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I recently spent a few days holidaying in Munich and Innsbruck. Not the most obvious jazz cities, you might think. But you’d be wrong.

Munich is, after all, the home of ECM, Enja and ACT records, plus some smaller jazz labels.

Ludwig Beck’s record shop on Marienplatz, right in the centre of Munich, is amazing. I could have bankrupted myself in there. There’s something splendidly incongruous about one of the best jazz and classical CD shops I’ve ever come across being on the top floor of an upmarket clothes shop. And the amount of stuff stocked was superb: the “avant-garde and free” section was bigger than the jazz section of most of Glasgow’s maistream record shops. Indeed, they probably had more CDs by Peter Brotzmann alone than the average mainstream shop has jazz CDs. I realised just how little I knew about German (and Austrian) jazz because there were lots of names there which were entirely unfamiliar to me.

I got to a couple of gigs. The Cookers, an American all-star band consisting of Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, David Weiss, Craig Handy, George Cables, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart were on at the Bayerischer Hof. Loved the band (interesting arrangements and top-class soloing); hated the venue. It doubles as the schicki-micki nightclub for one of Munich’s most upmarket hotels, and I don’t do bling. Augustiner Keller beer garden, Munich.And they had the nerve to charge more than twice as much for beer as anywhere else I drank: even worse, they were in one of the world’s great beer cities but only sold imported megabrands which were less good than any of the local brews. I just don’t get it. If I was running an independent 5-star hotel, I’d either want to show off the best the area had to offer by selling top-class local produce, or I’d want to provide the best in the world. But why on earth import beers so bland you have to stick lime in them to give them any flavour if you’re based in the home city of Augustiner Edelstoff, which is probably the best lager in the world? But I should say something about the music, and not just rant about the venue which, in its defence, did have very good sound. What I particularly liked about the band was that they had good arrangements: it wasn’t just unison heads followed by a string of solos. I think David Weiss did most of the arranging. It was billed as having James Spaulding on alto and flute, but Craig Handy was a very fine player to have as substitute. The publicity described it as a hard bop concert, but was more like one of the more adventurous Blue Note sets from the mid-60s, or one of Booker Little’s sextet albums.

A couple of other venues, the Unterfahrt jazz club and Klanggalerie t-u-b-e , a venue which puts on the occasional avant-garde act (I was about a week too late to hear trumpeter Peter Evans) turned out to be located in different parts of the same courtyard behind the UnionsBrau beer hall near Max-Weber-Platz U-Bahn. I didn’t manage to get to anything there, though. I’d have been curious to hear the Bavarian Youth Jazz Orchestra who played there on the Monday night, but the timing didn’t work out.

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