3rd Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition

Ian Patterson By

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It was the playing of Joe Venuti and, a little later, Zbigniew Seifert, that lured Gabriel Terracciano from the field of classical music—which he had studied for eight years—to jazz and improvised music. His tastes, however, are much more eclectic, and he has played Middle Eastern, bluegrass, Latin, electronic and pop music as well. In 2014-2015 he toured Ghana with the Ghanaian National Symphony Orchestra. A leader of his own quartet, Terracciano can also be found in Brad Shepik's Balkan Peppers. Despite a broad musical palette, Terracciano's performance of Cole Porter's "Night and Day" and Cecil McBee's "Compassion" were rooted in the swing, blues and post-bop traditions, his tone very much influenced by the aforementioned Venuti. On the former, an unaccompanied section mid-tune showcased his fluidity and technical control, while an animated back-and-forth with Fortuna, a tried and tested jazz convention, provided some fun. On the post-bop/modal "Compassion," Terracciano blended poise and passion, allowing the excellent Mucha an extended solo spot before reclaiming centre-stage with another arresting solo. Seifert's "Turbulent Plover" seamlessly followed "Compassion," with a hike in the quartet's energy levels. Wania's feisty improvisation set the scene for Terracciano, who played with Venuti's grace and Seifert's swagger.

Semi Finals Day Two

Layth Sidiq

Iraq-born, raised in Jordan and currently based in Boston, Layth Sidiq is a classically trained violinist who has made an international career with his highly personal musical language -one that encompasses classical, jazz and Middle Eastern sonorities. Amongst many projects, Sidiq plays in Danilo Pérez' group The Global Messengers." For this performance Sidiq presented two tunes from his debut recording as leader, Son of Tigris. (2017) as well as Seifert's "Man of the Light." Haunting, Arabic melodic lines introduced "Aghaati" -Sidiqi's technical prowess matched by the emotional heft of his delivery. The cadence of Fortuna's rhythms mimicked Arabic frame drums, though Wania's intervention steered the quartet into more overtly jazz terrain -his playing clearly reflecting Sidiq's guiding microtonal colors. Sidiq's charging solo, part modal jazz burner, part keening Arabic exultation, commanded the attention. Without pause, Sidiq continued with "Eastern Waves," a ballad of aching lyricism where the drama in his playing was matched by the delicacy. Sidiq's keening wordless vocal, which concluded the composition, floated like a prayer on the wind. Seifert's uplifting "Man of the Light" provided an apt finale to Sidiq's set. The violinist's solo was thrilling, so it seemed odd to conclude with a drum solo over a violin- cum-piano vamp -the one almost clichéd jazz convention in an otherwise wholly original proposition.

Francisco Palazón González,

Madrid-born Francisco Palazón González is a musical all-rounder. Classically trained, he has only recently, since 2013 in fact, begun to explore other musical styles, including jazz, manouche jazz and flamenco. Two original compositions plus Seifert's "Quo Vadis" made up his set. Palazón González' harmonically striking intro to "The Walk" foreshadowed a folksy tune that swung between vibrant rhythmic mantra and soaring improvisation. Wania's tumbling solo led the quartet back to familiar rhythmic ground and, after passionate collective discourse, a gentle touchdown. The lively "Outside," infused with Iberian flavors, saw both Palazón González and Wania take impressive solos. The violinist's dramatic riffing fueled a rhythmically charged finale, the Spaniard signing off with a delightfully acrobatic musical figure. It was arguably on Seifert' "Quo Vadis" that Palazón González gave best account of himself, notably in his captivating unaccompanied intro—melodically and harmonically arresting—as well as in his impassioned soloing.

Amalia Obrębowska

Amalia Obrębowska only turned her attention to jazz and improvisation in 2013, although her affair with the violin began at the age of seven. Classical studies followed, but since that turning point in 2013 Obrębowska has juggled both idioms. As of 2017, Obrębowska began studying in the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. For this semi-final appearance Obrębowska offered two original compositions plus Seifert's "Turbulent Plover." The first composition, "Mind Traveler" saw Obrębowska hand the initiative early to Mucha and Fortuna, before wresting control with a seductive solo of free-flowing lyricism, her voice seeming to add a subtle harmonic edge to her playing. A quiet pocket ushered in Wania, who delivered a dashing solo. A joint violin and piano vamp served as the canvas for another tremendous solo from Fortuna. Obrębowska's interpretation of Seifert's powerhouse "Turbulent Plover" inevitably drew an animated solo from Obrębowska, though there was little that was predictable about her highly personal voice, powerful yet eschewing facile theatrics. Obrębowska's beguiling, unaccompanied intro to "Promien" set the tone for an engaging quartet journey that moved effortlessly from ballad to more rhythmically dynamic terrain. At whatever tempo, however, Obrębowska exuded lyricism of the most persuasive kind.

Benjamin "Benni" von Gutzeit

Born into musical family in Bochum, Germany, Benjamim von Gutzeit has played viola since the age of four, and has been an international touring musician since he was fourteen. Jazz soon caught his ear and he took Jazz Studies at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. A New York resident since 2010, von Gutzeit became the first violist to earn a Master's Degree from the Jazz Department of the Manhattan School of Music. He has been a member of the Turtle Island Quartet since 2012. For this semi-final, von Gutzeit chose Wayne Shorter's "Juju," Arthur Altman's jazz standard "All or Nothing at All" and Seifert's "Love in the Garden." Beginning with the jazz standard, von Gutzeit laid down an early marker with extended, lightly dancing solos either side of one from Wania. A highly melodic player, von Gutzeit demonstrated great finesse on the ballad "Love in The Garden." Though fluid, von Gutzeit placed more emphasis on melodic embellishment than displays of dazzling technique, and left room for a brief, but nicely weighted solo from Mucha. Without pausing, an unaccompanied viola feature formed a bridge to "Juju." On this more up-tempo tune, driven by the rhythm section, von Gutzeit showed a little more of his chops with some rapid runs, though there was always the sense of his serving the tune and not the other way around. Returning to the leading melody, the violist closed out with a final flourish -elegant as ever.

Greg Byers

The sole cellist of this year's semi-final, Greg Byers began studying the instrument at The Family Suzuki School of Rochester at the tender age of two and a half. Fast forward to 2010 and the Frost School of Music where Byers became the first person to double major in Instrumental Performance/Studio Music & Jazz on cello and bass, graduating Summa Cum Laude, no less. Byers leads his own projects as well as freelancing, and released his debut EP, Some Dark, Beautiful Morning in 2011. For this performance Byers began with the cello-piano composition "Falling Grace" by Steve Swallow. A soulful opening, falling neatly between blues and classical idioms was lent impetus by Wania's entrance. Byers upped the tempo, playing with controlled passion. When Wania soloed in turn, Byers switched to walking-bass, playing with a Charles Mingus-like intensity. Bowed cello drone announced Seifert's lament "Song for Christopher." With the drone on a loop, Byers embraced the haunting melody. Replacing the drone with a bass ostinato, Byers' bowing—with sympathetic, sotto voce support from the rhythm section—displayed a sensitive side to a musician who wears his heart on his sleeve. The original composition "Rubidium Mind," by way of contrast, was a stormy affair, with Byers on electric cello—strapped to his shoulders, away from his body—urging the rhythm section on. With a physical energy that translated to his instrument, Byers worked his strings feverishly, sounding like an electric rock guitarist. A closing rumble with Fortuna capped an eclectic performance of some substance.

Mario Forte

Algeria-born but a true world citizen, the much-traveled Mario Forte was appearing in his second Seifert Competition, having finished third in the second edition in 2016. Associate Professor of Music at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Mario is now based in New York City and has been a key member of Richard Bona's band, with whom he has toured widely. Forte also co-founded the Artempo Festival in 2015. Opening with a high-octane version of Seifert's "Turbulent Plover," Forte demonstrated not only tremendous virtuosity, but a bold harmonic concept as well, which kept Wania in particular on his toes. With such a short slot, Forte eschewed a breather and instead went directly into an unaccompanied violin solo, a bold, seemingly through-composed piece that veered between abstract and very concrete ideas. Without pausing, Forte ushered in the rhtyhm section for the final number, the original composition "Russian Doll." A fast-walking bass simmered as Forte and then Wania explored complex, post-bop terrain at breakneck speed. Switching to a swing rhythm, Forte employed his pedal board to effect a strangely synthetic sound -jazz-fusion for the twenty-first century. A looped pizzicato ostinato served as the foundation for a strummed/plucked solo—again, pedal-filtered—that felt like a completely unrelated composition. Still, for his breadth of imagination alone, never mind his virtuosic playing, this performance impressed on many levels.

The hall emptied and the judges retired to consider the twelve performances of the semi-finals. Several hours later all the musicians assembled to hear the results, announced by Michal Urbaniak. The five finalists selected to advance to the next day's finale were: Benjamin von Gutzeit; Layth Sidiq; Gabriel Terracciano; Mario Forte and Cécile Delzant.

Day Three: Final

The main hall of the Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music was fairly packed for the final -a completely different atmosphere to the more sparsely attended semi-finals. Janusz Jablonski once again introduced the judges and welcomed Agnieska Seifert-Beck, widow of Zbigniew Seifert, who rose to acknowledge the warm applause. Jablonksi also welcomed Daniel Trutt, whose family generously made available to the Seifert Foundation an archival recording of Zbigniew Seifert's short-lived band Variospheres in 1976, which was released as Variospheres: Live in Solothurn (Zbigniew Seifert Foundation, 2018). Finally, Jablonksi introduced the Dominik Wania Trio, who had performed brilliantly over the previous two days. The formalities over, the final got underway before an attentive audience.

Benjamin von Gutzeit

Von Gutzeit chose two jazz classics, Thelonious Monk's "I'm in You" and Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge." In between, the violist tackled Seifert's "Love in The Garden." On a feisty version of Monk's tune, von Gutzeit set down a marker with a swinging, extended solo. Wania followed suit before von Gutzeit and drummer Fortuna locked horns. Especially impressive was von Gutzeit's unaccompanied interpretation of "Love in The Garden" -looped drone and then pizzicato forming the backdrop to his soloing, that whilst technically striking, also spoke to the heart. "Inner Urge" served up von Gutzeit's most exciting soloing, though even at faster tempi the violist's articulation was always immaculate. An elegant solo from Wania led into a unison vamp that released Fortuna on another lively solo, before a brief return to the head.

Layth Sidiq
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