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

Henning Bolte By

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This festival edition had an emphasis on trumpet. The first evening introduced three of them, from different generations: Joe McPhee (1939), Nate Wooley (1974) and Susana Santos Silva (1979). Wooley is a highly demanded and ubiquitous player; Silva is a member of the outstanding Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, last heard on singer Maria João & OJM's Amoras e Framboesas (Universal 2011), is a member of the egalitarian Lama trio of Oneiros (Clean Feed, 2011), and released her own trio debut, Devil's Dress (2011), on the Portugese TOAP label. McPhee also performed solo the next day, along with the other trumpet-besieger of the moment, Peter Evans. Evans and Wooley then paired and teamed up with percussionists Jim Black and Paul Lytton to play the premièring concert of this brand new combination. This première would be preceded by a performance of Silva's Lama Trio. Last, but not least, new trumpet voice Ibrahim Maalouf performed on the finishing night at Križanke.

June 29: Abstract Society

This day started with Joe McPhee's solo performance in the small Štih amphitheater of Cjankar house. Standing in the middle of the audience, McPhee revealed much more than in his duo performance with Flaten the previous night, evoking plenty of curiosity. McPhee worked in two parts: first on pocket trumpet, then on saxophone. He created fascinating multiphonics, with a simultaneously sung melody coming from far and deep inside; he was able to do this whistling, too.

McPhee refuses to be restricted in his imagination, and the idea of bringing it into reality. Watching and listening to him play is a special experience. His sounds develop without waiting for or being forced into something special or sensational, whereas his efforts to open up and enter the sound domains of his playing are easy to feel. This reinforces confidence and openness, and leads to a joyful, creative listening experience.

The second solo concert was given by advanced trumpeter Peter Evans (1981). Watching Evans play, it is hard to believe that what was being heard was the sound of just one (pocket) trumpet—whether or not it was the first time experiencing him live. Evans, who started in the New York scene nine years ago, is now famous as trumpet innovator, and as a member of the bands Carnivalskin (with Klaus Kugel and Bruce Eisenbeil), Mostly Other People Do the Killing (with Jon Irabagon, Moppa Elliott and Kevin Shea), and his collaborations with other artists including Evan Parker, Nate Wooley and Tom Blancarte. Circular breathing, different kinds of multiphonics, hyper-rapid tone sequences, all kinds of loudness and whispers, it was all manifested in his dazzling playing.

Evans has been pushing the envelope since appearing on the scene a few years ago, opening up new musical territories for his instrument. He may be the most spectacular artists to seemingly emerging out of nowhere, but he is not the only one; instead, he is expanding the limits of the instrument already begun in the 1960s with Don Ellis and Bill Dixon, one that is a continuous process. Nils Petter Molvaer, Erik Truffaz, Arve Henriksen, Joe McPhee, Rob Mazurek, Greg Kelley and Nate Wolley, just to name a few wider-known musicians. Outside jazz and improvised music, Dutchman Marco Blaauw has expanded the instrument's limits remarkably with his double-bell trumpet. It is not only a question of expanded limits and new sounds, but primarily a question of new musical expression—a new idiom. Evans produced coherent pieces including stepping stones—notwithstanding his startling effect—into the exploration of a new idiom.

Ljubljana is a two-faced festival. There is the club face at the House of Cankar (Cankarjev Dom), and the face of the big semi-open air stage at Križanke Cultural Center. 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 richer spiritual lives of people and social development."

At the bigger stage Križanke there is a different, more mainstream-oriented audience which is addressed in the programming. The first evening at Križanke presented a mixed bag: two young local heroes—tenor saxophonist Jure Pukl's band Abstract Society, with pianist Kaja Draksler, drummer Damion Reid and bassist Joe Sanders opening, followed by singer Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Pukl (1977), Slovenia's most powerful saxophonist of the moment, has garnered critical acclaim with his innovative EARchitecture (SessionWorkRec, 2010) (with liner notes by pianist Vijay Iyer). His most recent album, Abstract Society (Storyville, 2012), features Iyer, Damion Reid and Joe Sanders. Reid (1979) has played and recorded with saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Coleman, Greg Ward and Steve Lehman, as well as pianist Robert Glasper. Sanders has worked with everyone from saxophonist Wayne Shorter and pianists Dave Brubeck and Gerald Clayton, to saxophonist/clarinetist Oran Etkin, trumpeters Ambrose Akinmusire and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, singer Gretchen Parlato, guitarist Lionel Loueke, pianist Aaron Parks and saxophonist Chris Potter.

Pukl, being a self-assured guy of wide views, built long arches with lots of pending moments and tension to be resolved. He was reinforced by his combination with pianist Draksler. Nonetheless, Reid held the music intensively in motion by his fireworks, while Steve Coleman and Vijay Iyer left their marks in the creative thrust of the group. What was possible within the built structure became clear when trumpeter Jason Palmer joined for a short period. He stirred it up, set the music on fire with his horn and pushed it to a higher level; the missing element, happily, came in on time.

Bridgewater can shift her voice from jazz singing to old school soul. She is still a vivid entertainer functioning as a draw for festivals and bigger venues. Here, she came with a high caliber lineup of experienced musicians: the great saxophonist/flautist Craig Handy, pianist Edsel Gomez, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Kenny Phelps.


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