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

Adriana Carcu By

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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.

Brink Man Ship—featuring trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær, bass clarinetist Jan Galega Brönnimann, guitarist René Reimann, electric bassist Emanuel Schnyder and drummer Christoph Staudenmann, with everyone bringing electronics into the mix---was the second surprise of the festival; a group of young ambitious musicians who, by expertly combining direct sound with electronic processing, created an impetuous conglomerate defined as post modern urban jazz. Molvær's involvement in this project proved—as if proof were still necessary—the exceptional openness of a musician who can integrate with natural ease into a large variety of soundscapes. The group's rhythmic juxtaposition created a spatiality that made the sonic territory accessible—engulfing, even; a realm where the melodic cadences of the bass clarinet, alertly sustained by the rhythm section, built a pulsating background. Molvær's ethereal interventions lent the performance a profound, dreamlike quality. The sound of the trumpet coagulated into a sonic substance with an immediate impact: sounds generated image, image became movement. The trip began.

Saturday, July 14

Dave Holland's Prism—along with the veteran bassist, featuring Fender Rhodes pianist Craig Taborn, guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Eric Harland---started the third day with a performance of symphonic complexity. Elements of jazz fused with rock phrasing in a harmonic succession with narrative structures—a story unfolding through the asynchronous mechanisms of the drums, by the fluid touch of the bass chords, and through the ballad-like lyricism of the guitar.

The balance emerged, in Eubanks' "Evolution," in a fine-tuned progression from the geometrical structures on Taborn's keys, the long strokes of the bow on Holland's double-bass, and from the slaps on Eubanks' guitar chords, all sustained by the rainy sound of Harland's cymbals. The double bass marked the funk accents while the guitar transformed rhythm into sound. With compact passages, the drums commented on the transition to solo parts with almost classical virtuosity.



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