a laugh. I can tell that they are all very gifted musicians but I wonder how they genuinely felt about the original musicians they had to learn from. As any student of jazz will tell you, you really learn to play by listening to the artists you want to emulate and study all the subtleties of their particular style. I can’t really imagine learning all of that without having a deep appreciation for the music, however it is evident that they are exaggerating some stylistic aspects of jazz that to them seem unnecessary. It’s as if they are mocking some of the ritualistic aspects of jazz music to poke fun at those who maybe take the music too seriously, perhaps Shreffpunk is trying to bring jazz music out of the high culture and back to its original purpose, entertainment.

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