Ljubljana International Jazz Festival
June 27-30, 2018
The Slovenian capital of Ljubljana
has rightly become in the last few years one of the most loved tourist destinations in Europe. Hugged by its namesake river, crossing it with a variety of bridges, the city holds great artistic and historical memories, pleasant and wide green areas, great food and a positive, youthful vibe due to university students from all over the world. Reminding of Vienna in a smaller scale, has a rich cultural and musical life which includes the Ljubljana International Jazz Festival, one of the oldest in Europe, that will celebrate next year its 60th edition. But it is not any old festivalthe European Jazz Network, a continent-wide association of presenters, awarded it this year with the Adventurous programming prize: the unique character of the festival is to be open for international directors, first the Portuguese Pedro Costa of Clean Feed fame, and now Edin Zubcevic from the Sarajevo Jazz Festival in Bosniaalso part of the ex-Yugoslavia but a very different city.
The festival is held in the Cankarjev Centre, the largest cultural centre of Yugoslavia, a huge building partially underground which despite some architectural excessthe marbled entrance halls especiallyfeatures a number of great spaces for performance, with excellent acoustic, top-quality equipment, comfortable sightlines and seating. And it's subject to intense usage since it holds more than 2.000 (two thousands) events in a year with more than 500.000 visitors (roughly twice the population of the city).
The program opened Wednesday June 27 with a double bill in the spacious, elegant Gallus hall. First the Slovenian musician Kristijan Krajnčan (who studied in Amsterdam) presented his own unique combination of instruments: he plays with equal facility cello and drums, alternating and sometimes at the same time. Compared to another other set by him that I saw, this time I found rather excessive the use of electronic sequencing in every single piece, leading to some monotony. But the closing evocative number with dancers Žigan Krajnčan and Gašper Kunšek was truly impressive. What followed, the Chris Potter
trio, must be one of the world top jazz groups. An apparently effortless continuous flow of ideas in conversation, transporting the listener beyond virtuosity into the realm of timelessness. The sweet but sinewy grooves by Holland, the vertiginous variations by Hussain, the liquid lines by Potter intertwining in a delicate but perfect structure.
The program moved then out in the park, where in the middle of ancient plane trees the festival set up a stage and refreshing stand, for the concert of the extremely cool MTF feat. Sub-Lime band, a combination of two existing band into a coherent unity. Krajnčan was back at the trap set, accompanying rapper Murat, modern flamenco dancer Urška Centa, and a jazz quintet into a truly successful blending of languages into a new vibrant expressivity. Fusion in jazz is today's buzzword, and not a virtue in itself, but when it is successful brings the music into a new dimension.
Despite misgivings about the weather the second day also opened in the park, with the set by the ALEŠ Rendla sextet, a drummer-led band joining different generations of Slovenian jazz. The modern compositions were quite interesting, if a little diffuse at times, and the musicianship was first class, with brilliant solos by keyboardist Rebeka Zajc, saxophonist Primož Fleischman and clarinetist Aljaž Rendla. What followed was the December Soul trio, an Italian-Slovenian band featuring the master percussionist of Slovenian jazz Zlatko Kaučič, a key presence in many European Free Improvised music bands celebrating the 40th anniversary of his musical career with piano luminary Stefano Battaglia
and Salvatore Maiore on bass. Maybe best suited to an indoor venue due to the intimate, delicate character of their music, the trio was nonetheless able to build an intense set with some breathtaking passages from lyricism to all-out energy music, and finally won the hearts of all but the most obdurate yappers in the audience. Due to pressing necessity of food and rest I wasn't able to follow the funk-meets-balkan set of saxophonist Lovro Ravbar with his Get On Board collective that sounded like great fun.