3rd Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition

Ian Patterson By

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Italy-based French violinist Cécile Delzant studied at both the Royal College of Music of London and the Conservatory Giuseppe Verdi of Turin, yet despite years dedicated to studying classical violin, Delzant abandoned those studies to throw herself into jazz and improvised music, though folk music has also long been a passion. Opening with Seifert's fiery "Passion," Delzant gave a brief but articulate solo before handing the reins to Wania. The two traded back and forth, but it was really on the next two compositions that Delzant's musicality best shone through. On Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" Delzant's unaccompanied intro grabbed the attention, her harmonically rich lines paving the way for a sumptuously lyrical rendition of the famous tune. With the ease of lovers strolling through a park on a summer's day, the trio locked into Delzant's mindset as the violinist tasted every note she played. This was balladry at its most beguiling. For her final piece, Delzant chose "Bluebeard" by renowned Kraków film composer and jazz musician, Andrzej Trzakowski. A generous leader, Delzant carved out soloing space for the trio, though in competition conditions, naturally enough, Delzant showed more of her chops than she had on the first two numbers. At this faster tempo, with the rhythm section really cooking, Delzant cut loose, although there was always the sense of her music breathing, as opposed to being out of breath.

Youenn Rohaut

Like Zbigniew Seifert, French violinist Youenn Rohaut found early inspiration in the language of John Coltrane. Michael Brecker's long shadow also fell over Rohaut, as did that of Jean-Luc Ponty, but arguably of equal importance in shaping his musical world has been the rich folkloric tradition of his native Brittany, plus Irish and Turkish maqam traditions. In what was perhaps a bold move, Rohaut chose two Wayne Shorter compositions as frameworks for his musical vision, plus an untitled Seifert composition. A few technical glitches with leads took several minutes to iron out, which can have done little to settle any nerves he might have been feeling, but once he was underway Rohaut played with a confidence that made light of the competitive conditions.

A walking-bass rhythm and pizzicato melody on violin announced "Witch Hunt," sans piano accompaniment. Rohaut wasted little time in employing his pedal board to effect spacious, synth-like strokes, a characteristic soundscape that punctuated his quite lyrical solo. Musically more ambitious was Rohaut's interpretation of "Footprints," which, melodic head apart, bore little relation to the original. Once again, Wania sat out, allowing more space for Rohaut—and Fortuna—to explore, but Wania's acute harmonic sensitivity might have added depth to this essentially uncluttered rendition. The pianist returned for Seifert's tune, his comping alone lending wings to Rohaut, whose impressive solo, devoid of showboating, relied instead on narrative flow to captivate. The final word went to Fortuna, whose bustling, polyrhythmic solo made for a striking finale.

George Dimitriu

With two albums as leader and as a member of Kaja Draksler's octet, Romanian violaist, violinist and electric guitarist George Dimitriu came into the Seifert competition with a wealth of experience. Add to that his classical training and tours with The National Opera & Ballet Amsterdam and it's fair to say that Dimitriu is a rounded musician. On viola, Dimitriu began with Seifert's "Singing Dunes," an impressionistic number of understated lyricism. Dimitriu showed great control in the sustained higher registers of that number, but it was with his own two numbers that he really came into his own. There was emotional depth in his delivery on "Future Nostalgia," an elegant tune tinged with melancholy. With the trio lending gently bouyant support, Dimitriu embarked on a beautifully judged solo with singable melody at its core. There were straight-ahead elements to "Manipulation," with bass ostinato, close-knit ensemble play and vamps throughout, with Dimitriu saving his most expansive and fluid solo—articulate, elegant and above all emotive—to the last. Surprisingly perhaps, given the circumstances, the composition finished with a drum feature over a joint viola and piano vamp.

Marcin Halat

A graduate of the Faculty of Jazz and Popular Music in Katowice, Marcin Halat was a member of the renowned Atom String Quartet from 2013- 2015 and was making his second appearance at the competition, following his participation in 2016. He released his debut, On the Way (Sluchaj Foundation) in 2017, an album which provided two original tunes for this first semi-final. A sunny, folksy atmosphere colored "The Cheerful Time," an appealing tune that nevertheless had plenty of edge in the tensions between piano and violin. Halat's playing, bright, precise and flowing, brought a suitably uplifting response from Wania, although the most fertile—and exciting—ground lay in their contemporaneous dialogue. Halat went up a gear on Seifert's "Coral," his bold attack maintaining a balance between tension and release. Once more, Wania, Mucha and Fortuna provided intuitive support, empowering Halat with their solid foundations and passionate interplay. With a fine sense of stagecraft Halat saved the best to last, the dramatic intro to "Invitation," a foretaste of the storm to come. Flirting between lyricism and abstraction, Halat then opened the floodgates to a tumultuous quartet passage, his searing violin at the heart of an energetic collective performance. The ending of this relatively short composition was sudden and more dramatic than the composition's opening, leaving the lingering impression that Halat had still much more to relate.

Gabriel Terracciano
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