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Slovenian Showcase Festival 2017

Ian Patterson By

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The final piece exploded with furiously chopping hands Ivanuša's subsequent rhapsodic sweeping of the keys punctuated by aggressive staccato jabs that refused to cede to the flow. This powerful sonic attack provided a stirring finale to a bravura performance not short on dramaturgy, and one laden with emotional intent.

Artbeaters

Newly expanded to a quintet, Artbeaters is led by violinist Peter Ugrin, who honed his craft in the New School, New York. Coming after the outré, if not outright radical performances that came before, Artbeaters' contemporary jazz sounded more stylized, though there was passion of a different sort in the set of all-original compositions, taken from the band's second CD, Life Compass On! (2017).

IIj Pušnik's bass arco, Aljosa Jeric's pattering mallets and guitarist Marko Čepak's arpeggios announced the opening number, with pianist Aleš Ogrin following rhythmic suit. Ugrin and Čepak formed an exciting front line, alternating solos characterized by their energy and melodic contours.

Written as a conceptual suite extoling the virtues of compassion, the variations in tempo and mood from one tune to the next succeeded in keeping the attention. At both slow and upbeat tempi chief protagonists Ugrin and Čepak were particularly impressive, though there were occasional, telling solos from the entire ensemble. For the most part Ugrin played acoustic, flicking the switch to go electric on a feisty tune that evoked the spirit of violin great Zbigniew Seifert.

Slow piano mantra, guitar and bass ostinatos and drawn out violin notes underpinned a power ballad that featured a rousing mid-section drum solo. Bass then took up the mantle before the quintet realigned in melodic unison. Violin and drums went toe to toe in an exhilarating exchange, before Čepak took the lead with a mazy, highly fluid response. The final piece stemmed from a Vivaldi-esque violin intro, before electric bass, a heavy back beat and electric violin steered the music towards lively jazz-fusion terrain. A fired-up Čepak delivered another killer solo, with an ensemble vamp serving as canvas for further drumming pyrotechnics.

It was easy to see why Artbeaters had made the final cut for the Slovenia showcase nights at the EJC 2017, as its accessible yet animated music engaged on both cerebral and emotional levels.

Bowrain

Bowrain is the moniker for pianist, composer and producer Tine Grgurevič, whose contemporary piano trio closed out the first evening of Slovenian showcases. Bowrain was presenting material from its forthcoming album, Distracted (Kapa Records, 2017), which, in addition to the trio also features cello, violin and vocals. At either side of the stage, a large graphic projection of slowly moving eye surveyed the scene—an artistic detail seemingly unimportant, but one that immediately set Bowrain apart from the other groups of the showcase.

The opener, "Silenzio," got underway with low rumblings wrought from the piano's intestines. This heavy bass end was augmented by a swirling right-hand pattern, with Ljubljana guitarist Mario Babojelić adding atmospheric, six- string acoustic ruminations. Rustling percussion filtered in and out before German drummer Robert Nitschke slipped into a pocket of relative silence with an infectious, unwavering rhythm. Chiselled, grooving piano chords alternated with circling motifs as drums kept up the same pattern, albeit with increasing intensity, while scratchy guitar, electronically filtered added distinctive textures to the mix.

On a striking, and as yet unrecorded tune a helicopter-like, electronic chop and contrasting polyrhythms provided the backdrop to Grgurevič's bold left-hand ostinato and a melodic right-hand mostly engaged in bright, minimalist motifs. It would make terrific driving music, or the soundtrack to the closing credits of a film. Pre-programmed rhythms announced "Refugee," a mid-tempo head-bobber fuelled by Nitscke's industry and constructed on the simplest of melodic foundations. At the composition's tail end a recorded English news voice, repeated several times, announces the plight of homeless refugees in winter—an enduring humanitarian crisis, seemingly on a global scale.

Set-closer "Continuum" sunk its rhythmic hooks from the get-go, and although by now the prevailing aesthetic of infectious groove and harmonically bright, minimalist melody was well established, it was difficult not to be seduced all the same.

Powerful, hypnotic and uplifting.

Day Two

Feminized.Science.Deniers

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