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2013 Jazztopad Festival

John Kelman By

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With just a half hour between each living room concert, it was a fast-paced afternoon for those looking to attended all three offered each day, and the actual performances ranged from surprising and inspiring to less than completely successful, but irrespective of how good any individual mini-concert was, the idea of being able to hear musicians normally seen in the less personal space of a concert hall in such an intimate space made it well worth it.

That evening, the second double bill of Tokyo Jazz Festival Presents: Japan took place at the Wrocĺaw Philharmonic Hall and, while there is clearly some challenge to be had in putting bands with drummers in the room, it's still possible...except that on this Saturday evening the sound was so poor that it made the evening almost unbearable. First up was Quasimode, a Japanese quartet augmented, for this evening, with two Polish players: saxophonist Jakub Skowroński and trumpeter Maurycy Wójciński. Led by pianist Yusuke Hirado and Sixth Sense percussionist Takahiro "Matzz" Matsuoka, the group was rounding out by drummer Sounosuke Imaizumi and bassist Shigeki Umezawa. What was unfortunate was that the minute Imaizumi entered, the sound became a harsh, indistinguishable mush. That said, from what could be discerned, Quasimode's popularity in Japan may be based on its upbeat, danceable music; while the players were competent enough, the music wasn't particularly inspiring, unfortunately, making the set all the more difficult to take, when combined with the appalling sound.

Hopes were high all week for Michiyo Yagi's Trio Deluxe, with guitarist Tsuneo Imahori and drummer Tatsuya Yoshida—two other legends on the Japanese scene. Unfortunately, poor sound once again marred what should have been an exhilarating set. Yagi's opening and closing a cappella pieces were absolutely lovely, the koto player first performing Polish legend Krzysztof Komeda's "Lullaby from Rosemary's Baby," from the composer's score to Roman Polanski's renowned horror film, and closing with another unannounced solo piece that was equally beautiful.

Unfortunately, however, once Imahori and Yoshida joined Yagi, the same problems that marred Quasimode's set ruined this performance as well. It's hard to know what the sound engineer was thinking, but with the soundboard placed in a particularly impractical spot, even placing plexi-glass baffles around the drummers couldn't stop them from completely dominating the mix. And it was particularly unfortunate for Yagi's set, as these were clearly three exceptional musicians, who all deserved far better.

Sunday, November 24: Living Room Concerts / Charles Lloyd Premiere

Fortunately, with his own sound engineer onboard, Charles Lloyd's evening performance—coming after another afternoon of six sets of living room concerts in three locations—fared far better than the previous evening at the Wrocĺsaw Philharmonic Hall.

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.

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