Ljubljana Jazz Festival – Wednesday, 15.6.2022

Ljubljana Jazz Festival – Wednesday, 15.6.2022

63. Ljubljana Jazz Festival, Cankarjev dom Ljubljana, Wednesday, 15.6.2022

Under the direction of Bogdan Benigar, the 63rd edition of Europe’s oldest jazz festival, held annually without interruption, took place in the Cankarjev dom cultural centre, architecturally similar to Prague’s Congress Centre, and the adjacent Council of Europe Park.

The four-day varied programme including 30 musical performances was opened by curator Žiga Koritnik at the vernissage of the extensive photo exhibition Luciano Rossetti: Note a margine, in which many famous jazzmen were imaginatively captured offstage. Luciano’s photographs are „footnotes“, i.e. a look at the music, or still better, a look into the music. It is a work in progress, an exploration of the „picture“ of aspects of the music that listeners do not usually see.

Hamid Drake, one of the finest drummers of the last decades, brought the first Wednesday concert in the great Gallus Hall at Cankarjev dom under the title Hamid Drake’s Turiya: Honoring Alice Coltrane. Excellent band: Ndoho Ange – dance, spoken words; Thomas de Pourquery – tenor sax, vocals; Jan Bang – electronics; Jamie Saft – piano, keyboard, Fender Rhodes; Pasquale Mirra – vibraphone, percussion; Joshua Abrams – double bass, guembri, Hamid Drake – drums, percussion, vocals (USA, France, Italy, Norway) paid a magnificent tribute to John Coltrane’s wife. Alice emphasized the spiritual nature of music, „spiritual jazz“ and the practices of devotion and meditation. After leaving her secular life, she adopted the name Swamini Turiya Aparna Sangitananda. A very apt beginning to the festival.

Michal Kratochvíl: The extensive piano solo at the beginning of the concert led us to a free jazz frenzy of all sextet members. They all played over each other, but fortunately it didn’t take too long and the flow of the music took on a more understandable contour. A dancer appeared on stage, initially reciting to the music before launching into movement. Her expressive free style and movement around the stage became the focus of the performance at many points. The music, however, was not left behind. Thomas took care of the ethereal opening of the next song with his streamlined vocals, then seamlessly transitioned into playing his instrument to the steady dance accompaniment of Ndoho. Pasquale joined in, and both soloists broke loose from their chains and built up their performance in a very emotional way. Pasquale did not hesitate to throw mallets and various percussive objects on the floor to achieve the desired effect. After these escapades, Jamie took to the Hammonds and stomped the whole band, including Ndoho, who broke into the rhythm and beyond, as the whole concert graded. After such an encore it was worth continuing, however the show was put on hold when Hamid took the microphone and began to enlighten us on the origins of this project and its purpose and message. Claiming to have found in Ndoho an incarnation of Alice, he told us how she inspired him as a musician and as a guru on his spiritual journey and also illuminated all her spiritual names. Unfortunately, he spoke for perhaps a full 15 minutes, which was too much. Eventually he even acknowledged it himself and jokingly apologized for it. A spiritual piece followed, with a slightly rearranged instrumentation, so that they could return to their classical instruments for the next thing and fully chain up again and bring the concert to a successful conclusion. An exceptional festival opener that set the bar very high.

The second Wednesday concert in the adjacent park was called ANoRoK, a transliteration of the word „corona“ by Jure Pukl, one of the most important Slovenian saxophonists with nine years of experience in New York. The quartet Jure Pukl – saxophone, electronics; Peter Evans – trumpet; Joe Sanders – double bass; Nasheet Waits – drums (Slovenia, USA) returned in the first post-epidemic tour with music that, according to the festival program, draws inspiration from the chaos and unrest in the current socio-political situation. It’s a pity that all four excellent musicians didn’t play more together, their solos were often too long for me, but still an excellent continuation of the first festival evening.

Michal Kratochvíl: The packed programme, with several bands and musicians taking turns on different stages during the day, took us to the little park in front of the remarkable Cankarjev dom. There, the Slovenian world-famous saxophonist Jure Pukl brought a supercharged American quartet of top musicians and they presented themselves with modern jazz full of breakneck solos. The unison of trumpet and saxophone characterized the whole concert and this is how they introduced one of the pieces. There was no shortage of taut instrumental performances and the concept of the quartet reminded me of Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas‘ Soundprints. In the end, however, I found the solos to be overwhelming, and I most enjoyed the seminal moments when the quartet played and pedaled together.

The free-jazz quintet Irreversible Entanglements started again their continuous collective improvisation in the adjacent park. The band consisting of Camae Ayewa – vocals, synthesizer; Keir Neuringer – saxophone, synthesizer, percussion; Aquiles Navarro – trumpet, synthesizer; Luke Stewart – double bass; Tcheser Holmes – drums, percussion, (USA) performed adventurous music outside the genre, which did not impress me in any way, even thanks to the revolutionary interpretation of the slogans. Contemporary music has countless forms.

Michal Kratochvíl: Irreversible Entanglements were another American attraction on the opening day of the festival. The band was supposed to perform here two years ago, but for some reasons it couldn’t happen, so they prepared at least a streamed concert for the festival. Now they could finally present themselves live and I must say that their music was a big unknown for me and remained so even after watching their performance. Camae Ayewa tried to come across as some kind of preacher, shouting and reciting slogans into the musical „mess“ that was going on under his proclamations into the darkness. Reportedly formed after a concert to protest police brutality in 2015, the band seeks to convey this message: „On stage, we move without a map, navigating the world in a deep, telepathic, contrapuntal connection with each other and with the history we tap into, tapping into the known and the unknown and reaching the end together.“ So I guess, but I wasn’t impressed and didn’t connect at all.

Reports from other days: