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One may choose many words to describe what is happening at the Skopje Jazz Festival each year, but among those you won't hear words such as dull, uniformed, monotonous, as one its main characteristics is its diversity. For years the choice of participants has always been as diverse and as experimental as it can be. Each year the program is set to welcome all sorts of artists with different backgrounds and thus making it more interesting. The concept has always been for each night to be dedicated to all offshoots of jazz including avant-garde, experimental, world music even electronic jazz music. The choice of world-class musicians and its long tradition through the years has made it one of the top events in this part of the world. Beside the regular place where it is usually happening (The Universal Hall), the jazz festival has constantly been trying to pursue new concert avenues and through the years we saw it staged in museums, clubs, theatres and for this year one of the novelties was the choice of the new theatre in the city's Old Bazaar.
The Old Bazaar with its oriental architecture and its labyrinth of streets was perfect for the concert of the Turkish ney virtuoso, Kudsi Erguner, who opened the festival. This ney flute (Turkish bamboo flute) virtuoso played perfectly and thus showing his mastery of his instrument. Accompanied by the excellent Pierre Rigopoulos on percussions and Halil Neciboglu on vocals, he performed the music from his rich repertoire. I particularly enjoyed the percussion work of Pierre Rigopoulos as he played complex rhythms with great easiness and thus laying the perfect foundations for Erguner to play over. His last two albums Ottomania and Islam Blues are sort of a fusion of Middle Eastern and jazz music. The act of improvising is not strictly a fixture of jazz music, as many folk musics feature either instrumental or vocal improvising. After all this is a band that is performing within a musical tradition which has thrived for the last 700 years.
The second night was dedicated to European jazz and it featured artists like Gianluigi Trovesi Octet and Joachim Kuhn Trio. Gianluigi Trovesi is a major force in the modern Italian jazz scene, having led his own recording dates and been an integral part of the all-star Italian Instabile Orchestra which is a conglomerate of some of the best players in Italian modern creative jazz. I think that Italian jazz musicians are excellent performance artists because besides playing excellent music they really dance good. What was amazing about this group of musicians was the array of styles that went through. Trovesi and his octet made a veritable soundtrack to a film, but one that stems from the composer's imagination. One moment you'll be hearing something like standard jazz that will soon turn into free improvising. Later, the band would play dixieland and would have some classical music moments. They even played electric fusion and drum'n'bass where they electrified the violoncello. All of this was interestingly arranged, performed and danced through out.
Joachim Kuhn's performance was interesting and expressive and his improvisations on the piano were impressive. Supported by Jean Paul Celea on bass and Wolfgang Reisinger on drums, he played an interesting blend of classical music with jazz. Obviously in a very good mood he gave a very strong performance.
Accompanied by her husband, the trumpeter Larry Cramer and a group of Cuban musicians, Jane Bunnett performed some sort of mixture of jazz and Cuban music. Her affinity for Cuban rhythms and its folkloric traditions has influenced her recent original output and the works she did with traditional and contemporary Cuban musicians remain respectful to those traditions which was evident at the concert.
The second performance was by McCoy Tyner. This is something I have waited for years to see. From the very first chord he played, it was evident to everyone that a master musician was in the house. During the hour and a half performance he showed his mastery of the instrument by playing various stuff. Accompanied by drummer Eric Harland and a double bassist George Mraz, he played music that was dense, thick, multi-layered, full of unusual chord voicings and intricate single note runs. During our brief conversation before the rehearsal, I found him to be kind, generous, humble, and full of good humour.