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Ljubljana Jazz Festival 2014

Henning Bolte By

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It was full house—as would be expected—when Porter hit the stage with his smile, cheering up the crowd before he even sang one note. While the audience was impressed that he was really there finally, Porter also spoke of how impressed he was by the trees of Ljubljana, which caused a deep warm smile again.

Porter has this overall smiling simpatico appearance supported by his supple baritone voice, and vice versa. His confident charisma, his accessibility, his guy-next-door dimension; the big audience loves him for that, in Ljubljana as well as elsewhere. His material and his singing are straight-ahead, sincere and highly credible. A few notes are enough to get his audience in and on to him. His band, a well-oiled machine, is part of his overall kind appearance. Not that all his band mates smiled all the time; the drummer, for instance, with his cool sunglasses, had the lightly sturdy appearance of an old school jazz cat. Every musician—from saxophonist Yosuke Sato and pianist Chip Crawford to bassist Aaron James and drummer Emanuel Harrold—was treated by Porter in a generous and highly personal way. Nothing was exaggerated or faked.

Porter smoothly served a short memory span with some higher musical quality, so a series of great singing could unfold—which happened, to a certain degree. Lots of effort had to be spent to feed and maintain the set's framework. The restrictions became clear, however, when Porter struck up a short-breath canalized reminiscence of Nat Adderley's "Work Song." It was all a bit exciting but not exciting enough in the long run, which did not seem to infect the audience too much.

The young Belgian piano trio De Beren Gieren, from Ghent, augmented with Porto, Portugal-based trumpeter Susana Santos Silva, was the real new thing of this year's edition. Appealing, surprising, deft, exciting, convincing, funny...De Beren Gieren, approximately pronounced as "de bearon cheeron" and meaning The Bears Shrieking, are pianist Fulco Ottervanger, double bassist Lieven Van Pee and drummer Simon Segers. The group premiered a new program that the four musicians had worked on in residence the days leading up to its Ljubljana- premiere. It came into being through the joint action of Wim Wabbes, programmer at the Ghent venue Handelsbeurs, the festival's artistic co-directors Bogdan Benigar and Pedro Costa, and the four musicians. It appeared to be another firm axis of European cooperation with striking artistic results. Maaike Wuyts, the producer of the project, explained in one of the festival videos how all came about:

Its performance was a wonderful playful exercise in determining the indeterminacy of form by swirling through alternating states as velocity and retardation, hold and rush, rotation and rest, joined in and let go. At no time did the foursome lose ground. In beautiful oddness and airy heave it waltzed through its non-synchronized universe meeting the spirit of a great young guy from Vienna, composer Franz Schubert. The connection with Schubert could be drawn from the titles of the pieces, and the dynamics of the music could be seen as reinterpretations of the tempo gradations of geschwind from Schubert's famous trout piece. This nightly dance over a trout song was recorded and will be released on Clean Feed soon.

Day 4: Saturday, July 5

On the last day of the festival the concerts started earlier, at noon, in the Cankarjev House's Klub venue. First, an Italian duo followed by a Portuguese-French group and then a Norwegian quartet. The evening program presented a Slovenian-Spanish duo and an Australian trio at the bigger Linhart Hall. The festival wound up with a Canadian group, back at The Klub venue.

Trombone is such a beautiful soulful instrument and Gianluca Petrella is one of the most outstanding players at this moment. Giovanni Guidi is a young but experienced pianist with an already an impressive service record, witness his ECM trio album City Of Broken Dreams (2011) with Thomas Morgan and Portuguese drummer Joao Lobo. Although Guidi and Petrella seem to be characters of a very different kind, their collaboration showed a lot of rapport and flexibility to adapt to different temperatures and temperaments in music. The first half of their concert had a strong and beautiful blues spirit, while the second half was more lyrical, making a good balance for that hour of the day. A highly recommended duo.


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