Beishan International Jazz Festival, China, 19-20 October 2012
Tweet: "I love jazz."
The final act on day one of the BIJF was Serbian band Eyot. Joint winners of the Umbria Jazz Balkanic Windows Competition in 2009, this highly original quartet unites jazz, classical, folk and rock elements in an intoxicating mix that is at once meditative and invigorating. The set comprised four tunes from the band's debut recording, Horizon (Constantinus, 2010) and three as yet unrecorded tracks.
The kernel of each track stemmed from pianist Dejan Llijic, who uncoiled simple melodies that fell between classical and jazz. On "Stone Upon Stone Upon Stone," his tentative piano intro evolved into an extended improvisation of minimal design. Bassist Marko Stojiljkovic's churning bass ostinato and drummer Milos Vojvodic's drive stoked the band's fire, while guitarist Sladjan Milenovic brought pedal-driven atmospheric waves to the mix. During the set there was little in the way of conventional soloing-the group sound was the thing.
"Surge" was both melodically arresting and quietly brooding-a little like a slow waltz between Esbjorn Svensson and Nirvana at the outset. The band is certainly influenced by the latter group, and in the post-concert interview Llijic said: "I consider [Nirvana singer] Kurt Cobain to be one of the great musicians of the 20th century, on the same level as John Coltrane and Miles Davis." On this number Llijic gave a wonderful, extended exhibition that mapped Serbian folk, classical and jazz contours simultaneously, as the music swelled powerfully around him.
At times-and notably on "All I Want to Say"-there was some of the interlocking, almost mantra-like grooves of Nik Bartsch's Ronin. Two new numbers, "Coils" and "Drifting," largely followed the established blueprint: simple piano motifs, subtle tremolo guitar effects, and the collective voice rising like a storm brewing. On the former, Milenovic's guitar sounded like cracking ice, an effect heightened by billowing dry ice and an atmospheric light show. Eyot struck a fine balance between pretty melodies that clawed both gut and heart, subtle groove effects and a stirring collective voice. The closing number, "Horizon" embodied all these qualities and was over all too soon.
Tweet: "Wow! I never see before. So beautiful."
A portion of the crowd had drifted off after Ntjam Rosie, but the small but very enthusiastic crowd that remained were, in Eyot, treated to one of the most genre-bending, and unique concerts of the two days. The BIJF's stated aim is to become the top jazz festival in southern China (there are currently around eight) and if it continues to be as adventurous with this program in the years to come, then it may well succeed sooner rather than later.
Day 2 of the BIJF began with a children's choir from the TPR English School, giving a recital in English. About two dozen preteens, as cute as buttons all, gave an impressive rendition of a song called "Proud of You," as those family members in attendance surely were of the little singers. The inclusive, socially conscious aspect of the BIJF is to be applauded , though locals from the village of Beishan were put off by the relatively high cost of the tickets. It's no easy task to program a jazz festival in southern China and bring in enough punters to make it financially sustainable. If the BIJF could find a way to open its doors to the more financially-challenged locals it would be a very good PR move.
Another issue which is looming just over the horizon for the BIJF is crowd capacity. By all accounts, the numbers of attendees has grown considerably in the festival's first three editions and the concert hall was mostly packed wall to wall. It was just on the right side of full and festive, though it wouldn't have taken too many more souls to have made standing and moving to and fro uncomfortable. Safety is not the issue, as there are exits galore (five in the concert hall alone) but the organizers may be wise to consider capping ticket sales at an agreed number. After all, there's nothing like a SOLD OUT sign to generate a buzz about a festival.
The first band to take the stage on day 2 of the BIJF was the We Do Big Band from Guangzhou. This 14-piece big band was founded in 1998, and includes professors from the Xinghai Conservatory of Music. Its aim is to promote jazz and educate people about jazz in Guangzhou and beyond. The big band has received instruction from trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, so it was no real surprise that the band's set looked largely to the golden age of big bands for its stylistic direction.