Garana Jazz Festival 2017

Nenad Georgievski By

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The program of the festival also included morning concerts that took place at the Văliug Catholic Church where local Romanian bands such as Mircea Tiberian & Marta Hristea and Arcuș Trio performed.

Several rising stars delivered noteworthy performances, like the Vasil Hadžimanov band who gave a great performance. The band sounded as tight as always and it gave the audience their all. The band consists of extraordinary virtuoso players and there were chops abound throughout the performance, but the band has grown beyond superfluous displays of virtuosity and its early Weather Report template. The set list was a mixture of upbeat and slower songs as well as improvisations. Apart from playing selections like "Zulu" and "Dolazim" from their last record, Alive, and one of Hadzimanov's most renowned compositions "Ohrid" the set, for the most part, consisted of new compositions that will find their place in a new album hopefully next year. This is a habit that Hadzimanov has to road test his compositions before he records them and he delivered wonderful gems of songs titled as "Hadji," "Milkin Fun" and "Tunnel." The performance of Nguyen Le with Ngo Hong Quang that followed elevated the excitement and the dynamics even further during the third evening. Le's recent projects seem to be not only diverse and unpredictable, but they are reflecting a multicultural world where anything is possible. He is a French born artist of Vietnamese origins and yet this perfectly sums up his colorful and multifaceted music that in a way reflects the Paris' diverse global musical culture and his desire to reconnect with his own Vietnamese origins and culture. Actually, Le's entire career has been predicated on cross-genre boundary busting and in return, this has yielded some fascinating musical hybrids throughout the years in his oeuvre where one of them is the project Ha Noi, a duet with Vietnamese singer and multi-instrumentalist Ngô Hong Quang. At Garana they were joined by Stéphane Edouard, a master percussionist who not only worked with Le on this project but on the Saiyuki record as well.

Le, who is a virtuoso master of the electric guitar on the path of the great Jimi Hendrix showcased his mastery of the guitar with which he easily melted both modern and traditional sounds, melodies and harmonies. In his hand, the guitar is not just an ax for showing off, but a whole orchestra as he dig deep into the wellspring of Vietnamese traditional songbook. The set list consisted of songs from the record that ranged from both quiet folk songs and ballads to dynamic funky songs augmented by Edouard's powerful and unique percussion to great effect. This virtuosic percussionist engaged in dialogues with the other two and sometimes he combined various percussion instruments so seamlessly as to suggest two players, not just one. On the more dynamic songs, he energized the music with thundering grooves that inspired Le to provide some jaw dropping rapid fire deliveries.

The overall feel was that this music was a cultural mélange and good fun that combined unusual arrangements and extraordinary musicianship. The whole set was simultaneously forward looking and rooted in tradition. In the midst of it, rain began to fall, but none of the people in the audience moved from their seats. That's how good it was.

As befits it, the festival featured jazz from around the globe and it welcomed Cuban pianist Omar Sosa's Quarteto Afrocubano. Dressed in vivid white garb he walked on stage slowly and played slowly on the piano and was backed by a very able and versatile band. His music is evidently inspired by Cuba's rich musical traditions which he married with a varied number of sources within the jazz spectrum and beyond. Within his music, there are traces of various strands of African music and its diaspora which he juxtaposes into something unique where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but its heartbeat is definitely Cuban. The band gave a rollicking performance with its diverse and imaginative repertoire where they played their wonderful compositions and also sang.

Defining what jazz is, for many, is a doomed effort from the very start, but naming and bringing together some of its enlightened virtues is not. For many who attended the Garana Jazz Festival, they could sense what bridges these virtues that jazz possesses together regardless of the multiplicity of guises that jazz always appears in: spontaneity, close listening, the moments when the balance between the planned and the unplanned shift from one second to the next. One who obviously embodies these qualities undoubtedly is guitarist Bill Frisell who along with his accomplices, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen treated the audience with music that shifted across barely detectable splices between compositions and improvised moments. One sure sign that something important is about to happen on stage is when there is an abundance of musicians in the audience. That evening the festival boasted its biggest attendance.

As the band took to the stage rather discretely they just got closer together, formed a circle and with the first sounds of Monk's "Pannonica" they continuously watched each other all throughout the performance almost seemingly unaware of the several thousand people in the attendance. That is why I got closer to the stage to watch how the close dialogue between these three people can create a mesmerizing music that resembled a continuous web of musical conversation.

The set list showed how varied and eclectic their selection was as it featured several covers by Paul Motian "Mumbo Jumbo," and another Monk composition "Epystrophy" while other tracks showcased an emphasis being given to tracks from Frisell's duet with Thomas Morgan "Small Town" with songs such as the title track, "Song for Andrew," It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago" (another Paul Motian Cover) and John Barry's "Goldfinger" among other tracks. Still, whatever they played it all sounded like Frisell as it spoke with his vocabulary. At the start, the music was seemingly gentle and fragile but soon it became warm and expansive and it permeated every corner of Poiana Lupului. The group has set a daring new model of creating innovative structures in the moment rather than just merely playing tunes and playing solos. Instead, it was all about feel and flow. Every note counted. Nearly all of the tracks had the quality of being a journey, with the players straying toward themes but rarely stating something with clarity.
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