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Jazztopad 2014, Three World Premieres

Ian Patterson By

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Jazztopad is the place where you can experience something that you have not heard before. The idea is to put on something that is not usually seen in jazz clubs. —Piotr Turkiewicz
Wroclaw, Poland
November 13-15, 2014

Jazztopad enters its second decade with confident stride. The festival has come a long way in the first ten years, evolving, experimenting and growing as any good festival should. In 2014, Jazztopad stands as an internationally renowned festival with a clearly defined ethos, one that combines a strong respect for the traditions and roots of the music with a progressive vision that provides a platform for the contemporary and innovative.

The name Jazztopad translates as 'Jazz in November." It's maybe not the most inspired name but for the historic city of Wroclaw it has simply become synonymous with first-rate music. Previous editions of the festival have seen jazz heavyweights such as Wayne Shorter, Charles Lloyd, Sonny Rollins, Jack DeJohnette and Bill Frisell all grace the stage of the Wroclaw Philharmonic Hall.

If American jazz icons have consistently performed at Jazztopad, so too has the cream of Europe's practitioners, such as Enrico Rava, the late Kenny Wheeler, Bobo Stenson and John Surman. The vibrant Polish jazz scene has always featured prominently at Jazztopad, with the Polish Jazz Showcase a well established annual element.

In the last three years Jazztopad has cast its net wider still. Through its collaboration with Korea Arts Management Service (KAMS), Jazztopad has brought some outstanding Korean jazz/improvising ensembles to Wroclaw -a reminder that jazz is, and always been, universally appreciated.

Jazztopad has always embraced jazz traditions in their diverse guises but under the guidance of Piotr Turkiewicz—Artistic Director since 2008—the festival has developed a truly distinctive personality. Turkiewicz took over the reins with clear ideas on the direction in which he wanted to steer the festival: "I thought it would be great to have new commissioned pieces in the festival to add an element of celebration. Program-wise it should be special. Jazztopad is the place where you can experience something that you have not heard before. The idea is to put on something that is not usually seen in jazz clubs."

In an age when too many jazz festivals serve up the same old same old it's refreshing to find a festival committed to promoting the creation of new music. "Jazztopad provides a space and a platform for artists to do something new," explains Turkiewicz. "When I start talking with the artists I tell them we have a symphony orchestra, we have a choir, a chamber orchestra, a cello quartet and string quartet. They have so many options to choose from and what I hear from the artists is that it's not very often that they have this opportunity."

The roll call of artists who have premiered specially commissioned works at Jazztopad is impressive: Piotr Damasiewicz (2008); Terje Rypdal, Kenny Wheeler (2009); John Surman, Nikola Kołodziejczyk (2010); Fred Hersch, Uri Caine (2011); Heo Yoon-Jeong/Aram Lee /Oleś Brothers, Benoit Delbecq (2012); William Parker, Tony Malaby and Charles Lloyd (2013).

For all these commissions, with the exception of Charles Lloyd's concert, the composers wrote music for jazz and classical ensembles combined, be they Symphony or Philharmonic Orchestras, or string quartets. This year, Jazztopad presented three world premieres by Nate Wooley, Wadada Leo Smith and Erik Friedlander.

More and more, these premieres and the international showcases have come to define the essential character of the eleven-day Jazztopad program. In the first of two articles, All About Jazz covers the three world premieres at Jazztopad 2014. In the second article, Henning Bolte covers the Polish, Turkish and Korean jazz showcases.

Day One, 13 November: Nate Wooley, Megan Schubert & the Festival Cello Ensemble: Psalms From Hell

Psalms From Hell may sound like a Frank Zappa satire on religious music but in fact, Nate Wooley's composition for trumpet, cello quartet and soprano was inspired by four lines from poet William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

"The pride of the peacock is the glory of God
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God
The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God
The nakedness of woman is the work of God."

In a pre-concert talk with Wooley and soprano Schubert, Wooley said that his composition was not in any way religiously inspired. Rather, by way of mundane explanation—as he himself put it—he simply liked Blake's words. Both artists spoke of the challenges of being commissioned to write music as well as improvising during a composed piece. Schubert perhaps summed up best the sense of risk and adventure involved: "Being given carte blanche is one of the scariest places to be."


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