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Garana Jazz Festival 2013

Garana Jazz Festival 2013
Adriana Carcu By

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Garana Jazz Festival
Wolf's Meadow
Garana, Romania
July 11-14, 2013

For four days each summer, a village in the Western Carpathians becomes the Mecca for the Romanian jazz fans, and an ever-growing number of Europeans. For the 17th time the Bohemian colony Garana (Wolfsberg is its German name) has hosted an event of growing importance in the European jazz landscape. Each year thousands of music lovers take the paths of the mountain to gather at the Wolf's Meadow, some 3,300 ft. high, to join a celebration of remarkable uniqueness. For the fans and musicians alike, the fast-changing mountain climate and chilly nights are just the touchstones marking the worthy. This year the festival featured an illustrious lineup, bringing together long- accomplished masters of the genre like Charles Lloyd, Bill Frisell and John Surman, and musicians of excellence: Zakir Hussain, Eric Harland, Arild Andersen, Paolo Vinaccia, Bugge Wesseltoft and Magnus Ostrom. The strong new generation of musicians like Pawel Kaczmarczyk and In The Country were well represented, together with a well assorted lineup of Romanian artists, among whom were vocalist Luiza Zan and saxophonist Nicolas Simion.

Thursday, July 11

Bill Frisell's Big Sur Sextet—Bill Frisell, guitar; Jenny Scheinman, violin; Carrie Rodriquez, violin; Eyvind Kang, violin; Hank Roberts, cello; Rudy Royston, drums—opened the festival with "A Beautiful View," from the guitarist's Big Sur (Okey Records, 2013); Big Sur, California being the place where Frisell drew his inspiration for this project.



The delicate guitar chords followed the generous unfolding of a waltz led by fine drum work, creating an airy atmosphere of floating daffodils. On "The Animals," the string section, in a compound of atonalities that ended in a pulsing harmony, paced up with the country touches of "Somewhere," just to decompose into sonic particles which gathered into a new cadence. The delicate tones of the guitar dominated the fine thread of the performance in a quiet progression, resulting in a dense polyphonic conglomerate that wrapped around it. The jovial dialogue between the string section and the guitar ebbed into atonal meanderings brought back to the riverbed by the strong drum accents. The guitar chords diminished like the crystal waters condensing into the low mists that bathed the Garana hills.

Charles Lloyd's Sangam—Charles Lloyd, saxophones, tarogato, piano, percussion; Zakir Hussain, tabla, voice, percussion; and Eric Harland, drums, percussion, piano—gave a sovereign performance of rare musical complexity. The combined virtues of the musicians created a multitudinous soundscape ranging from the lingering tones of incantation sung, by Hussain, to stormy sonic attacks led by the pertinent inflections of Lloyd's saxophone under the fluid cadence of the rolling drums.



Lloyd's flute arabesques that were embedded into the intricate tabla work, reaching at times the coherence of a continuous sound, became a floating aria of oriental hues. Lloyd's overwhelming power of expression was masterfully enhanced by the artist's keen sense of nuancing, while his drum work and piano adagios, counterbalanced by the archaic rhythmical platform, created a sonic universe in which worlds of music melted only to be created again. Hussain's performance was balanced by an alternation of depths and heights, which gave the show a tri-dimensional quality.

The Percussion Ensemble Prezent, with its leader—Romanian drummer/percussionist Mario Florescu, brought a jubilant tone of freshness to the festival. The group, made up of his eight students playing percussion, vibraphone and keyboards, engaged in a steady groove, marked by concentrated solos. Florescu's performance on percussion developed gradually into a ramified rhythmic corolla augmented by his perfect dosages of pauses.

The Romanian Peter Sarosi Azara—Peter Sarosi, piano, keys; Joo Sebastyen, bass; Laurentiu Zmau, drums—joined by Cuban percussionist Gilberto Ortega Torres, gave an explosive performance with Caribbean flair. Peter Sarosi's light touch of the keys and excellent phrasing pitched up the groove. The ongoing balance was energized by the change of moods provided by the well-placed percussion breaks.

Friday, July 12

Another Romanian band, Irina Popa & the Sinners—Irina Popa, vocals; Cornel Cristei, keys; Iulian Vrabete, bass; Relu Bitulescu, drums—opened the second day of the festival with a balanced performance. Popa's voice, preserving reminiscent pop inflections, brought in the right amount of nuancing and roundness to keep the dice rolling. A vibrant ''My Funny Valentine" marked the peak of the performance.

The Arild Andersen Trio—Norway's Arild Andersen, double bass; Scotland's Tommy Smith, saxophone; and Italian expat/Norwegian- resident Paolo Vinaccia, drums—provided a highly synergistic performance with a perfect fusing of tone and pace. Andersen, playing on a borrowed instrument (his Vector double bass got damage during the travel), brought the firm, melodic smoothness of his hands to a perpetual dialogue, telling a story of their own, counterbalanced by the dense texture of the saxophone tones and enhanced by the drum architecture.



In "Reparate," VInaccia sampled in the bluish hues of the Nordic hills on the tender touches of cymbals. Smith's strong phrasing added the green touch, while the bass, mirrored by the smooth progression of the cymbals, carried the story into the distant mists again. "Mira" engulfed the audience in velvety whirls of dreaming. "Dreamhouse" closed the performance with vibrant tones of nostalgia.

Romania's Luiza Zan Project—Luiza Zan, voice; Rick Condit, saxophone; Gyarfas Istvan, guitar; Berkes Balazs, double bass—once again teamed vocalist Zan with her ex-music school teacher Condit for a high-standard performance of classic jazz themes.



Zan's warm and vibrant performance brought in the right amount of playfulness to make it light and easygoing. The rhythm section picked up the mood by providing a solid platform for improvisation and a mutually inspiring dialogue.

John Surman Valhalla—John Surman, saxophones; Erlend Slettevoll, piano; Terje Gewelt, bass; Tom Olstad, drums—a collaboration of the British expat (now living in Norway) with three Norwegian musicians brought a new formula marked by jovial tones, deep coloring, and a constant inner combustion. Surman's performance was perfectly sustained by the compact interaction between bubbling bass accents, ongoing drum work and floating piano accents. Surman's complex performance filled the chilly night with a gust of warm air and blue light while touching territories trod by ancient gods. As parents carried their sleeping children away, the sounds became lighter, the sax tones acquired harmonium quality and the inner fire lay dormant.

Saturday, July 13

The Israeli Peter Wertheimer Quartet—Peter Wertheimer, saxophones; Nachum Pereferkovich, piano; Guy Ben Barak, drums; Edmond Gilmore, bass— performed a solid, exact jazz session with melodic bass successions complemented by stormy attacks on the snare drum. The saxophone's narrative thread took sudden plunges into the abstract, generating a sweeping drive in conjunction with the dialogue of the rhythm section, in which the piano breaks of tonality complemented the bass chord taps to culminate in a honest drive.

Poland's Pawel Kaczmarczyk Audiofeeling Band—Pawel Kaczmarczyk, piano; Grzech Piotrowski, saxophones; Maciej Adamczak, double bass; Dawid Fortuna, drums—did not have to wait long after the launch of its album, Complexity in Simplicity (ACT Music, 2009), for the enthusiastic reactions to its introverted yet extremely spectacular style.



The concert in Garana started with a tall, clear sax voice with airy intervals, persuaded by the strong rhythm section to engage in a vibrant dialogue moving through the valleys and peaks of sound. The urgent cries of the sax mounted scaffolds of sound moving onto platforms of pure attacks on the note, where the inner dynamics were enhanced by the well-paced counterpoints. Abstract passages alternated with intense narrative gems where Kaczmarczyk's liquid tones on the piano, drawn from the harmonic depths, surfaced in floods of pure melody. The show went down like oil.

From Lithuania, the Dainius Pulauskas Group—Dainius Pulauskas, piano, synthesizers; Valerijus Ramoska, trumpet, flugelhorn; Rimantas Brazaitis, tenor saxophone; Alexander Raichenok, alto saxophone; Domas Aleksa, bass; Linas Buda, drums—has long been well-known on the festival scene. The group's breakthrough came with the release of Penetration (Partitura, 1997), its well-structured fusion of instrumental sounds with electronic devices brought a vivid soundscape to the day, populated with mixed beats, fine piano coloring, solid brass work and melodic drums.

Bugge Wesseltoft's solo piano concert once again brought the Nordic spirit back to the middle of the Carpathians. In a more classical mood this time, the pianist's long breaths and keen adagios, pearly progressions and abrupt falls gave the performance a magical touch. Torrents of powerful attacks on the keys alternated with moments of pensive respite and large meditative indents, in which thoughts were free to wander, exploring each and every nook and hint of the soundscape or just letting go to start a trip of self-exploration. The pianist's perfect sense of timing and the natural chromatic progressions made the recital a celebration of pure sound.

Also from Norway, In The Country—Morten Qvenild, piano; Roger Arntzen, double bass; Pal Hausken, drums—was the killer show of this year's Garana festival. The most praised quality of good music—being able to transport an audience to realms of thought and perception—was accomplished to such an extent that during the show little was left to note or remember of the technical execution. The set started with an atonal piano cadence in counterpoint with the bass/drum section, and by the time the sounds dissipated in successive downpours, augmented by the heavy step on the bass drum, the trick was done. As the head note became lyrical, the chill of the mountain night vanished, leaving behind scattered leaves on a solitary country road, a blast of wind and a peal of thunder, followed by lights that gradually changed from red to white. When the deep texture of the piano track doubled in intensity and the high pitches were echoed by the bass, all these things became a whirl of sound and color that had, at its center, the music in one of its most accomplished forms.

Sunday, July 14

The three young Romanians of JazzyBIT—Teodor Pop, piano, Hammond organ, synthesizer; Mihai Moldoveanu, bass; Szabo Csongor-Zsolt, drums, percussion—started the evening with an alert exchange of mixed beats followed by smooth glissandos on the Hammond that rendered the performance with an easygoing Caribbean flair. Some of the tracks belonged to the album Touch the Sky, to be released later in the year. Funk and blues rhythms treated in a jazzy manner gave the performance a smooth touch.

Romania's Nicolas Simion Trio, Crazy World—Nicolas Simion, saxophones; Eugen Gondi, drums; Sorin Romanescu, guitar—brought a solid number that gradually moved from the classic jazz structure into the more sophisticated architecture of new music.


Simion's raw texture, drawn from Romanian folklore, grafted onto the supple rhythmical environment and gave the performance a harsh granulation, fueling the dynamics. The sharp edges and the unexpected turns of the saxophonist, sustained by smooth drum work and the guitar's firm yet melodious replicas complemented the soundscape, providing it with the necessary roundness.

Bugge Wesseltoft's Electric Trio came to Garana as a reduced formula of the Bugge and Friends show featured the previous year. Joined by saxophonist Ilhan Ersahin and percussionist Joe Claussell, Wesseltoft gave a nervous performance in an atonal progression of cries of dying birds, submerging ships, fireworks and air raids.

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