2013 Jazztopad Festival

John Kelman By

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When Turkiewicz took over Jazztopad in 2006, he had little experience with musicians, booking or festival organizing. But he was clearly bright and learned quickly, coming to the conclusion that he may not have had the kind of budget that many other festivals do; so, instead, he created other incenti0ves that, for musicians, have turned out to be just as attractive:

Turkiewicz has also striven to break down the wall between musicians and fans. While obvious approaches like post-show signings are not uncommon at other festivals, the idea of living room concerts, where fans were often sitting a meter or less from the artists, made that part of Jazztopad all the more intimate and integrated. Before, in between and after the sets the musicians mingled with the audience, creating something that recognized performance as something more collaborative:

2013 also represented the first time for both the Concerts in the Dark series and the Don't Panic! We're From Poland showcase:

There were other differences. One of the sad realities of most festivals is that the people who spend months organizing them rarely get the opportunity to actually experience them. Through some out-of-the-box thinking and a simple desire to experience the fruits of his labors, Turkiewicz could be seen at just about every event—in the case of the main shows at the city's Philharmonic Hall, usually front row and center:

Encouraging Charles Lloyd to put together a group to perform a new commissioned work—as is the case with many commissions— took years to go from inception to execution:

Monday-Wednesday, November 18-20: Concerts in the Dark and Movies on Jazz

Having missed the first weekend, it was a pleasure to spend the first three evenings getting acclimatized to the festival in a more relaxed fashion. The first stop? Coffee, with Turkiewicz and pianist Joachim Kuhn, who had apparently delivered a terrific show the evening before with his trio (drummer/tablaists Ramon Lopez and vocalist/guimbri, kalimba and molo player Majid Bekkas). it was an enlightenment, in itself, to meet the pianist who had played on so many important sessions, including one particularly important recording by Zbigniew Seifert (Man of the Light, MPS, 1977), just a few short years before the Polish violinist passed at the too-young age of 32, on the cusp of greater international fame. But it was the film presented at the local cinema, Transmitting (2013), that revealed even more about the pianist and his trio's journey through Morocco, where they played with local musicians and dissolved barriers of culture to create music that remains, to this day, truly universal.

It was great to watch cultures blend, and one of the more compelling ideas in the film was that the blues is a feeling, not necessarily an American form. With Kuhn, for example, the blues is more related to Bach, and there's a terrific segment where an oudist plays an original composition, "John Lee Hooker," on electric guitar, left-handed. Kuhn's trio performed some concerts in towns in the Sahara, which was another experience as the people there had not heard such music. But one thing the film made clear was that a lot of Arab and Africans may want to stay within their traditions, but just like westerners, there are plenty , who want to move on to improvised music. Overall, the film was a cross-cultural education in western music, as well Arabic and other African musics.

But, most important, was Kuhn's comment in a Q&A session that followed the film, where he said, "What I found out is that when you try to play with African musicians and try to play African, it doesn't work. When I study at home and try stuff it can only work if everyone remains themselves; for that reason , I play 100% what I played in that moment, as did the Africans, as we strove to take steps towards each other."

Prior to the screening, a saxophone/drums duo played the second Concert in the Dark (the first taking place the night before Jazztopad began, on November 13, a new film about Wayne Shorter, who was set to open the festival with his longstanding quartet the next evening. While the two players were good enough, for a free improvisation it came across as a little safe, an amiably swinging blues that could have gone farther, but didn't.

The next evening featured Dorothy Darr and Jeffrey Morse' s new film about Charles Lloyd, Arrows Into Infinity (2013), a nearly two-hour history of the famous saxophonist that went back to his earliest days with Chico Hamilton, his major breakthrough with Forest Flower (Atlantic, 1968), featuring a young Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Cecil McBee (soon to be replaced by Ron McClure) and through to his career revival after ten years in retirement, first with Michel Petrucciani and then through his association with ECM Records and its producer/head, Manfred Eicher that continues to this day.


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