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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

Tiberian/Dahlgren/Betsch "Both Sides of the River" feat. Liviu Butoi—The long established trio formula made up by the Romanian pianist Mircea Tiberian and the two American musicians, Chris Dahlgren on double bass and John Betsch on drums, presented mainly pieces from the recently released album Both Sides of the River, (Tiger Records, 2013). The show started with Tiberian's composition "Everybody Likes Dogs," in a slight progression from the gong percussion to the bright fusion of instrumental lines. The free interaction deepened the feeling of immediateness just to emerge then into a rich theme with generous resonance and a swaying natural balance. The next composition of the pianist's, "So Simple," started with a suave theme in a crystal clear resonance with an edge, something that marks the artist's sonic brand and which gave an elusive touch to his performance. The tender bass line was tinged by the cymbals while the fine touch of the delicate bars of a music box brought the minute resonances into a realm of dreaminess, swerving into abstract and leading free musical association. The next number was dedicated to the memory of Charlie Haden, who had passed on that day—long riffs of sorrow poured into the bass opening line, which then were transposed into the sliding tones brought by the bow, escalating and mingling with the piano and the drum work and reaching hymn quality. The Romanian flute and saxophonist Liviu Butoi joined the trio on flute with light, tender touches that created a floating sonic environment that was then surrounded by a halo of isolated cymbal touches and bass resonances. Later on Butoi gave the whole measure of his talent and musical skills by enhancing the performance with low tones of the baritone saxophone in a groove mingling gravity with playfulness.

Pedro Negrescu Trio—The Romanian/Hungarian trio—made of Pedro Negrescu on double bass, Gabor Cseke piano, and Andras Mohay drums—brought a good jazz show with themes of a distinct sound brand marked by a clear romantic touch, which was underlined by the piano's pearly touches. The drums fed the fused harmonies and the imaginative improvisation. The finely dosed and skillfully nuanced double bass line was changing the mood of the theme in the best Mingus tradition. The vivacious pulsation of the melodic growth and the harmonic augmentations were alternating with reflexive passages that generated an entertaining drive.

Kimmo Pohjonen—The Finnish accordionist, sustained by Tuomas Norvio, sound design and Antti Kuivalainen light design, brought to the Wolf's Meadow—the clearing in the wood where the festival is taking place each year—a performance of astounding vitality, combining the classical tradition with folk heritage, distilled in powerful compositions which were accompanied by a spectacular stage show. From the solemnness and amplitude of Bach chorales to the ancient resonances drawn by means of percussion from the accordion bellows, the performance was an act of virtuosity exploiting the full capacity of the instrument and displaying to the fullest the artist's capacity to perform a staggering show. The use of electronic devices altered its traditional sonority bringing out tones of prodigious expressiveness and deep harmonic richness while the voice of the musician, calling up old rites and incantations, enhanced the impact and expressiveness of the performance to the maximum, while at the same time setting free the inner musicality.

The Crimson Projekct—With two basses, two guitars and a double set of drums the Crimson Project brought to the festival the largest group of musicians, uniting three of the legendary band King CrimsonAdrian Belew, guitar; Tony Levin, bass; Pat Mastelotto, drums—with three younger musicians—Markus Reuter, guitar; Tobias Ralph, drums; Julie Slick, bass—in a superlative lineup. The musicians performed pieces from the 1980s to mid-1990s, alternating the typical thunderous rock sound with softer tunes played in a balladic manner. The interpretation, in the best progressive rock tradition, added influences from jazz and electronic music to the strong rock base, re-creating the intellectual, dreamy atmosphere which gave King Crimson its specific sound and leaving, at the same time, places for improvisations in a contemporary manner.

Sunday, July 13

Stian Westerhus—The show of the iconoclastic and highly intuitive Norwegian guitarist Stian Westerhus seemed to absorb the ancient environment of the Romanian Carpathians he has been inhabiting for three days and to render it back to the audience in a "processed" form. The dream started with a whisper, a sigh and a tear, when a call from the past broke in—a menace, a thunder. The abyss opened then to engulf the present and bring out the music in its essentials. The sounds were doubled by echo and started to pulsate in the rhythm of the heart. The waves rolled in fast-growing sound streams that were scintillating with energy. A clock tick started measuring the distance between the stars, the depth of the ocean and the length of a note, the amplitude diminished and the sound became silence, to rise again in pulsating undulations as the bow touched the chords. Hard reverb riffs were sliding in coils, perforating the sound canvas which fluttered with the forceful whiffs of a departing train. Tall slaps forced together sounds belonging to separate spheres and times, carrying along the history of being. The sighs turned into loud wails loaded with the burden of existence, the waters quieted down to follow the flow of life that brought in the melody.

JazzyBit—Performing at the festival for a second year in a row, the young musicians—Teodor Pop, piano, Hammond, synthesizer; Mihai Moldoveanu, bass; and Szabó Csongor-Zsolt, drums, percussion—made again the proof of a solid musical grounding providing a substantial basis for the creative improvisation style. The lightness of the show, residing in the height of the piano chords and the specific rhythmicity, brought in a Caribbean atmosphere alimented by the bass and drums in a well timed concordance, allowing for imaginative variations in intensity and depth. The free launch on the piano keys with gliding harmonies, which withdrew at intervals just to reemerge in spectacular peak, charged the characteristic playfulness without altering the well structured melodic design of the pieces.

Tom Harrell Colors of a Dream feat. Esperanza Spalding—Although performing on an open air scene, the quintet—Tom Harrell, trumpet, flugelhorn; Jonathan Blake, drums; Wayne Escoffery, tenor sax; Ugonna Okegwo, double bass; and Jaleel Shaw, alto sax, generated that state of well-being experienced when good music is played in a jazz club. With a solid swing backing and a compact brass section, the tunes poured on as from a well oiled jazz machine. The trumpet sound came warm and serene with that quiet assuredness of experience, incorporating the newness and tradition in a meeting of contemporaneity in felicitous communion. The sax line emerged in fluid smoothness like a melodious embrace, leaning finely on the bass/drum section as if on a rhythm canopy. Allegoric drum solos were marking the rhythmical peaks of a compact performance. Esperanza Spalding performed solely a vocal part. The artist brought in a clear voice, with a slightly smoky coloration, and a lull that smoothed the legatos and the passages between the intervals, enhancing the performance with two moments of vocal delectation.

Mike Stern/Bill Evans Band feat. Dennis Chambers & Tom Kennedy—Performing in Garana for the third time, the guitarist Mike Stern, brought along the saxophonist Bill Evans, Tom Kennedy on bass and Dennis Chambers on drums, in a jazz-fusion formula that electrified the audience. With his instrumental versatility and the unabashed improvisational energy, Mike Stern hit the strings in a cross-genre show, bringing together funk rock and jazz with a joyful alertness that was both delightful and entertaining. The bass line, slip-slapping in a manner reminiscent of Level 42's Mark King, fueled the drive in perfect communication with the drum. In Stern's composition "Out of the Blue," the theme on guitar was taken over by Bill Evans on soprano sax, the clear voice of the instrument expanding its melodiousness into an inspiriting groove that closed yet another memorable edition of a jazz festival in the wild Carpathians.

Photo credit: Markus Kaesler


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