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Ljubljana Jazz Festival: Ljubljana, Slovenia, June 20–29, 2012

Ljubljana Jazz  Festival: Ljubljana, Slovenia, June 20–29, 2012
Henning Bolte By

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Ljubljana Jazz Festival
Ljubljana, Slovenia
June 20-29, 2012
Ljubljana, with its 53rd edition, truly hosts the oldest jazz festival in Europe. Norway's Molde, also a candidate, started one year later, in 1960. The capital of the now-independent Republic of Slovenia, neighbored by Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy, Ljubljana is situated one hour from Trieste, two hours from Venice and three hours from Vienna, and is a city with high appreciation of the arts. With about 300,000 inhabitants the city has eleven theatres, fifteen museums, four professional orchestras and a rich musical history. The first philharmonic was established there in 1701, with Haydn, Beethoven, Paganini and Brahms as regular guests; and Gustav Mahler started his professional career there as a conductor.

Gathering in Ljubljana, the first noticeable thing was Portuguese pianist/composer Bernardo Sassetti's 2011 performance with his trio of bassist Carlos Barretto and drummer Alexandre Frazão (plus dancer Manca Dolonc). Sassetti's untimely death, after a tragic fall in May of this year, meant facing the painful fact that there will be no second time and no newly created music by this precious musician—a great loss which will be felt by the many who knew him and worked with him.

One of those people is Pedro Costa, of the Lisbon-based Clean Feed label. Costa teamed up with director Bogdan Benigar once again, this year, as co-artistic directors of the Ljubljana festival. The festival is a unique, brilliant and highly productive example of European collaboration, with four winning parties: the music, the musicians, the audience, and the European cause.

Ouverture

The four-day jazz festival is part of the all-summer long music festival of Ljubljana, and takes place during the last two weeks of June. This year, the festival commenced with a special night on Wednesday, June 20, presenting three promising young bands from different European countries: Elifantree (Finland), WorldService Project (Great Britain) and the Acropolis Quintet of Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, with musicians from Turkey, Rumania and Italy; a collaboration with the Dublin 12 Points Festival. Five years ago, Gerry Godley, programmer of the Irish Bray festival and director of the Dublin Improvised Music Company, began presenting a festival that featured twelve promising bands by young musicians from a variety of European countries. These bands are now sent along to other European festivals to gain further exposure. 12 Points is a successful and award-winning initiative ..."providing an important platform between the domestic structures from which these artists have emerged, and helping them on their way to the international stages to which they aspire. The festival's mission is to bring these emerging artists into a demanding performance environment, presenting their work to an international audience, in many cases for the first time. A significant part of that audience is their fellow participants and musical peers from other member states, facilitating another key objective of the festival's mission: the germination of organic networks between artists across the European Union, directly supported by many national cultural agencies."

June 28: Full Throttle

One week later on Thursday, June 28, the core of the festival, with thirteen concerts, started to unroll in the intimate club location at the House of Cjankar (Cjankarjev Dom), the big modern music center towering above the old town of Ljubljana. The first night, there were two powerful and intriguing performances: a free improvising duo with American trumpeter/saxophonist Joe McPhee and Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten; and the Full Throttle Orchestra, led by bassist Adam Lane.

The McPhee/Flaten-duo was an enduring musical partnership documented in its recent Brooklyn DNA (Clean Feed, 2012). Both players have known each other for a long time through their work in a couple of high-energy improv groups. Nonetheless, they are antipodes; players with their own contrasts. McPhee is the big yet gentle guy with openness and mystery as two sides of the same soul. Flaten is the small and agile guy with concentrated willpower, who constantly emphasizes his sound existence. They found and met each other in the big sound universe with rough edges, on bumpy, overgrown paths, winding caves and, finally, deep spiritual singing on their respective instruments.

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