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Slovenian Showcase Festival 2017

Ian Patterson By

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Slovenian Showcase Festival 2017
CD Club, Cankarjev dom
Ljubljana, Slovenia
September 22-23, 2017

An important part of the European Jazz Conference 2017, held in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, was the Slovenian Showcase Festival, which presented some of the most original, progressive and entertaining of the current crop of Slovenian bands operating in the spheres of jazz, improvised and related music. Of some fifty bands who applied for the chance to play before major European festival directors, promoters, club managers and agents attending the EJC, seven bands were chosen.

The intimate CD Club, on the top floor of Cankarjev dom provided the setting, where, over two nights, the audiences gained an insight into the diversity and depth of talent of the creative music scene in Slovenia. Ljublijana boasts the oldest continuously running jazz festival in Europe, so it perhaps shouldn't have come as a surprise that the modern generation of Slovenian jazz/improvising musicians displayed such pedigree.

Maja Osojnik & Patrick Wurzwallner: ZSAMM

From the brooding atmosphere conjured from electronic drone and Maja Osojnik's doomy vocals, the signs were that this would be no ordinary gig. Standing behind a table laden with electronica and dripping with wires, Osojnik's conducted live sampling, dj-cd jiggery pokery and found-object sound sculpting, while vocally, she oscillated between baritone growl and tenor flight. Drummer Patrick Wurzwallner slipped in and out of the mix, bringing dynamic rhythmic impulse and whiplash percussive accents, while sound engineer Christina Bauer's exerted significant influence.

Electronic static bled from one sonic wave into the next, although it was a strain to understand the lyrics, even though Osojnik sang—and on occasion roared—in English. Dark and introspective at one extreme, thrashing and punkish at the other, what began as a slightly disorienting, not to say jarring sonic experience gradually exerted a strangely hypnotic quality, with the sonic middle ground exerting, arguably, the greatest pull.

Rhythmic, vocal and electronic mantras were woven throughout the performance, while sci-fi abstraction dovetailed with foregrounded drone in an all-enveloping sonic whirlwind. Improvisation felt like a significant part of the duo's equation, while the pockets of melody—organ-like motifs as well as quite lyrical vocal passages and layered harmonies—were rationed amid the maelstrom for maximum effect. A delightfully delicate, choral-like mantra, with gentling rippling chimes, closed out a memorable performance.

During the concert, the sight of Osojnik hitting her head with a tuning fork to keep herself on the harmonic straight and narrow served as a metaphor for this very singular musical proposal—unorthodox, stylistically bold and impossible to remain indifferent to.

Drago Ivanuša: La Bête humaine

Pianist and film score composer Drago Ivanuša may well be of the opinion that history is doomed to repeat itself. His project La Bête humaine [The Human Beast], inspired by Jean Renoir's 1938 film of the same name, chimed with the mood of the times then as now—sombre, tense, wild and unpredictable.

The spare lyricism of the classically hued intro, with its delicate trills and pretty ornaments, hardly prepared the listener for the intensely jangling motifs punctuated by piston-like bass notes that intervened. The delicate mood was restored like a fine veil in an emotionally gripping start to this solo piano performance.

The second piece juxtaposed dense clusters, spidery runs and sharp percussive notes. Denser and faster as the piece progressed, Ivanusa's improvisations displayed fearsome technique, though the odd missed stab in a furious cross- handed percussive passage typified the dominance of the pianist's emotional attack over any preoccupation with technical perfection.

By contrast, a brooding composition dedicated to the recently deceased actor Harry Dean Stanton, veered teasingly between dark and light themes, with a brief visit to the theme from the sic-fi thriller Aliens (1979), in which Stanton played the engineer Brett.

Rhythmic repetition and scurrying runs co-existed on the next number, a curiously rooted yet dizzying exposition with one foot planted in minimalism and the other in roaming avant-garde improvisation. A similar aesthetic colored the next composition, inspired by the train from Jean Renoir's La Bete Humaine as a metaphor for power running wild. Ivanuša 's insistent left-hand rhythm conjured the trains' relentless momentum over the tracks, the billowing black smoke, while his dramatic right hand was all licking flame and dancing sparks.

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