Ljubljana Jazz Festival: Ljubljana, Slovenia, June 20–29, 2012
Ljubljana is a two-faced festival. There is the club face at the House of Cankar (Cankarjev Dom), and the face of the big semi-open air stage at Križanke Cultural Center. The House of Cankar is a state institution, created in the 1980s to foster collaboration between all art disciplines. Ivan Cankar (1876-1918) is held to be the most important writer to shape Slovenian identity: "Cankarjev dom believes that cultural, artistic and scientific creativity meets the basic condition for attaining spiritual freedom and richer spiritual lives of people and social development."
At the bigger stage Križanke there is a different, more mainstream-oriented audience which is addressed in the programming. The first evening at Križanke presented a mixed bag: two young local heroestenor saxophonist Jure Pukl's band Abstract Society, with pianist Kaja Draksler, drummer Damion Reid and bassist Joe Sanders opening, followed by singer Dee Dee Bridgewater.
Pukl (1977), Slovenia's most powerful saxophonist of the moment, has garnered critical acclaim with his innovative EARchitecture (SessionWorkRec, 2010) (with liner notes by pianist Vijay Iyer). His most recent album, Abstract Society (Storyville, 2012), features Iyer, Damion Reid and Joe Sanders. Reid (1979) has played and recorded with saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Coleman, Greg Ward and Steve Lehman, as well as pianist Robert Glasper. Sanders has worked with everyone from saxophonist Wayne Shorter and pianists Dave Brubeck and Gerald Clayton, to saxophonist/clarinetist Oran Etkin, trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire and Christian Scott, singer Gretchen Parlato, guitarist Lionel Loueke, pianist Aaron Parks and saxophonist Chris Potter.
Pukl, being a self-assured guy of wide views, built long arches with lots of pending moments and tension to be resolved. He was reinforced by his combination with pianist Draksler. Nonetheless, Reid held the music intensively in motion by his fireworks, while Steve Coleman and Vijay Iyer left their marks in the creative thrust of the group. What was possible within the built structure became clear when trumpeter Jason Palmer joined for a short period. He stirred it up, set the music on fire with his horn and pushed it to a higher level; the missing element, happily, came in on time.
Bridgewater can shift her voice from jazz singing to old school soul. She is still a vivid entertainer functioning as a draw for festivals and bigger venues. Here, she came with a high caliber lineup of experienced musicians: the great saxophonist/flautist Craig Handy, pianist Edsel Gomez, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Kenny Phelps.
Working through a varied repertoire of Billie Holiday songs, standards like "Lover Man," blues, and Mongo Santamaria's classic "Afro Blue," she did exactly what was expected. She even topped it off with a highly dramatized version of "Besame Mucho." She sang and interacted in perfect timing with her band and the audience. It was a fabricated, smooth show offering what the crowd wanted. Not thrilling; just entertaining.
June 30: Diagnostic
Saturday had the densest program, starting in the morning with a solo recital by Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, followed in the afternoon by the Portugese/Canadian collaboration Lama, and the première of a new trumpet and drums configuration.