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Sarajevo Jazz Festival 2016

Francesco Martinelli By

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After all the huge amount of music and emotion experienced in Sarajevo, what is left is the sense of having lived through an intellectual adventure of the highest calibre.
Sarajevo Jazz Festival 2016
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
November 2-6, 2016

When your plane lands in Sarajevo, its wheels roll over the crumbling underground tunnel that was the only connection of the city to the outside world during the Serbian siege from April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996. It was twenty years ago, and a few months later, in a devastated town, Edin Zubcevic launched his first jazz festival.

"This is a post-trauma society, like many other societies," said recently Edin. "We are really trying to do something for society. It's a mission. We are here for the music because we really believe in the music and its power of reconciliation, its healing power."

Sitting uneasily on the edges of Europe, the historical city of Sarajevo where so many key events of European history took place is slowly recovering from the war, in a general economic slump that does not help the economy. Founded by the Ottomans and for centuries one of the most important trading centers of the Balkans, with sizeable Jewish, Muslim, Catholics and Orthodox communities, its still a powerful visual model of tolerance with its cathedrals, mosques and synagogues sitting within metres from one another.

Boys and girls on the streets look like anywhere else, but unemployment is high and perspectives difficult, with a stead outflow of emigrants, draining the country of the brightest talents. Remaining there and fighting the fight is the choice of Edin and his passionate, efficient team, whose hospitality is legendary among musicians.

This year's program centerpiece was the John Zorn Marathon, the European premiere of Zorn's bagatelles, a dream for Edin since basically the first edition of the festival, and a very ambitious project for an event taking place in a weak economy. It was however a resounding success, with a full house and musically satisfying for listeners an musicians alike. The program took off at the Bosnian Cultural Center (an old synagogue restructured into auditorium) on November 2 with the new Bugge Wesseltoft's New Conception Of Jazz band, an all-girls (apart from the leader) experiment by the fearless Norwegian keyboardist. Renouncing all his past collaborations with star performers and tapping the talent of a new generation is a courageous move, and the band answered well to Bugge's continuous groove variations. I guess it will take some more time to extract the full potential from it, but kudos for yet another surprise turn. Rob Mazurek's Sao Paulo Underground is of course one of the most exciting realities in music today, and the recent passing of Rob's father—the concert was dedicated to him—added yet another dimension to the shamanic rite that riveted the audience to their seats. Percussion, voices and sounds trascending the instruments themselves in the creation of a unique vibrational world. Unfortunately after three flights your reviewer could not stay up for pianist's Nitai Hershkovits solo late evening concert. The folwing day opened with the Tatran trio from Israel: being two generations removed from these boys I probably lack the means to follow their music, but I must confess that it did not anything for me. Painfully loud, poor in original material, despite being extremely well played by competent musicians I could not find anything interesting in it. They also played way too much showing disrespect to the other performers and throwing off balance the very full program.

Fortunately both Marc Ducret's solo and Samuel Blaser Trio with the leader on trombone, Ducret and Peter Bruun on drums provided some of the most exciting music on the program, with seamless fusion between composed and improvised material, lightning quick communication, humour and intensity. A masterful performance.

Due to the protraction of the afternoon concerts (and the need to visit a cevapcici shop now and then—it's a delicious Bosnian version of kebab) I missed Markus Stockhausen's duo with Florian Weber, which was later described to me in enthousiastic terms. I caught however the Taksim Trio, another unsatisfactory performance by hugely talented musicians. I'm not too fond of the electronically modified sound of Husnu Senlendirici's clarinet, and the creativity of İsmail Tunçbilek on bağlama as well as Aytaç Doğan on kanun seemed stifled, with the music never really taking off. The concert fell flat with an audience who was ready to warm up but could not find enough motivations, despite an auspicious beginning. I think they have to find a way out from the current stasis.


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