cristi c.

Posts Tagged ‘jazz romania’

The Gărâna “G” Spot

In jazz on 27/08/2009 at 15:04

Nothing surpasses the condescending attitude of the jazz audience than maybe the totally unjustified pretentiousness of some of the Romanian musicians. This would be my overall impression of the 13th edition of the Gărâna Jazz Festival. But I’d rather not think about this right now and recollect, and enjoy once more, the sensation I had listening to Terje Rypdal, Nik Bartsch, John Abercrombie, Trigon and Nils Petter Molvaer.

Evening 1 – the long one

The concert (preceded by a delay quite annoying) was opened by Andrzej Jagodzinski Trio, who were knitting decent jazz impressions on Chopin. A commendable idea by itself, but which in execution turned quite redundant after a while: a classical piano intro followed by a swing “development” – in other words, old tricks. They were followed by Jazz de Necaz from Timişoara. Their name (a little rhyme in Romanian, meaning something like “jazz of sorrow”) was the uninspired replica of their insipid performance. But I understand the organizers’ decision to promote local musicians. If this is the price I have to pay to witness live top international jazz acts, then I am more than willing to pay my fee.

Terje Rypdal’s concert was exactly what it was meant to be and twice that much, due to the drummer, Paolo Vinaccia, a mountain of pulsating energy. I was (finally!) silent and listening. It was a lesson in every aspect: a lot of music, few words, and a huge contrast to what had preceded them. Rypdal was embroiding in his characteristic manner (uninhibited and sharp) around the rhythm dictated by the Vinaccia-Hovland duo. Utter satisfaction.

As I thought nothing could possibly get any better, late into the night, Nik Bartsch, Kaspar Rast, Bjorn Meyer, Sha and Andi Pupato (a.k.a Nik Bartsch’s Ronin) walked up on the stage. Compared to the recordings, what I’ve heard was an explosion of sounds perfectly controlled by a strict (the Swiss metronome), austere yet liberating pulsation. I stood silent once more, because what I was hearing was at an intensity no CD could ever reproduce. I knew what to expect aesthetically and musically. The surprise was purely on the sound level. The best concert of the evening will have, by the end, proven itself to be the best of the entire festival.

Day 2 – Thunderstorm and scandal

Saturday evening was opened by Platonic and I feel the urge to just stop right now. I could not understand what they were doing there, at a jazz festival. Their act was a sort of Satriani lights blended with a few TV talk-show based musical tricks. What can I say… it was nice, but utter useless, like the rain that comes after you’ve washed your car and almost just as irritating. But more annoying than any of this was Berti Barbera. Not because of his performance (having to do strictly with the percussion this time, a solution for which I sincerely congratulate him) but when he opened his mouth in between songs. Affected to the bone, I was under the impression that the entire festival was just a mise-en-scène for his ego and for the “preeminent guitarist” Nicu Patoi. Yeah right…

All of this was frustrating enough to ruin the evening for any decent person. Platonic soon became a distant sweet memory once Bega Blues Band came up on the stage; a ballroom band that has the nerve to incorporate the word ‘blues’ into their name. If Platonic were boring but at least professional, Bega Band were unprofessional and down right nauseating. The only exception was a brief saxophone solo, midway through the performance, by Lucian Nagy, that, in my opinion was considerably better than anything he had played the day before alongside Jazz de Necaz. Other than that, the music was old and musty (not by origins, but exclusively by means of interpretation) and was witnessing the same affectation, characteristic by now of the Romanian musician. Everything doubled by a very long playlist. Or maybe it was just the sensation that they were never going to leave the stage. The price of seeing and listening to John Abercrombie was getting higher and higher.

The American guitarist managed within a few seconds to wipe away the musical nightmare that had tormented me before. John Abercrombie was the reason I went there in the first place and I was not at all disappointed: nor by sound, or the scene presence, nor by his professionalism when the crowd started to boo Elena Udrea’s appearance, a moment that John Abercrombie overcame quickly and gracefully as a raised ninth, calming his partners of musical dialogue (Joey Baron on drums and Thomas Morgan on double bass). I honestly confess that I did not boo the cohort that paraded before me. I “merely” cursed through my clenched teeth. And if I were to believe Abercrombie’s words (We will continue playing no matter what the fuck happens), I think that we could have done much more than just booing and cursing.

Back to music, John Abercrombie Trio succeeded, in my opinion, to teach everyone a lesson of good taste and aesthetic refinement. Without resorting to tricks, without being noisy, “lacking” the guitar exhibitionism so appealing to most of the audience (of which I believe would have applauded the trio less had it not been for the “Udrea incident”, by feeling somewhat responsible for the confusion created), John Abercrombie showed us his understanding of the jazz guitar: calm but not dull, reserved but not cold, full of personality, with it’s own interior balance, immediately recognizable,  and gushing musical intelligence. Were it not for the live surprise produced the evening before by Nik Bartsch’s Ronin, Abercrombie Trio would have been my number one. Anyway, as a guitarist it was a lesson that’s going to require a long and enjoyable digestion.

So, neither Bega Band nor Elena Udrea has succeeded to ruin the party. But within 30 seconds, the rain accomplished just that. Pickled from the waist down, we took refuge in the car and off we went convinced that Helge Lien Trio will not be playing. Some “teasers” have said that the band did eventually play that night, a completely acoustic set. Whoever knows more about this is invited to share the experience with us, those who left “cowardly”.

The third evening – consistency and normality

The last day finally stood for what should have been the entire festival. It started relatively on time, with Misi Farkas Trio, and all the names in the program were strictly jazz acts.

Although not astonishing, the trio lead by drummer Misi Farkas managed to convince us that we were attending a jazz festival. With a set dominated by Latino rhythms (thus slightly redundant) the combo, dominated by the rhythmic presence of the leader, prepared us for what was to come, and what turned out to be, maybe, the biggest surprise of the festival, the Moldavians of Trigon. The group, lead by Anatol Ştefăneţ, was able, due to the rhythm section composed of Dorel Burlacu (piano) and Gari Tverdohleb (percussion), to surpass the boundaries of ethno-jazz – the band’s trade-mark – in a way that it sometimes reminded me of Nik Bartsch (by now you must think I have an obsession, which maybe I do). To all these elements was added the polymorphism of Sandu Arcuş, who, in spite of his name (arcuş in Romanian means violin bow), deals mostly with wind instruments (saxophone, flute, caval) and who as a multi-instrumentalist brought a surplus of variation absolutely necessary as Anatol Ştefăneţ with his viola played (to my regret) strictly ethno melismas. Trigon offered us an energetic concert, full of vitality, virtuosity, musicianship and genuine enthusiasm. I will always be happy to see and hear them again, because I am sure I will not be bored, especially if the band’s leader will vocally tickle once more time our listening G spot.

Without a doubt, for many of us there, but also in the organizers’ vision, Nils Petter Molvaer was the main attraction of the festival. Alongside Eivind Aarset and Audun Kleive, the Norwegian trumpet player managed to make us experience live the wide breath of his music and to find our place in the electro-acoustic folds of its clothing. Amazingly human and extremely careful when it comes to the quality of his product, Molvaer looked like a caring father concerned that his daughter is going out Friday night for the first time. Technical equipment can help you out a lot but it can also burry you definitively if you can’t control it to the finest details. If with Abercrombie it was a matter of refinement in simplicity, with Molvaer we can talk about a refinement in intricacy: overlapping layers and textures, barely sketched sound effects that quickly fade away in favor of other elements, equally episodic. The attention for detail had as the final result a multi-stratified architectonics, cold at the base and dominated by hot explosions in the upper floors, from both the trumpet and the drums, followed occasionally by the guitar. Even if his music is best to be listened to in private, far away from the exasperating vociferations of a circumstantial audience, Nils Petter Molvaer was a treat from the first second to the last.

The festival was closed by Ulrich Drechsler Fortune Cookie, a quartet well tuned into funk, with a bass player, Jojo Lackner, which stood out from the very first seconds with his rhythmic presence and sense of groove. Juggling between soul-jazz, funk and hip-hop, the Austrian combo danced the public back to the stage after Nils Petter Molvaer’s performance, an achievement that at least can recommend them as a solid entertaining act.

In conclusion, the structure of the festival, with infusions of Romanian musicians, is viable as a principle, in spite of the failures I have mentioned before. I understand the organizer’s will to promote the local musicians, but I cannot turn a blind eye to the overall impression some of them had left at this edition. All of these are just small negative elements that only enhance the value of the top jazz players who were present at this edition of the festival. Each day had at least one exceptional concert, with Friday and Sunday even two such performances. Concerning the interference of the political, it was obvious that the audience does not tolerate such a thing. I believe there is a limit that, if crossed, the festival becomes mundane and fashionable, which I think no one of those truly interested in music would ever want to happen.

I wish you all the best ‘till the next edition. If I am promised Jim Hall, I will definitively be there.