GARANA Jazz Festival, Garana, Romania, Wednesday, July 7, 2021
After a successful tune-up at JazzTM in Timișoara, on our jazz trip to Romania we went to the Carpathian forests in search of the Wolf’s Meadow near the mountain village of Garana in Parcul National Semenic Cheile-Carasului.
The jubilee XXVth GARANA Jazz Festival offered an unprecedented showcase of mainly European jazz over five evenings, or rather nights. The very experienced organizers, led by Marius Giura, managed to put together a very attractive, intense program, each night hosted by the traditional presenter Florian Lungu four bands, starting with the lucky date of 7.7.2021.
Florian Lungu, Marius Giura
The basic problem in Garana at 900 meters altitude is often the weather. Everyone involved is prepared for the radical change in temperature from 30 degrees at the beginning of the concert to 10-15 degrees around 2am, when the concerts usually end. Worse are the sudden recurring thunderstorms, so the organizers searched for the most convenient date, which worked very well this year. Strong thunderstorms hit the festival only at the beginning of the fourth festival evening.
Despite considerable uncertainty due to epidemiological measures and the need to show a certificate or a valid negative test at the Covid entrance, 1500-2000 excited spectators gathered in the Wolf’s Meadow, very grateful for every musical performance!
Local dogs and cats were also interesting visitors to the festival, as well as the accompanying dogs of the spectators, with an estimated 10-20 animals on the Wolf’s Meadow grounds each evening. No one minded, however, as the dogs and cats were well-behaved and did not seriously disturb anyone. Even the big shaggy dog didn’t disturb the first performers, the French Paul Lay Trio, when he came on stage to see them peacefully. He first walked behind the musicians across the width of the stage, got a close look at the pianist, and then, as if on parade, walked calmly back in front of the musicians. Singer Isabel Sörling kept her spirits up, as you can see in the video clip from 01:08 below.
The Paul Lay Trio, consisting of Paul Lay – piano, Isabel Sörling – vocals, Simon Tailleu – bass, played mainly songs from their last year’s album “Deep Rivers”, where they revive and transform popular American songs (from gospel to Nina Simone). With extraordinary intuition, the three artists paid rich, emotional musical tribute to jazz, blues and American popular music with superb harmonic imagination and distinctive musical tone.
A very successful opening to the first night of the festival!
Michal Kratochvíl: The line-up of Paul Lay – piano, Isabel Sörling – vocals and Simon Tailleu – double bass initially aroused expectations, but also a slight apprehension. However, these were dispelled from the first notes of the concert, as it was clear that this was going to be a pleasant opening of the annual edition of the Garana Jazz Festival. Isabel’s vocals were strong and convincing enough to dominate the whole successful performance. There were traditional songs as well as some pieces from Nina Simone’s repertoire, which Isabel handled with honour. A beautiful and poignantly touching poem was set to music by a soldier who died 3 days after writing it. Isabel explained this story to us before the piece, which added to the intensity and urgency of the piece. Lightening the end of this trio’s performance was a local deserving dog who decided to take a stroll around the stage. A great moment that can perhaps only happen with such naturalness at a festival in Garana.
The second band celebrating 25 years of jazz in Garana was the international Mircea Tiberian Trio of Romanian pianist Mircea Tiberian, one of the most remarkable musicians on the Romanian music scene of the last two decades. Together with American bassist Chris Dahlgren and German drummer Tilo Weber, Mircea Tiberian played a one-hour dynamic improvisation between modernism, experimentation, traditionalism and originality, influenced by mainstream, African-American and European classical music.
We appreciated the change of dramaturgy; the Mircea Tiberian Trio was scheduled to play first.
Michal Kratochvíl: The more avant-garde concept of jazz performed by this Romanian trio might not suit everyone. Their performance was furious, sometimes stormy, full of frenzied improvisation. Just the kind of music you have to be in the mood for. And either it fits like an ass on a pot, or it doesn’t and it’s better to go for refreshment. For most of the show I was also in this contradiction, and in the end I didn’t take away any significant impression from the show. When the gentlemen got together and played, I enjoyed it, but as soon as everyone went off in different directions, I started to lose myself and my attention just couldn’t be held.
The main attraction of the first night of the festival was the popular Avishai Cohen Trio led by Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen, who was superbly accompanied by pianist Elchin Shirinov from Azerbaijan, as well as 21-year-old Israeli drummer Roni Kaspi. The program of their excellent concert was very similar to the successful concert of this trio last year in the Bobycentrum in Brno. A noticeable difference from the last Brno concert could be detected in Roni Kaspi’s convincing playing full of confidence and joy. More than 2000 enthusiastic spectators were happy to reward the musicians with thunderous applause.
Avishai Cohen convinced after 10 years back in Garana of the world-class quality of his current trio!
Michal Kratochvíl: I have to say right away that I like Avishai’s music very much, but I was definitely not looking forward to his performance as one of the highlights of the festival. I admit without torture that I have seen him live so many times that I feel that his music and performances cannot surprise me. Perhaps only unpleasantly if he accidentally included too many sung songs. Fortunately, that didn’t happen in Garana and the trio’s performance was fabulous. Typically playful, full of interaction between the members of the group, and when Roni cut a decent solo in about the 3rd song, the enthusiastic listeners got up from their comfortable seats or not so comfortable logs. Even this performance was spiced up with animal presence. This time a local cat took the stage, entertaining both the audience and the musicians. There was a great atmosphere during the concert and the audience enthusiastically applauded all the solos in the trio’s cleverly constructed melodic pieces. There were even 2 encores. The last one was played by Avishai himself on the piano and delighted us with a sung version of Motherless Child. A very nice ending.
After midnight, the international Trygve Seim Quartet, consisting of Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim, Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari, took the stage with their latest project Helsinki Songs, named after its place of origin in the Finnish capital. The structure of their performance was more of a musical diary, with themes dedicated to the great musicians who inspired Trygve Seim (Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Webb, …).
A very impressive concert, for me clearly the most interesting of the first evening.
Michal Kratochvíl: After the energy-packed previous performance, it was time to say goodnight in Garana and who else could have taken care of it better than Trygve Seim in the first day’s program. The typical ECM sound of his quartet created the perfect atmosphere for the midnight performance, the pleasant sound of the soprano saxophone, so much inspired by Jan Garbarek, weaved through the night and delighted us with its velvety tone. When he took up the tenor, his sound was still delicious and directly caressed the soul. Trygve took us with him on a dreamy trip to the frosty Nordic landscapes, and even his bandmates proved that they were absolutely top-notch musicians, even if they were just playing in a trio. A fantastic climax to the first day and a wonderful presentation of the great Helsinki Songs album. I definitely recommend listening to it, preferably in the evening after dark and with your eyes closed!