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Sena Jazz Laureates at Amersfoort Jazz 2019

Phillip Woolever By

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Dimitry Ilugdin Trio

A Russian entry from Usadba Jazz, the Dimitry Ilugdin Trio, opened Saturday afternoon's festivities with an excellent set at the outdoor Greenmarket stage. Like many of the festival venues, "Groenmarkt" sits amidst café surroundings that made for a very comfortable listening environment. The sun had just peeked out through the morning clouds before the band, with drummer Peter Ivshin and bassist Victor Shestak, exchanged a peppy group hug and headed up the oval shaped outdoor stage, surrounded by bar tables and freshly sprouted greenery. Although many people were eating, drinking or placing orders the sound remained surprisingly clear and uninterrupted. Maybe the trees made a difference. The trio drew a curious crowd from crowded shopping streets nearby and frequently diverted shoppers' transient attention, as evidenced by the growing number of people who gathered to nod their heads around the venue while Ilugdin dazzled them with some serious pinky action on the keys.

Festival flyers noted a focus on pianos, and Ilugdin certainly held up their end of that demographic. During a set of mostly hard-driving originals, the standout ballad "January" slowed the tempo but not the energy, including a captivating solo by Shestak. The extended suite "Charisma" caused people to exchange enlightened glances and the rocking climax had many folks pounding the wooden tabletops in approval. "Home" might have been written about a location far away, but the Russians found chords to make Amersfoort feel like that special place for everybody.

JazzyBIT

Romania's JazzyBIT, a trio featuring Teodor Pop on keys, Szabo Csonger-Zsolt on drums and Mihai Moldoveanu on bass, represented Brasov Jazz and Blues. Their appearance involved serious last minute hustling just to make it to the stage, but there was not even a hint of jet lag in gigs featuring powerful improvised fusion and pieces from Horizon (EM 2016). Some of the segments brought GoGo Penguin to mind, but there was nothing derivative to be heard and the fact JazzyBIT played immediately after rushing into town was powerful proof of their readiness.

"We flew from Timișoara, our hometown, to Bucharest for a connecting flight to Amsterdam," reflected Pop after a mid-day Sunday set. "The connecting flight was canceled because there was an issue with the airplane's cabin pressure system, and we were told that we might get another flight only the day after, which would have meant missing our first gig. But we were lucky and got a flight on the same day, so we rented a car and drove to the sound check. We arrived an hour before our gig, not being able to rest a bit or have dinner. But we were very happy that we made it, many people from our (original) flight were not able to get a connection, so thanks KLM! We got the opportunity to see a fantastic city and were really impressed with the vibe and the people."

For an approving audience it may have been just another easy transition from concert to concert in Amersfoort, but for the Romanian visitors it was another topsy- turvy day in a musician's life.

This year's other laureates were comprised of the Cazzip Project from Yeldegirmeni Jazz Spring in Istanbul, vocalist Wanda Baloyi from Joy of Jazz in South Africa, Brazilian guitarist Arthur Endo from the Assad Festival, and Hungary's Akos Fekecs Project from Babel Sound. Claire Parsons from Luxembourg Jazz Meeting appeared in a duet with Israeli guitarist Eran Har Even and drummer Sun Mi Hong, an Amsterdam transplant initially from South Korea, performed with her popular quintet as the representative of the hosting Amersfoort Festival. The entire agenda was truly an international treat, and even without the general lineup's other dynamic acts over the weekend, these relative newcomers made for a scintillating lineup.

"What's great is the opportunity for young, starting musicians to perform in an inspiring environment," said Deputy Mayor Willem Jan Stegeman. "They can meet experienced musicians, observe and learn from them. We also want to serve our community. It's very important to give every inhabitant in our city the chance to meet new musical artists."

Amersfoort quite obviously upholds that philosophy as a community cornerstone, and the abundantly apparent results reward both locals and tourists at a vibrant festival. It's no wonder that throughout the weekend so many visitors could be overheard saying they definitely planned to return. After all, anyplace with so much new talent to be discovered is always a prime destination.

Photo Credit: Peter Putters

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