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The Slovenian Experience: Jazz Festival Ljubljana 2017

Henning Bolte By

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Hungarian multi-instrumentalist Akosh Szelevény, who migrated to France in the second half of the 1980s, has made a name in the late 1990s and the first decade of the new century with his Akosh S. Unity. His music was a furious mélange of ethnic roots, exotic extensions, raw jazz and rock energies. The new version of the Akosh S. unit is scaled down but with its two drummers (Szilveszter Miklòs, Aron Porteleki ), double bass (Peter Ajtai) and two saxophones (Akosh Szelevény, Gabriel Lemaire) it can still raise a rough storm rushing over the Pannonian Steppe. It seems that the intensity of the music has increased and is still more obsessed. The five dedicated musicians totally went for it in long energetic stretches, which didn't miss their heavy impact. The unit has a unique sound not coming from electricity but mainly from the materiality of the acoustic instruments.

The two raw Eastern things formed a stark contrast with the concluding duo of the evening, pianist Kris Davis teaming up with the most admired jazz pianist of this moment, Craig Taborn. Kris Davis is a young master in her own right, who recorded a whole album of duos, Duopoly, with guitarists Bill Frisell and Julian Lage, pianists Craig Taborn and Angelica Sanchez, drummers Billy Drummond and Marcus Gilmore, and reed players Tim Berne and Don Byron.

With this duo the festival continued its two-piano-line after last year's Eve Risser/Kaja Draksler constellation. Craig Taborn returned to the festival after the daring duo-set with Swedish saxophone ace Mats Gustafsson in 2015. The duo concert in the intimate round amphitheater of the Štih hall became a rich and highly sophisticated affair with high listening demands. Davis and Taborn faced each other but only a few spectators could observe the action on bóth keyboards. The interplay was exciting, amazing and at times it even became confusing as it was difficult to discern who of the two pianists was playing, and what. It was a highly structured, splendid recital that got looser in the second half and during the encore.

Days and nights: Thursday

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.

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