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Henning Bolte By

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Jazztopad Festival
Witold Lutoslawski National Forum of Music
National Forum of Music, Club Mleczarnia
November 21-25, 2018

Jazztopad is the annual Jazz Festival of Poland's Witold Lutoslawski National Forum of Music in Wroclaw. Wroclaw, a vibrant, hip, internationally oriented city that never sleeps, has character, lots of peculiar neighborhoods, populated by many young people from all over the world. Fall is called listopad in Polish and so Jazztopad is fall's jazz, a festival with striking commission works, an artistically distinguished, high profile program, with vivid session activities, expositions and exclusive concerts hosted in Wroclaw people's homes all of which creates a very unique and special Jazztopad vibe. Young artistic director Piotr Turkiewicz developed the festival over the past 15 years into one of the foremost European festivals with prestigious commission work, challenging and fruitful exchanges, daring co-productions and exquisite programming. This article covers the greater part of the festival's second week.

The National Forum of Music building is situated at Plac Wolności ('Freedom Square'), opposite the opera house of Wroclaw and Hotel Monopol. The Square has been used in many different ways during the turbulent Prussian and Polish history of Wroclaw. Since the opening of the National Forum of Music in 2015 it is an open, free forum where you can pass over to different parts of Wroclaw.

Olympus and underworld

JAZZTOPAD has three complementary and mutually reinforcing components: the festival brings remarkable, highly prestigious commissions and it brings music(ians) you cannot see easily elsewhere at festivals in Europe (for earlier editions, and 2017 see my live-reviews at All About Jazz). It also has a trail of extraordinary nightly sessions taking place at club Mleczarnia round the corner of the prestigious new building of the National Forum of Music. There are the Melting Pot meetings of young up-and-coming musicians from different European countries too, this year from Belgium, Germany, Norway and Poland. Participating venues and festivals are Handelsbeurs in Gent, Berlin JazzFest, Nasjonal Jazzscene Oslo and Jazztopad. The second weekend has a tradition of improvising meetings of different combinations of festival musicians in the living rooms of private houses around town.

The Forum's Big Hall was the location for concerts by Brad Mehldau with the NFM Wrocław Phiharmonic Orchestra under conductor Clark Rundell and, an appearance of Esperanza Spalding in a surprising duo constellation with British pianist Alexander Hawkins (which was also the final concert of this year's festival).

The smaller Red Hall was the place for the commission work of Amir ElSaffar performed by NFM's Lutosławski String Quartet together with clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel and bassist Ksawery Wojcinski and El Saffar himself. The same hall hosted The Jamie Baum Septet+, The Australian Art Orchestra, the drummer duo of Chicagoan Hamid Drake and Sidney's Simon Barker, trumpeter Avishai Cohen's Bigger Vicious and Italian quartet Roots Magic.

The links to the 'underworld' in the Mleczarnia Club were French quartet Novembre and—as a continuous and astonishingly untiring red thread—Polish-Australian Sundogs trio consisting of drummer Samuel Hall, clarinetist Mateusz Rybicki and bassist Zbigniew Kozera. The commitment, stamina and enduring creativity during the whole week were one of a kind.

Cultural diversity and cultural cross-fertilization

The festival offered rich cultural diversity, cultural diversity not only between the participating groups, but also within those groups themselves, and cultural diversity likewise between the works as well as within the works performed. There was Oriental music versus Western chamber music, Contemporary music versus jazz, core classical music versus jazz improvisation, Jazz vs. rock, Asian music and Jewish music. The festival brought a US-American perspective, European perspective, Eastbound Overseas perspective but no substantial African perspective. Only the drummer-duo of Hamid Drake and Simon Barker had a Korean-Indian-African perspective.

A-B-C... astounding, brilliant, captivating

The program had lots of astounding, brilliant and captivating music to offer as well as distinctive and impressive musicians to experience, ranging from two duos to two nine-piece ensembles to a soloist with a whole symphony orchestra.


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