November 9-12, 2017
Jazz Jantar is one of the less well-known Polish festivals (outside of Poland), but it has been running in the northern port of Gdańsk for two decades, and is housed by Klub Zak, an arts centre that has roots stretching back 60 years. This might be the festival's 20th edition, but the collective memory of the club is hazy, and the archives less in evidence as the decades spool backwards to its old location. Having steadily built up, Jantar now spans 10 days, presenting mostly two (but sometimes one, or three) sets each evening, displaying a notable good taste via its three programmers. 'Jantar' refers to amber, for which this coast is renowned (but it's also Portuguese for 'dinner,' appropriately). The Zak sound is well-balanced, the room darkly atmospheric, and there's a buzzing café bar just across the foyer. Before your scribe arrived, folks had already been enjoying sets by Steve Lehman
, Peter Brötzmann
and Laura Jurd Dinosaur
, but there were still four more nights of heavy pleasure in store, before the fest finished.
The first observation is that mainline American jazz acts are happily seated beside maverick extremists (some of these also being American), and the contrasting blend works out just fine. On the Thursday, a pair of reasonably straight-ahead Stateside bandleaders shared the bill. Saxophonist Miguel Zenon
led his quartet with Luis Perdomo
(piano), Hans Glawischnig
(bass) and Henry Cole
(drums), delivering a firm set of their expected post-Coltrane, solo-heavy numbers, extended yet more-or-less unremarkable. It was the following performance by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire
's quartet that surprised, particularly following the leader's somewhat self- conscious and stilted premiere piece at Jazzfest Berlin, the previous week. Now, the quartet was found in a more assured state, thrusting with poise, and loosening up into some spirited extensions. Akinmusire was joined by Sam Harris
(piano), Harish Raghavan
(bass) and Justin Brown
(drums). The leader has a very broad range on his horn, unafraid to simply chug out a repeated figure, almost like a percussionist, and to talk into his tubes, particularly in the low registers, burbling and grumbling. As the set progressed, the interactions between the foursome became ever wilder, pushing hard with a cumulative sequence of increasingly free jazz-rooted solos. There's the sense that Akinmusire doesn't often let loose like this, more inclined as he is towards a cooler, more poised expression.
On Friday, the apparent tradition of opening with some hardcore Polish extremity was in place, as Chryste Panie (Christ, Lord) coaxed drones out of drum resonance, engaging in the absolute minimalism of a very low event horizon, a series of cymbal thwicks ending with a determined repeat. One of their two percussionists uses a baraban, a small folk drum that seems to have its origins in the north of Russia. Not that it's used for such purposes as anything approaching straight percussion, employed, as it seems to be, in the murk, as a generative signal for electronic perversions. Low blue and purple light casts a sickly, decaying corpse glow, almost completely dark, scarce in terms of both illumination and sonic activity. The mission is to shape a cumulative aura, improvising, but within a unanimously narrow field. If this needs to be named as jazz, then it's of the sort created by such combos as AMM, but in an electronicised guise.