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The Slovenian Experience: Jazz Festival Ljubljana 2017

Henning Bolte By

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Another striking event was the appearance of all-female quartet Hearth, a transnational sisterhood of fire. Pianist Kaja Draksler from Ljubljana and saxophonist Ada Rave from Buenos Aires share the Amsterdam impro-scene as home base, saxophonist Mette Rasmussen from Denmark has a strong tie to Trondheim in Norway and trumpeter Susana Santos Silva from Porto in Northern Portugal is residing in Stockholm. Strong centrifugal and centripetal forces brought the Sisterhood of these four young women together. The strongest and longest trace has been drawn by Susana Santos Silva in the recent past. She is part of the partly Rotterdam based quartet Lama, has a duo with Kaja Draksler. Ada Rave is part of the Kaja Draksler Octet and Mette Rasmussen is maybe the farthest reaching out force of them being very active in Scandinavia, Japan, and Central Europe. For a longer while she has now a dashing cutting-edge duo with North-American drummer extraordinaire Chris Corsano. It was quite natural that they found each other and joined forces at the OctoberMeeting 2016 at Amsterdam Bimhuis.

Hearth continued the line deployed at last year's edition by Swedish-Norwegian unit of Anna Högberg Attack (see my report). Initially the music of the four Hearth musicians reminded me strongly of the Alien Huddle unit of Sylvie Courvoisier, Lotte Anker and Ikue Mori. Fascinating forms emerged from the chirruping and huddling of the Hearth voices in a thrilling combination of coincidence and deliberateness along varying dynamics. It showed potentials that need to be exploited under more and new circumstances—in short: more festival appearances!

Trumpeter Rob Mazurek concluded the six concerts schedule of the festival's Saturday that was to be followed by the single Sunday dessert spectacle of Shabaka and The Ancestors. Mazurek's appearance was more a ritualistic unleashing performance than a usual cool or hot jazz concert. Using piano, trumpet, electronics and assorted percussion Mazurek whipped up turmoil of demonic flashes and murmurings. His actions cut deep, were smoldering in diffuse light and loosed off in crashing flashes. Its visceral quality, existential load and spiritual drive made it a rare thing that should happen more often.

Sometimes time comes to standstill, vanishes from awareness and leaves you completely immersed in the magic of a past time. This can happen with music. I experienced it once at a concert of Lee Konitz in Bucharest. Archie Shepp was on the program of the large Gallus hall of the Cankarjev Dom center after a hiatus of 30 years. He was the headliner with a heavy line-up of pianist Jason Moran, trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer extraordinaire Nasheet Waits.

From the wonky start on it took some time before the music found its track and unfolded from inside and gained glowing color. In the beginning it raised questions concerning the link with John Coltrane—the concert had been announced as a tribute to Coltrane. Skepticism was nourished, but staying open and receptive was rewarded. Finally it appeared, it was there, the good old magic, in full color, beautiful timbre and deep air (and with the voice of Tom Waits in mind). It turned out a time travel, extraordinary, captivating, memorable. The connection with Coltrane was the rendering of one of his pieces and conjuring up the spirit/feeling of those old times. It was less myth and more atmospheric touch.

Days and nights: Wednesday

Thursday evening brought a heavy start with Karkhana, the group from Beirut consisting of trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, electric guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui, electric bassist Tony Elieh and Maurice Louca augmented by reedist Umut Çaglar from Istanbul, Egyptian Canadian Sam Shalabi on ûd and electric guitar and Chicago drummer Michael Zerang. Karkhana continued a line of cultural dialogue from earlier festival editions.

The group started in a powerful inwardly rotating dark mood with some golden shimmering traces. It became a self-surpassing, self-growing force discharging into a deeper trance stream, but then for not obvious reason the group switched to a twitching free jazz intermezzo. It took some time but happily the group found its way back to some powerful rotating movement. Normally you won't hear this music at jazz festivals in Europe, which is a real pity.

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