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Garana Jazz Festival 2014

Garana Jazz Festival 2014
Adriana Carcu By

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Garana Jazz Festival
Wolf's Meadow
Garana, Romania
July 10-13, 2014

One of Europe's most visited festivals, taking place on a meadow over 300 ft. high in the Western Carpathians, just had its 18th anniversary. The lineup, a brand mark of the festival director, Marius Giura, combined again tradition with diversity, bringing together American jazz musicians such as Andy Sheppard, Tom Harrell, Joey DeFrancesco and Mike Stern, the Nordic jazz representatives Ulf Wakenius, Marius Neset, Arve Henriksen, Stian Westerhus, Jan Bang and Kimmo Pohjonen, as well as a few representative names of the Romanian jazz scene like Mircea Tiberian, Liviu Butoi, JazzyBit and others. The Woodstock-like atmosphere of the festival made up for the two rainy days at the beginning of the long weekend that attracted jazz lovers from 20 countries.

Thursday, July 10

Adam Bałdych Imaginary Quartet— The violinist Adam Bałdych, who was performing in Garana for the third time, opened the festival together with his band fellows—Paweł Tomaszewski, piano; Michal Baranski, double bass; and Paweł Dobrowolski, percussion—with a ballad of rasping tones of violin, mixing tenderness with aggression, that unfolded in large breaths sustained by the solid piano backing. Further on, the alternating of the piano stances rose in fluid crescendos with the languidness of the violin glissandos, creating an atmosphere of mystical romanticism. As the birds started flying low, the music took on tinges of nostalgia infused by the melodiousness of the double bass and the softness of the trumpet line. The steep rhythmical escalation, induced by the articulate drum work, inflamed the sound of the performance, adding the swing note to the medieval coloring of the themes. "Letter for E" brought tender tones of sorrow for the still deeply felt loss of fellow musician, Esbjorn Svensson. The show closed with "Village Underground" in a virtuous sound orgy, with a plethora of horse hair surrounding the double bass bow and a cloud of colophony rising from the bow of the violin that hit the chord to bring out a cry, a howl and a wail.

Andy Sheppard Trio Libero—The sound of Andy Sheppard's sax rose in floating communion with Michel Benita's double bass and Sebastian Rochford's drum work spacing the intervals between the instrumental lines, which were marked by the hushing touches of cymbal. The tender intensity of a warm summer rain brought by the cadence of the fingers on the snare drum gave a perfectly balanced act of poetical interaction of the three instrumental voices. The clear, profound bass line was pacing the rhythm of the flowery intros on the sax while the drum marked the passage with fine felt breaks. The performance moved on as an open dialogue with a strong melodious bass line. The sax line was progressing in a dusty, velvety modulation from lyrical to abstract, while the drum saraband rarefied by the bass line moved into a counterpoint transition that was leading back into melodiousness. The fine sax line was picking up the expectant melodic line in an ascending dialogue, falling then back upon itself to return in the generous rounds of an exultant final tune.

Dave Douglas and the Riverside Quartet—The trumpeter Dave Douglas brought to the Garana Festival, in a quartet formula this time, the Riverside Project conceived as a tribute to the music of Jimmy Giuffre, together with Chet Doxas on sax, Steve Swallow, an old companion of Giuffre's, on bass, and Jim Doxas on drums. The dynamic performance fused traditional American music distilled in modern improvisation, mingling remote tunes with a hymnal quality and ancient Appalachian tunes with the tradition of folk, R&B and jazz. The tall, clear trumpet line, the solid sax sustenance nuanced by the firm bass accents, and the steadily progressing drum work moved on in a self-induced swing, incorporating a whole world of musical heritage. The intricate sax melodies and the trumpet scalar progression moved on in a steady groove, bringing up surprising shifts, a limerick, a childish tune, an abstract breeze, a congruence of forest hums. The drum performance fueled by a pull/hold/draw-back rhythmical motion resulted in a growing inner tension—like a half step back that doubles the impact of the step ahead. The show closed with "Old Church New Paint," a somewhat funereal melodic line on bass with a refined drum solo, and a tinge of humor, a touch of New Orleans.

Marius Neset Quartet—The rising star of Nordic Jazz, saxophonist Marius Neset—together with his band mates Petter Eldh on double bass, Joshua Blackmore, drums and Jim Hart on vibraphone—brought to the festival pieces from the albums Golden Xplosion and Birds in a highly energetic profusion of musical sensitiveness and imaginative improvisational skills. The show exploded from the outset with minimalistic urgency to move on in wide counterpoints marked by the robust presence of the sax, fueled by the growing drive of the rhythm section. In full timbre the sax improvisation combined technique with inventiveness to render a performance that merged the traditional jazz tradition with Nordic heritage. The sax solo offered by Neset as an encore took the listener on an improvisational trip along the windy coasts of the North and among the deep green fjords. The raw tones were tamed by the refined nuancing, and the harsh accents mingled with the low whispers of the forest and loud cries of departing birds.

Friday, July 11

Elena Mindru Finnection—The Romanian vocalist Elena Mindru brought to Garana the combo of Sampo Hiukkanen, violin; Tuomas J Turunen, piano; Eero Seppä, double bass; and Anssi Tirkkonen, drums. Mindru opened the show with a Romanian jazz tune in a pleasant mood marked by fine nuancing and sustained by the compact backing of the instruments. In "Life" high-pitched accents were dissolved by the suave voice modulations, then taken over by the piano to be rarefied in improvisational highs, while "Bluebird" brought on a melodic theme in counterpoint progression amplified by the tense accents of the voice.

Ulf Wakenius Band—Ulf Wakenius on guitar, together with Lars Jansson on piano, Paul Svanberg on drums and Jesper Bodilsen on double bass, performed a showcase marked by high dynamics and jovial alertness. The harsh gliding riffs on the guitar and the firm tenderness that has become the Wakenius brand generated the inner tension that fuelled the swing. The imaginative variations on the tonic in "The Way You Look Tonight" were taken over in "Breakfast in Bagdad" by the alert rhythm section, driving on like a compact sonic front. "Hilda Smiles" by Lars Jansson started with the beautiful love theme, gradually gaining substance on the piano, unfolding in large ascendant waves weltered by the bass/drum section and then being taken over by the guitar in quiet, sentimental chords. The show closed with "Seven Days of Falling," another tribute dedicated to the lasting memory of Esbjørn Svensson. The sad piano theme was taken over by the guitar on long rueful riffs and developed into a quiet improvisation suffused with the sorrow of a loss beyond recall.

Joey Defrancesco Trio—Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond B3, trumpet and vocal, and his two band mates—Jeff Parker, guitar and George Fludas, drums—escalated the musical intensity of the evening by performing an incandescent show characterized by vigor and virtuosity. The firm organ tones emerged in rich complexity, specific to a guitar or accordion, and with the impact of a percussion instrument, in gliding pertinence and swinging conjunction with the background. With a jazz blues piece—"I Know My Baby She's Going to Jump Inside"—performed by voice and on the trumpet, Defrancesco offered his tribute to Miles Davis. The smoky dreaminess with harsh edges, the open codas and the distant tone plunges on the trumpet, and the "Bye Bye Blackbird" innuendos were mementos of his time spent with his lifelong model. The tune was picked up by the guitar in mirroring chords and further developed by the round drum work in a progressive conjunction that deepened the groove.

Arve Henriksen Band—The Norwegian super-group made of Arve Henriksen on trumpet and vocals, Jan Bang at live sampling, Stian Westerhus on guitar and Ingar Zach on drums, bought again the remote dreaminess of the North to the woods of Garana. Henriksen's celestial incantations on the trumpet and voice and Westerhus's telluric tearings were filtered and brought together by Jan Bang's subtle handling of harmony and rhythm. A light wind caressing the waters started the performance, the caves resounded with the distant roar of the approaching tempest that swept away the remnants of a tune. A new harmony opened with thunder strikes that coagulated around the bubbling sampled guitar gusts. The rhythmicity induced by the pedal moved into a compact sonic field; voices of the past rose and vanished in dissipated echoes: the trumpet was calling the ancient wood spirits that joined the nascent melody in a growing existential polyphony. The trumpet brought peace upon the tormented metallic percussion, the wind started scattering the heavy clouds, metal leaves were fluttering in the tall trees that bent clashing with the crystalline clink of translucent icicles, while the trumpet pierced the sky with a steel spear. The bow on the guitar, in large reverberations of sampled voices, was invoking the gods and quieting down the spirits. The heavy rain falling on Garana's hills moved from the meadow to the stage, while the guitar broke the acoustic barriers and freed the spirits decomposing the sound and deconstructing the word. In the silence following the storm the trumpet was calling the angels in high celestial voltas and quiet recesses of blue and velvety grey, chasing the clouds away and re-establishing the original peace.

Saturday, July 12

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