Jazz Portugal


“Freshta”, the new album by Globe-trotter, world flautist and composer Mark Lotz, is dedicated to Freshta Kohistani, the Afghan activist murdered in 2020, but it is also a heartfelt tribute to ten other figures fighting for women’s rights at a time when patriarchal and misogynistic obscurantism is re-emerging.


15 DECEMBER 2023

On 24 December 2020, Al-Jazeera reported that unknown armed men on a motorbike killed a 29-year-old woman (and her brother) in the Kohistan district of Kapisa province, north-east of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Her name was Freshta Kohistani and she was a prominent women’s rights activist in a country devastated by a wave of brutal violence. She was shot not far from the house where she lived, in broad daylight. Freshta was the second activist to be killed in two days, after a lawyer and democracy campaigner met the same cruel fate. Days before her death, after asking the authorities for protection because she was receiving threats, she tweeted: “Tomorrow it could be your turn.” During the previous year, Freshta had campaigned for Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, gaining a reputation on social media and at women’s rights events in Kabul.

German flautist Mark Lotz (b. 1963) heard about these tragic events shortly afterwards: “When I received the commission to compose [from the Vereniging Nederlandse Jazzpodia en Jazzfestivals – the association of leading jazz festivals and venues in the Netherlands) and the Dutch authors’ organisation BUMA], Afghanistan was always in the news. So I wanted to dedicate the compositions to them. I did a lot of research and got to know the story of Freshta and her brother,” Lotz tells jazz.pt. “During the time I lived in Uganda, I experienced things during the war (I was a child), as well as my experiences in our ruthless industry,” he says. “I’m not an activist for women’s rights, nor is my band – instrumental music can’t really be activist either. But my music carries the message of freedom and love,” emphasises Lotz. “I can’t stand injustice.”

Mark Lotz has been on the board of the Dutch Union of Improvisation Musicians for more than a decade; he organises concerts such as “Mark My Wor(l)ds”, featuring artists from different geographical backgrounds (in January there will be Portuguese music) and a community festival of world music (VOLfest) in a deprived neighbourhood in the small town where he lives. During the pandemic lockdowns, he developed the Jazz On The Sofa festival solely around local artists, also giving them composition tasks. At the same time, he sought to fight the “horrible music industry” by refocusing activity on a human and local scale, based on the principles of sustainability, durability, circular economy thinking and community art.

After his return to jazz earlier this year with “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out!”, as a trio, Mark Lotz brings together a wider line-up, with musicians of the highest calibre: clarinettist Claudio Puntin, cellist Jörg Brinkmann, pianist Jeroen van Vliet and drummer Dirk-Peter Kölsch, all capable of adding layers of complexity – but also emotional layers – to the music he has written, and the chemistry between them clearly stands out. From the outset, his idea was to create contemporary, profound music from the perspective of a European and world citizen. “My background is also partly modern classical; I’m very attracted to sound and chamber music instrumentation,” adds the flautist. Halfway between such a background and a jazz ensemble, with musicians he knows well, this group serves its purpose well.

The eleven pieces on “Freshta”, his new album on the ZenneZ label, are dedicated to women activists, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, but also from Africa. “I immersed myself in their personalities and their specific stories and tried to incorporate that into the atmosphere of the compositions,” explains Mark Lotz. On this album, the flautist sees himself more as a composer and less as an instrumentalist. It’s also the first where he addresses socially relevant issues more clearly and moulds his involvement in line with the globally unsettled times in which we live. “In times of war, populism and social unrest, as an artist I feel the responsibility and desire to spread the message of love, respect and freedom even further like a madman,” he emphasises.

One day of rehearsals, a small presentation concert and two days in the studio. Direct, live recordings, (almost) without adjustments or additions. This music brings together elements from various sonic territories, in which Lotz has moved over the years, studying different traditions, crossing borders, collaborating with musicians from multiple areas. “This moulds who I am today. It’s impossible to exclude parts of my identity. Even so, the common thread is jazz, human and social music in improvisation.”

In “Freshta”, however, there is almost no jazz, at least with a North American swing; everything is questioned from a European perspective, even when elements from other geographies are musically accommodated. From the opening piece, “Durgas Lalit”, dedicated to Durga Gawde (artist, activist and non-binary person), a mysterious but energetic aura emerges, with the limpid notes of the flute, using an Indian scale, then this in unison and counterpoint with the piano, then the rhythmic duo enters the scene. Lotz used the raga “Lalit”, “a very strong raga that shows many faces”. The music transports us to a distant place, but at the same time so close.

“For Viji”, introduced by the cello, is an elegantly cut piece, with the flute soaring. More energetic and boisterous is the album’s title piece, short but eloquent, with an unstable swing;

“Frouzan” begins slowly, then acquires another nerve (like Freshta Kohistani, Frouzan Safi was executed by the Taliban in Mazar-e-Sharif.)

“Hasina” has a light, gliding swing, with the cello at the centre of what happens.

“Isabel” is once again introduced by the cello, which launches a fruitful dialogue between flute and clarinet, with Lotz’s loquacious flute first making a superb statement, followed by the clarinet also saying what’s on its mind. At the end, the two instruments join in a vivid dance.

In “Mahbouba” we are in the centre of a garden with leafy plants, running water fountains and birds, in a piece that harks back to European polyphony. (Mahbouba Seraj, a journalist, is a strong, educated and intelligent woman. A silent warrior dealing with complex issues, traits reflected in the interweaving of three melodies and the sudden ending, portraying the emptiness that follows).

This side is also enhanced by the solemn but fluid arrangement of “Malala”, where Lotz takes one of the best solos on the album; two minutes from its end, the piece takes on a more poignant tone, with a beautiful melody drawn out by the piano.

“Malalai” is more rhythmically vibrant, with a groove that guides the cross-ambulations of the clarinet and flute, who solo in turn, taking mutual ideas and stretching them out (remarkable solo by the clarinettist).

“Nasrin” is more sombre and dramatic – with the piano sounding more jazzy, drums with brushes – a smoky vintage ballad tinged with elements of the classical music tradition. Closing the album is a tribute to the power of African women:

“Wangari” (Kenyan Wangari Muta Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace) is a deeply imagistic piece based on a slow, stable and quiet cell, the antithesis of the turbulent and dangerous world we (still) inhabit.

the chemistry between them clearly stands out. 

“In times of war, populism and social unrest, as an artist I feel the responsibility and desire to spread the message of love, respect and freedom even further like a madman,”

is a deeply imagistic piece based on a slow, stable and quiet cell, the antithesis of the turbulent and dangerous world we (still) inhabit.