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3rd Zbigniew Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition

Ian Patterson By

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Semi Finals Day One

Master of ceremonies Janusz Jablonski of Polish National Radio introduced the backing trio for the competition. Pianist Dominik Wania, bassist Max Mucha and drummer Dawid Fortuna are three of the most respected jazz musicians in Poland. Collectively, they have worked with Tomasz Stańko, Zbigniew Namyslowski, Janusz Muniak, Maciej Obara, Piotr Damasiewicz, Anna Maria Jopek, Ledsek Modzser, Aga Zaryan and Pawel Kaczmarczyk, to name but a handful—in short, a who's who of Polish jazz spanning over fifty years of history. Suffice it to say, the twelve finalists were in excellent hands. On day one, six musicians presented three pieces each, one of which had to be a composition by Zbigniew Seifert.

Tadas Dešukas

Lithuanian violinist Tadas Dešukas' background in jazz, rock, electronic, contemporary folk and classical came through in a fine performance on electric violin of very contemporary hue. Dešukas stamped his personal mark on Seifert's "Turbulent Plover" with a solo spare in notes but big on atmosphere, his long, woozy notes delivered with painterly gravitas. Without pause, Dešukas embarked on an unaccompanied exploration, where looped drone formed the backdrop to a solo of dark lyricism. Silencing the drone, Dešukas played a lulling pizzicato melody with deft touch. This arresting pizzicato bled into "Sprout," the rhythm section's infectious, slow-funk groove providing the canvas for Dešukas seductively measured solo. Wania followed suit, upping the energy levels, before handing back to Dešukas, who's snaking, bluesy improvisation once again eschewed show-stopping fireworks in favor of raw, from-the-gut emotion.

Cécile Delzant

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

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