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Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Violin Competition 2016

Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Violin Competition 2016
Martin Longley By

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The 2nd International Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Violin Competition
The Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre For Music, Luslawice
Manngha Museum Of Japanese Arts & Technology
Kraków, Poland
August 24-27, 2016

The violinist Zbigniew Seifert was one of Poland's best-known jazz players, who died tragically early, a victim of cancer at the age of only 32. One of the aims of this competition is to maintain Seifert's profile and reputation in his homeland. The dominant mission, though, is to encourage the art of jazz violin in a younger generation, employing a competitive atmosphere to push players towards greater achievements of technique, expression and imagination. Seifert was born in Kraków, so it's appropriate that the gala concert finale was held in his home town, with the semi-finals and final being held an hour's drive away in Luslawice, over three days at the Penderecki Centre For Music. There is a cash incentive, the first prize being 10,000 euros, the second 5,000, and the third 2,000.

Starting out as an alto saxophonist under the spell of John Coltrane, Seifert only began concentrating on the violin at the turn of the 1970s, in his early twenties. Seifert was also a composer, so each short set played by the competitors featured an interpretation of one of his tunes. The competition judges were Janusz Stefanski (an old Seifert drumming band mate in the late 1960s), Mark Feldman (renowned NYC violinist) and Josh Grossman (trumpeter and Artistic Director of both the Toronto Jazz Festival and the Toronto Jazz Orchestra).

On the Wednesday night, the first batch of the ten entrants each presented a short set featuring three pieces, all playing in front of the Pawel Kaczmarczyc Audiofeeling Trio. Yes, it's a violin competition, but cellos are actually allowed, with Krzystof Lenczowski, a local son of Kraków, being the first of the competition's two string-deviants. He offered a pair of originals, strumming up at the neck, making a folksy prance, striding and swaying into Seifert's "On The Farm," as Kaczmarczyc dampened his strings under the piano lid. Florian Willeitner, from Germany, also began with one of his own tunes, followed by a Seifert arrangement, and then a reading of that composer's "Quo Vadis." Willeitner's short, grainy strokes led into a melody, drawn out slowly in a bright fusion style, then into a sweetly skating solo. The middle arrangement was blighted by a poorly chosen pedal effect, billowing as he plucked out an introduction, thickly layered with chorus lapping. The trio sat out for a very soft pizzicato section, before Willeitner opened up "Quo Vadis" alone, before his colleagues gradually re-entered, building up some passion to close. Within seconds of his set beginning, Frenchman Mathias Lévy established a pacing tension, paying greater attention to physically inhabiting the stage, and projecting his sound. He confidently stepped across time-lines, phrasing and flying freely, as he visibly transmitted energy towards the trio, who responded with greater engagement, coaxed into upping the intensity. Lévy was unusual in his concentration on the ancient tradition of gypsy jazz, which was largely ignored by his fellow entrants, in favour of a vaguely fusion-dominated orientation. This was to work against him in the judging, a few days later, it seemed. Another entrant who understood the value of an individualist presentation was Mario Forte, delivering at speed, with great dexterity, flamboyance and a predilection for decorative flourishes. For his arrangement of "All The Things You Are," Forte soloed whilst the trio made brief percussive punches, before the tune took off on a familiar glide. He too encouraged a hiking of energy within the trio, goading them into taking their own rousing solos. Forte set up some plucky loop tracks, adding his own sliding basslines, topped by a 'conventional' solo, sawing swiftly, bending and stretching phrases, then adding a warping effect to climax.

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