The Slovenian Experience: Jazz Festival Ljubljana 2017

Henning Bolte By

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Due to the (unstable) weather on Thursday the open-air concerts had to be moved to the Linhart hall inside, a last-minute decision. It had an infelicitous effect on the starting group of Berlin saxophonist Philipp Gropper's Philm. The sound in the hall made the group's music unrecognizable and they had no chance to take off. Conditions were slightly better for the Slovenian-Norwegian-Portuguese unit of Velkro comprising saxophonist Boštjan Simon, guitarist Stephan Meidell and drummer Luis Candeias. Their music started dusty and proceeded slowly. Gradually the fog raised and the music caught fire leading into wild attacks and subsequent release. Velkro created a natural arc of consistently extended layers of sound. It is remarkable how this transnational Too Lazy To Panic unit (title of its recent Clean Feed album) created such a profiled and distinguishing new sound from its different cultural backgrounds. It was a processual kind of music balancing on the edge of vagueness and exactness differing from many varieties of minimalism that are en vogue at the moment—a pleasurable experience.

Emilia Martensson comes from the south of Sweden and has Slovenian ancestors. She is an accomplished musician on the British scene. This night in Ljubljana she performed for the first time with her newly formed British trio of pianist Kit Downs and cellist Lucy Railton. In 2013 I wrote about her older trio of pianist Barry Green and percussionist Adriano Adewale, that she took "the nice and beautiful way but also has potential for more"( All About Jazz). The performance with this brand-new trio was a promising attempt to proceed into that direction. It was to its disadvantage, however, that this British-Swedish configuration was programmed to follow the British-Swedish constellation of vocalist Sofia Jernberg and pianist Alexander Hawkins. Apparently it was too difficult for the audience to make the switch from one voice and one approach to the other.

The final act of the night was drummer Yussef Dayes' Black Focus from Britain, consisting of Charlie Stacey (keys), Mansur Brown (guitar) and Tom Driessler (bass).This is an example of a group that I didn't like in the beginning but by staying to listen I got more into and very much liked the music in the end. The repetitive beat became irresistibly attractive, took me away and opened many floodgates. The music had an amazing hypodermic suction effect.

The first Friday concert took place at legendary Gromka Clubin the Metelkova neighborhood of Ljubljana—an apt place for the CP Unit of Brooklyn saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos with guitarists Brandon Seabrock and Tim Dahl plus drummer Jason Nazary. Pitsiokos' name has been circulating for a while and this appearance in Ljubljana was his European debut—this year's release of his Clean Feed album Before The Heat Death may have helped too.

The clearest sign in my notes is the term 'Horror Garden,' obviously indicating the music with its opposite sides can cause frightening and fascinating, repellent and attracting, confusing and exciting effects. It is a unit that is extreme in speed, density and loudness, but also extreme in cut up style fragments. The unit started with extremely up-speeded Salt Peanuts twitches—peristaltico ultimo -but never lingered in such a mode. They proceeded in rapid changes and relentless crushing, keeping each other and listener extremely awake and responsive. The unit came as a Naked City intensification and underneath there were lurking traces of raw blues. Every crushing and sudden turn brought forth complex forms that had to be dealt with. Often it seemed an exercise in free gardening, in the beauty of ugliness. An interesting counterpart was the late night appearance of German-Swedish-US American unit Amok Amor of Berlin residents Wanja Slavin (saxophone), Petter Eldh (double bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums), united with trumpet wizard Peter Evans. Amok Amor is much more loose in its shattering, splitting and splintering. They generate contrapuntal constellations and balance divergent movements. There is a different kind of velocity at work in Amok Arnor. The CP Unit creates from crashes and constriction, Amok Armor from splinting and splattering as a continuous process in which forms and structures are transitional, but always remain contoured.

Days and nights: Saturday

On Saturday two concerts stood out from the rest: the solo performance of young Swedish guitarist Susanna Risberg and the appearance of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire with his quartet with pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown.

For sure hardly anyone in Lubljana knew, had heard or seen young Swedish guitarist Susanna Risberg before she entered the Ljubljana stage—except, obviously, artistic director Bogdan Benigar. Risberg played directly after the concert of all-female unit Hearth. The contrast between both couldn't have been starker. Susanna Risberg, a musician from the youngest generation, is a prime example of soberness and precision. The pureness and fluency of her playing were irresistible, far out of the ordinary. Maybe Julian Lage or Jakob Bro have a bit of the same in their playing. Risberg's playing is free of electronics and distortion. She has a crisp, crystal clear tone free of reverb with large space around. It's a confident voice of solitude. She played sophisticated pieces in a light, effortless way. It was something elsem quite an an experience. I guess we will hear and see more of her music making. Elegance is one of the key characteristics of the music North-American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is playing. Akinmusire has this deep vibrant tone akin to Bill Dixon and is a musician open to many sides. He can easily switch from making pressure to loose lyrical spheres. He is one of the musicians that puts the music at the center to let it prosper and bloom. It took the group some time to find its sound and balance but after that everything was flourishing brightly.


Participation, intake and experiential value of a festival program at a high degree depend on the social and artistic context a festival is able to provide and the atmosphere it induces and maintains. Compared to other festivals Ljubljana again offered a multitude of interrelated and interrelating activities. An important place is the bar and the roof terrace of the Club of Cankarjev Dom at the 6th floor of the building. The Portuguese wine/fish reception has grown into an ultimate festival moment.


Photography is an art form closely connected to jazz and its development through the last hundred years. It has not only documented the music making and the making of the music. It has created a very own, distinctive and crucial iconography of jazz as a subculture and as an art form. Its influence on the perception of the music and its social binding force has been huge (and still is).

For this year's photo exposition Zaradi jazza / Because of Jazz excellent (and famous) Ljubljana photographer Žiga Koritnik curated a selection of the rich collection of (classical) black and white photographs of Oliver Belopeta, shot through the years at various places. Oliver Belopeta is the director of the jazz festival in Skopje (Republic of Macedonia) and was the director of Ljubljana Jazz Festival for a while too. He has a privileged personal access to many musicians. His photographs show a fascinating combination of recognition of the familiar and mind boggling, surprising deeper views. Another exhibition 'Complicate Simple' at NLB bank's gallery was dedicated to the festival posters.

During the festival days two documentaries were shown, one about saxophonist John Coltrane, and Jim Jarmusch's documentary Gimme Danger on Iggy Pop and the Stooges (this shows the scope of the Ljubljana Festival). There was also a screening of the experimental film 'Dissecting the Paraconcept' with live accompaniment of pianist Bram de Looze from Belgium (a.o. LabTrio), cellist Lester St. Louis and Slovenian drummer Dré Hočevar. Bram de Looze and Lester St. Louis participated—together with a.o. Chris Pitsiokos—in the two Clean Feed albums of Dré Hočevar Collective Effervescence and Coding of Evidentiality.

Installations/Live drawing/workshops/discussion

The festival offered a couple of multimedia installations and performances with titles like 'Just below the sonic level of sense making' (Dré Hočevar), 'Disenfranchised Language of Muted Rage' (collaboration with Ljubljana Music Academy), 'Subphenomenon of Utterance' (Pia Podgornik) and there were two workshops, one for children and one Vocal Workshop led by singer Emilia Mårtensson from Sweden/UK. Young musicians held a round-table to discuss the issue of 'Contemporaneity of Improvisation and New Media.'

A special experience was the enlivening of Dré Hočevar's installation 'Just below the sonic level of sense making' at the Grand Reception Hall of Cankarjev Dom. It resembled a bit the courtly promenading and conversing scenes from the glorious aristocratic past through its mixture of casualness and stylization. That kind of tableau emerged, directed by an invisible hand, and gradually seized all passers-by in the huge reception hall. It balanced on the edge of feeling staged and just enjoying the pleasure of walking around and making (small) talk with other passers-by. It became a lively and stimulating exposure to the continuation of the live drawing adventure of visual artist Lena Czerniawska from Wroclaw, Poland, presently residing and working in Berlin. The drawings from last year and this year were exposed in the large receptions hall.

She was invited by the Ljubljana Jazz Festival last year and again this year to accompany the concerts with real time drawing in response to her experience of the music. Lena Czerniawska developed this in the music scene of her hometown Wroclaw, especially at a longer series Melting Pot meetings of young European improvisers at Jazztopad Festival organized by Poland's New Forum of Music on the initiative of artistic director Piotr Turkiewicz.

During this year's edition of the Ljubljana Festival the exposition space, artwork, visitors and musicians formed an ever moving, confluent ensemble together with the sound installation 'Just below the sonic level of sense making' by Slovenian musician Dré Hočevar and various other performance activities. The drawing is an accompanying activity, a different medium performed in real time synchronous with the live concert music. It reflects the visual artist's perception and experience of the music going on. It is a recoding in lines, dots, textures, colors, shapes etc., a visual live-remix of the original musical performance. The drawings are a spontaneous response to the music that could also motivate/stimulate people from the audience to exchange and share their perceptions/experiences besides or as part of the communal hangs. These aspects and the practice of live drawing, especially that of Lena Czerniawska, will be dealt with in a later article.


Without a doubt the Ljubljana Festival offered a rich collection of interrelated and interrelating activities and cutting-edge diversity of music as well as diversity of impressions and stimulating experiences aimed at an active audience in an enjoyable social meeting place. It is a fertile ground for the European Jazz Conference that tales place at Ljubjana's Cankarjev Dom these days (September 21-24).


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