Belgrade Jazz Festival: Belgrade, Serbia, October 25-28, 2012
The midnight concerts in Sala Amerikana, upstairs in Dom Omladine, attract a younger crowd. This year's late night program was notably edgy and adventurous. Three European groups presented three very different takes on the avant-garde. The most forbidding was the Polish duo of alto saxophonist Mikołaj Trzaska and acoustic bass guitarist Rafał Mazur, who raised a honking, rasping wake-the-dead racket. The epiphanies came when they occasionally settled into plaintive song-like runs. The most diverse was the international quartet Lorenz Raab Expanded, who ranged over a repertoire containing fractured counterpoint, ferocious cacophonies and interludes of genuine lyricism.
The most civilized was Das Kapital, a trio from Germany (reed player Daniel Erdmann), Denmark (guitarist Hasse Poulsen), and France (drummer Edward Perraud). They played the compositions of Hanns Eisler with stark, solemn, straight-faced solemnity before they blew them up for fun.
But the most hilarious, astonishing event on the festival program was a splash of performance art, a wild Dadaist happening conducted by American quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon and trumpeter Peter Evans unleashed simultaneous ravings over the relatively rational rhythmic contributions of theatrical drummer Kevin Shea and deadpan bassist Moppa Elliott. (Rational, that is, until Shea inserted an electronic whine like an old modem starting up.) Irabagon always played something recognizable as saxophone notes, however manic. But Evans was likely to break off his blistering, shattering trumpet runs to issue alien noises: wheezes, squeals, pops, sloppy wet kisses. Once, "All the Things You Are" went flying by. It made you wonder what other songs you had missed. Chaos this complicated must require planning, yet this band's impulsiveness seemed to come straight from the unfiltered subconscious. The audience went crazy.
The Nenad Vasilić Quartet also played a late night concert, and they were one of the revelations of this year's program. The players are from Serbia, Bulgaria, and Austria. They performed Vasilić compositions that organically blended ancient Balkan folk elements and modern jazz spontaneity. The rhythms in 11/8 and in 7 were subtle yet irresistible. The alchemy of sonorities was unique, Vasilić's bass darkly throbbing, Marko Živadinović's accordion yearning and sighing, Vladimir Karparov's soprano saxophone keening. It was romantic, poignant, timeless music that might have been played around a Gypsy campfire, except that it kept rediscovering itself in the moment because it was jazz.
Åsne Seierstad, best known for The Bookseller of Kabul (Little, Brown & Company, 2003) wrote a book about Serbia called With Their Backs to the World (Virago, 2005). It is about the Serbian "mythology of victimization." She calls Serbs "these outcasts of Europe. This people that started one war after another, and lost them all." It is because of Serbia's recent isolation from the community of nations, and its recent efforts to turn its face back to the world, that a jazz festival in Belgrade is especially important.
Page 4, Bottom Photo: Joke Schot
All Other Photos: Tim Dickeson