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Garana Jazz Festival, Garana, Romania, July 12-15 2012

Garana Jazz Festival, Garana, Romania, July 12-15 2012
Adriana Carcu By

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Garana Jazz Festival
Garana, Romania
July 12-15, 2012
The 16th edition of the Garana open-air Jazz Festival gathered over 5,000 jazz lovers in a glade called the Wolf's Clearing, in the southern Carpathians. The weather conditions were excellent—a factor that should not be taken for granted; in Garana, it has rained during each of the last 11 editions. The lineup, expertly selected, brought over 50 musicians with a wide diversity of gender and style in front of an enthusiastic audience. Each of the four days brought a good mixture of classic jazz, represented by guitarist John Scofield and bassist Dave Holland, and Brit Jazz from Portico Quartet, mingled with a good portion of Nordic Jazz performed by pianists Tord Gustavsen and Bugge Wesseltoft , saxophonist Trygve Seim, and Nils Petter Molvaer.

Thursday, July 12

The festival was opened by Iordache—a Romanian septet with saxophonist Mihai Iordache, trumpeters Sebastian Burneci and Florian Radu, guitarist/keyboardist Toni Kuehn, guitarist Dan Alex Mitrofan, double bassist Utu Pascu and drummer Tavi Scurtu. The set developed to a compact crescendo, optimally sustained by the attacks of the brass section. The dynamics were fueled by the melodic peaks of the guitar and the bass/drums section. A fine rhythmic balance marked a transition from the stern meter of "Triange" to the funky beat of "One Life Left" and "Recycle," where the firm tone of Iordache's saxophone reached minutely chiseled gracefulness.

Polish pianist Sławek Jaskułke appeared next in a solo performance, its contemplative mood similar to pianist Keith Jarrett, likewise combining classical elements, which sometimes anticipated Gustavsen's show, later in the festival. Jaskułke's subdued, minimalist energy, combined with harmonic touches, unfolded in wide surges, uniting themes in a growing rhythmical recurrence, like the progressive motion of waves rolling onto the shore from an ever-increasing tide.

John Scofield's Hollowbody Band—which featured, along with Scofield, fellow guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, bassist Ben Street and drummer Bill Stewart—opened the series of legendary musicians performing at this year's festival with a show of astounding fluidity. Like everything well done, the performance of these exceptional musicians impressed through their ease and fluency, the whole set suggesting the well-oiled cogs of a complex musical gear. The almost organic interaction of the instruments created an ardent dynamic background excellently sustained by the polyphonic harmony. This feeling of musical comfort was augmented by the liquid tones from Scofield's guitar—which, in perfect conjunction with counterpart Rosenwinkel, drove the performance through stimulating, reflective and even humorous contexts. Scofield's solos, perfectly sustained by the rhythm section, attained the purity of a sonata. Adrian Gaspar Trio—pianist Adrian C. Gaspar, bassist Benjamin Labschuetz and drummer Moritz Labschuetz—marked the first surprise of the festival. The Romanian pianist, who lives in Austria, delivered, together with his band mates, a solid performance with a vital, but nonetheless sensitive impact, combining harmonic successions typical for classic jazz with well-placed elements of pop fusion.

Friday, July 13

The second day opened with Mario & The Teachers, featuring drummer/percussionist Mario Florescu, keyboardist Radu Rotaru and flautist Corina Ardelean. The Romanian trio delivered a well-structured show sustained by a solid yet imaginative rhythmic structure. Ardelean largely carried the melody with the alertness and precision of a silver thread. The pieces, clearly structured on the Romanian heritage that streamed through the whole set like a current of harmonic energy, combined traditional elements with those of jazz and rock in well-balanced proportion.

The Edgar Knecht Quartet followed, featuring pianist Edgar Knecht, bassist Rolf Denecke, and drummers/percussionists Stephan Emig and Tobias Schulte. Knecht possessed a charming presence, his candor and openness permeating the floating ease of his music. His ancestral heritage—the main source of inspiration for the German pianist and composer—was approached and processed with such creative finesse that the themes gained an autonomous harmonic and rhythmic structure, becoming compositions in their own right. What streamed through the process was the swinging along to the waltz, called schunkeln (practiced at German folk festivals as a sign of musical kinship)—a swinging to which the audience gave in, unawares. "Heises Kathreinle" and "Es war ein König in Tulla" enveloped the audience in a playful swirl of satin and lace, their rhythmic structures gradually taken over by a more abstract jazz formula. The inspired alternating of the percussionists underlined the roundness of the piano line, which was accompanied by stormy attacks of double bass, fading into a prolonged glissando in "Fenia's Lullaby."

Portico Quartet—saxophonist Jack Wyllie, drummer Duncan Bellamy, bassist Milo Fitzpatrick and hang player/percussionist Keir Vine—is the flagship of modern Brit Jazz, a genre coming up strongly in the European jazz landscape. Awaited with ardent anticipation, the quartet came, saw...but did not quite convince. The superb characteristic of Portico Quartet lies in the ineffable quality of its sound, obtained through exquisite processing along with the lightness of the hang, which lends a Caribbean touch to the music. Its music represents British club culture par excellence; with an average age that is hardly over 25, the group possesses an astounding intellectual quality, usually implying a cumulative musical experience of decades.

The group's sonic drive was profoundly elaborate, and seemed to be the result of a musical maturity that normally would take just as long. All of these qualities were somehow hardly discernable at the Garana festival. The electronic element was predominant, and the shortness and frugality of the set did not do justice to the real value this group is putting into the world of jazz. Due to the timbre processing, the performance acquired a pronounced interstellar quality with isolated melodic inserts—briefly emerging, only to disappear again into the primordial bubble. The urgency of the execution was reminiscent of wind gusts menacing the progress of Macbeth's forest. The reason for this remarkable quartet's atypical performance is unclear; until next time (which will be in autumn at Germany's Enjoy Jazz Festival), Portico Quartet can still be enjoyed via the three commercially available recordings released since 2007.

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