A big touch of jazz

VIVID and full of energy on one hand, calm and mysterious on the other: jazz can be as different as the people who have dedicated their lives to playing it. The fact that this older musical style can combine very easily with rock as well as Latino rhythms could be attested to by anyone who was at the Incheba Expo Centre in Petržalka, the venue for Bratislava Jazz Days, during the October 21-23 weekend.

VIVID and full of energy on one hand, calm and mysterious on the other: jazz can be as different as the people who have dedicated their lives to playing it. The fact that this older musical style can combine very easily with rock as well as Latino rhythms could be attested to by anyone who was at the Incheba Expo Centre in Petržalka, the venue for Bratislava Jazz Days, during the October 21-23 weekend.

The first edition of Bratislava Jazz Days (BJD) was brought together in 1975 by amateur jazz musicians and during its first years it involved mostly musicians from Czechoslovakia or parts of the former USSR. But in each year since it has become more international and has gradually changed its look. This year’s festival looked like a reunion of US-based jazz performers seeking to permanently entrench this kind of music in Slovakia, in the heart of Europe.

“Jazz is specific because every author, every soloist is a representative of a certain view,” Peter Lipa, a leading Slovak musician and long-time organiser of BJD, told a press conference on October 3.

And he was right. The evenings were as unique as the people performing the music. The audience could listen to jazz coloured with various musical styles, including rock, folk, pop and Latino as well as jazz in its purer forms.

“It [the programme] is a folder that is created every year,” Lipa stated, adding that the festival has never had any particular leitmotif and that experience from previous years has proven again and again that composing the programme in this way is right: the audience is willing to come and listen to well-known as well as lesser-known musicians.

Full of colours

From its very beginning on Friday evening the performances and performers captured the attention of the audiences and did not release it until the last gig – one that combined a funky version of African, Latin and other musical genres offered by the Earth, Wind & Fire Experiment featuring Al MacKay. People did have a chance to calm down during the performance by Polish singer Grażyna Auguścik, whose voice seemed to melt into the sounds of the musical instruments, and to put on their dancing shoes during the performance by Cuban piano players Chucho Valdés and Harold Lopez-Nussa. They also enjoyed the beautiful voice of Raúl Midón, a blind American singer, and the New Orleans melodies of the trumpet played by Nicholas Payton.

Younger people particularly enjoyed the music of Robert Glasper, whose performance with the electric and hip-hop band R.G. Experiment brought stormy applause from the audience.

Glasper, who came to Slovakia four months ago, told The Slovak Spectator that he appreciated the attentive audience who really enjoyed the music despite the huge number of people who had jammed the hall during his concert.

Another extraordinary part of the festival was the performance of American trumpeter Randy Brecker joined by the AMC Trio from Prešov, represented by Peter Adamkovič on piano, Martin Marinkovič on double bass and Stano Cvanciger on drums. Brecker, a renowned jazzman, decided to learn the repertoire of his Slovak musical soulmates, much of which they compose themselves.

The musicians gave their best to the audience and it was returned back to them in the same way as pure energy.

“The audience was just great, it felt like we had known each other for years,” US singer and saxophone player Curtis Stigers told The Slovak Spectator. He added that he made a connection with the people from the get-go and welcomed the way they laughed at his jokes between songs.

Stigers, whose Saturday performance brought him a long, standing ovation, said that he tries to make a jazz version of even popular songs and that it is very important for him to put real emotion into his music.

“I try to take the story that someone else has told and tell it in a different way, from my point of view,” he told The Slovak Spectator, adding that all people have similar things going on in their lives – heartbreaks as well as love.

Though a majority of the performers came from the Americas and the Caribbean, Slovakia had a number of artists appearing among the headliners. The Friday concerts were opened by a young group from eastern Slovakia called The Illusions Trio.

“It is an amazing feeling but it is also a big responsibility for us to be one of the Slovak bands playing in BJD”, Andrej Karlik, the band’s guitar player, told The Slovak Spectator.
Slovakia was also represented by the Matúš Jakabčic CZ-SK Big Band performing with Austrian saxophone player Harry Sokal and musicians playing on the second stage.

New blood

In addition to the headliners, BJD gives new jazz groups a chance to show off their stuff and perform in front of packed audiences on the second stage. Though it might seem that most people would be attracted more to the A-stage performers who are more famous than their B-stage colleagues, the reverse seemed to be true as even less familiar performers were able to flaunt their talents in a jam-packed room.

Appearing on Stage B offered another important opportunity for the groups that performed there – as thanks to the SPP Foundation the organisers of the jazz festival started to vote on which groups will play at subsequent Bratislava Jazz Days and have a chance to appear among the stars on Stage A.

Karlik from The Illusions Trio, the group which won last year’s voting, believes the future will show what last year’s victory meant for them, while adding that their success has been reflected in the trio’s behaviour and they are now more convinced of the importance of their music.

“I feel it through the increased self-confidence of our group,” Karlik told The Slovak Spectator, adding that though the group is now more visible the Slovak jazz market is too small for them to become a superstar among worldwide groups performing jazz.

The FAT BreakFAST group won this year’s Stage B contest and their jazz, like the music of The Illusions Trio, is tinged with rock melodies.

Jazz days – the place to meet

BJD has always been the meeting point for people with the same interests – listening to and enjoying jazz. For the first time in its long history this year’s performances were not held in Bratislava’s PKO, which is now closed to the public, but at the larger Incheba complex in Petržalka.

Though some people might have complained a little about the new venue and some overcrowded areas, especially between concerts when people wanted to freshen up, Karlik from The Illusions Trio does not think it really matters where the jazz days are held.

“People, and also musicians, are coming because of music not because of the place,” he told The Slovak Spectator.

Zuzana Vilikovská contributed to this report

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