Ljubljana Jazz Festival 2014

Ljubljana Jazz Festival 2014
Henning Bolte By

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2014 Ljubljana Jazz Festival 2014
Ljubljana, Slovenia
July 2-5, 2014

Ljubljana—capital of the Republic of Slovenia, member of EU, neighbored by Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy—hosts the oldest jazz festival in Europe, which held its 55th edition this year. The event is usually organized by Cankarjev House—Cankarjev Dom, in Slovenian—a prestigious, state-run cultural centre in midtown Ljubljana, residing in one half of an impressive twin tower building, the other part being the National Bank of Slovenia.

Ljubljana is situated near the Alps in the west and the Adriatic part of the Mediterranean Sea in the south. It is on one hour from Trieste, two hours from Venice, two hours from Zagreb and three hours from Vienna. A city with a high appreciation of the arts, its roughly 300,000 inhabitants have access to eleven theatres, fifteen museums, four professional orchestras and a rich musical history. The first philharmonic in Europe was established there in 1701, with Haydn, Beethoven, Paganini and Brahms as regular guests; and in 1881 Gustav Mahler started his professional career there as a conductor.

The House of Cankar is a state institution, created in the 1980s to foster collaboration between all art disciplines. Ivan Cankar (1876-1918) is held to be the most important writer to shape Slovenian identity: "Cankarjev Dom believes that cultural, artistic and scientific creativity meets the basic condition for attaining spiritual freedom and the richer spiritual lives of people and social development."

Slovenes have undergone different ruling powers and absorbed many influences. They had and have a high esteem for their indigenous language, which has some peculiarities not easily accessible, even for speakers of other Slavonic languages. That esteem resulted in a remarkable curiosity. Despite being a predominantly Roman Catholic country, Lutheran Reformation Day is an official holiday on October 31st of each year because Slovene standard language and Slovene literature were both established by Lutheran protestants: Primož Trubar, who wrote the first books in Slovene; Adam Bohorič, who wrote the first Slovenian grammar book; and Jurij Dalmatin, who translated the whole bible into Slovene.


The concerts of the festival were running in four venues: at three in Cankarjev House (Štih Hall, Linhart Hall and the Klub), along with the big semi-open air venue, Križanke. The jazz festival is part of the city's bigger and longer-running summer music festival. As with the last two years, the festival was again co-curated by Cankarjev's Bogdan Benigar and Pedro Costa, from Lisbon, associated with the well-known Clean Feed record label. That brings a special quality to the festival, its programming and its productions which can only be found in a few other festivals in Europe, like 12 Points and Jazzdor Berlin (some reflections on this can be found on the festival website).

Fifteen groups were performing at the four-day festival: three from Norway, including Jaga Jazzist, In The Country and Cortex; and four from Slovenia, Jani Moder's Brainblender, Tarek Yamani Trio (with a leader from Lebanon), Marko Črnček 4, and Zlatko Kaučič/Agusti Fernández. It also means there were only sequential concerts, with no parallel streams, so it was possible to attend every show. This year's festival had two main coordinates: Norway as regional focus; and an instrumental focus on the piano. Twelve pianists were performing at the festival, from solo to groups with more than five musicians. This year's edition had only one piano-less group in Cortex- -a great exception. The pianists present at the festival, both well known and less known, were veteran Joachim Kuhn, along with Agusti Fernandez, Morten Qvenild, Giovanni Guidi, Chris Abrahams, Marko Crncek, Oystein Moen, Fulco Ottervanger, Gabriel Pinto, Chip Crawford, Tarek Yamani and Pierre Chretien.

Day 1: Wednesday, July 2

The festival started with the opening of an exhibition by longtime festival photographer Nada Žgank at Cankarjev House's gallery. The exposition gave an impressive overview of the great variety of musicians and groups who had performed at the festival in recent years.

Jani Moder's Brain Blender, a Slovenian-Austrian combination led by Slovenian guitarist Moder, functioned as the musical festival opener at the big open air venue, Križanke. The band was comprised of well known Slovenian keyboardist Marko Črnčec, bassist Robert Jukic and Austrian percussionists Klemens Marktl on drums and Flip Philipp on marimba. Moder's music leaned to a more tranquil variant of fusion, often switching to a Pat Metheny-informed style of playing. Moder went into more contemplation modes as well as adopting a more incendiary approach to his solos, especially in the second half of the set. His band mates delivered some nice solos, too. The group finished its set with an Eastern- tinged piece, spinning out its beautiful melody.

The hall was completely filled up when Jaga Jazzist started its concert. Jaga, now in its twentieth year, played for the first time without long time member, Mathias Eick, a well- known trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist who joined the group in 1998. As is often the case with Norwegian groups, he was not immediately replaced by another musician. The current lineup is now: Lars Horntveth (tenor sax, bass clarinet, guitars, keyboards), Øystein Moen (keyboards), Line Horntveth (tuba, percussion, vocal), Erik Johannessen (trombone, percussion), Marcus Forsgren (guitars, effects), Even Ormestad (bass, keyboards), Andreas Mjøs (vibraphone, guitars, drums, electronics), and Martin Horntveth (drums, drum machines). The other eight members, all of them multi-instrumentalists, had to take over and adequately fill in the gap left by Eick. Because of their ability to switch to other instruments during the performance, these musicians were able and still are able, even minus one member, to produce a huge and rich sound with big energy, which immediately brought the hall and the audience to a high degree of vibration. Jaga's musicians proved masters of enchanting, repetitive and rhythmic music. Dipped in colored shades of sophisticated visuals—its patterns shifting, with rock beats and excursions into buoyant, rich brass sounds—brought forth strong turbulence effects and set the house on fire.


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