2013 Jazztopad Festival

John Kelman By

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Lloyd was premiering a new piece of music, the Wild Man Dance Suite that he'd been negotiating with the festival for three years, and it turned out to be a positively triumphant closer to Jazztopad 2013. Lloyd has been no stranger to the music of Greece, his Athens Concert (ECM, 2011) a wonderful meeting place between the music of his own quartet of the past several years and a series of Greek pieces brought together under the banner of a three-part "Greek Suite" that, in addition to featuring political singer Maria Farantouri, also included Greek lyra virtuoso Socratis Sinopoulos and pianist/arranger Takis Farazis.

Lloyd re-recruited Sinopoulos for Wild Man Dance Suite, his Byzantine lyra—a bowed string instrument played vertically with the bottom of the instrument resting in the lap rather than in the nook of the shoulder—a surprisingly appropriate instrument for this new set of music far more rooted in the American jazz tradition than the majority of The Athens Concert. That Sinopoulos proved a more than capable improviser was no more surprising than the same being said for Hungarian-born gypsy, Miklos Lukacs, whose cimbalom—a hammered dulcimer-like traditional gypsy instrument from Hungary, with groups of strings tuned in unison—proved an equally appropriate instrument to complement the more traditional rhythm section that rounded out the sextet—all fine players, but all making their first appearances here with Lloyd: pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

Earlier discussions suggested that the concert would be in two parts: one, a selection of older Lloyd tunes, rearranged for this group, followed by an intermission and second set where Wild Man Dance Suite would be premiered. Instead, Lloyd played one 80-minute set (not including encore) that was Wild Man Dance Suite in its entirety, performed solely on tenor saxophone despite there being a flute and two taragatos onstage. While there's no doubt that Lloyd's now longstanding quartet with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland is in no danger of being dissolved, this newly minted sextet certainly made a case for being an alternate project that Lloyd should continue to explore. Given just one day's rehearsal at the venue, there was a clear chemistry that made this an exciting evening, not just for the world premiere of a long-form piece of new music, but for the debut of a new group that blended traditional jazz with textures from antiquity, creating something altogether new and exciting.

Lloyd was in terrific form, managing double duty as both an active bandleader, guiding his group through this challenging suite of music—and a supportive one, too, providing plenty of encouragement each time one of his band mates was spotlighted—and as a featured soloist himself, creating endlessly flowing lines that cascaded with ease. It's no small challenge to succeed at long-form soloing, but Lloyd has proven, time and again, more than capable of creating extended solos that are not just a collection of ideas but are, instead, stories that reflect the life portrayed in Dorothy Darr's film, Arrow to Infinity, screened at Jazztopad earlier in the week.

Not surprisingly, the sold-out house (standing room only) responded with particularly strong enthusiasm—certainly the most extreme response to any performance attended in the past week. Lloyd responded with an encore where he moved to flute and, once again, gave space for everyone in the group. Always a generous leader, Lloyd's largess was especially notable here, as the instruments played by his Greek and Hungarian compatriots may not have seemed ready-made for improvisation, but in the hands of Sinopoulos and Lukacs were clearly appropriate, as they delivered solos over a modal context that suggested Lloyd's idea of bringing together an American jazz format with something seemingly less likely was just one more example of the saxophonist's open-minded approach and clear belief that commonality can invariably be found amongst even the most seemingly incongruous instruments. It was a success three years in the making, and must have been as satisfying to Festival Director Piotr Turkiewicz as it was Lloyd—and Darr, who could be seen along the side of the hall taking photos throughout the show.

And so, with Jazztopad 2013 finished and its superb staff ready for a well-deserved breather before commencing work on the 2014 edition, there's little that Turkiewicz would reveal about the coming year:

What is certain is that Jazztopad—no matter what shape it takes, no matter who it invites and no matter what is commissioned—is a festival that will be worth returning to year after year, as a festival that looks to break the mold of convention to create a festival experience for the city of Wrocĺaw that is not only distinguished in the country of Poland, but on an international level as well.

Photo Credit
John Kelman


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