Ljubljana Jazz Festival – Saturday 18.6.2022

Ljubljana Jazz Festival – Saturday 18.6.2022

63. Ljubljana Jazz Festival, Cankarjev dom Ljubljana, Saturday, 18.6.2022

On the last festival evening in Ljubljana, we were looking forward to a varied mix of jazz performances, which came to fruition. First, Norwegian experimental guitarist Kim Myhr presented his new album Sympathetic Magic, which was recorded during last year’s lockout. However, the performance of the extensive line-up of Kim Myhr – guitars, synthesizer, vocals; Håvard Volden – guitars, synthesizer; David Stackenäs – guitars; Adrian Myhr – guitars, bass; Anja Lauvdal – organ, synthesizer; Hans Hulbækmo – drums; Michaela Antalová – drums; Ingar Zach – percussion (Norway, Sweden) did not live up to expectations. Their vast musical surfaces with slowly changing rhythms did not impress me.

Michal Kratochvíl: Kim Myhr came to Ljubljana with his new project Sympathetic Magic. The already somewhat convoluted line-up of instruments suggested that it could be an interesting experience, as I haven’t seen so many guitars on one stage for a long time. Unfortunately, the opposite was true and my ears were not at all pleased with this overcombined music. Stacks of papers were falling off the musicians‘ stands and I was sinking into more and more despair and groping. The constant switching of effects, their adjustments, guitar changes, tuning between songs… I couldn’t connect to this music at all and in my opinion the concert didn’t work as a whole, also because of the long delays between songs. You know, when it just doesn’t sit right, you sit disinterestedly in the club and the music completely passes you by. In the end, the band managed to annoy even the festival director Bogdan, who vehemently signalled them that they had greatly overstayed their allotted time.

A big positive change and a considerable surprise was the concert of the Slovenian Armed Forces Big Band, conducted by Slovenian composer and conductor Izidor Leitinger. The twenty-five-piece orchestra played masterfully his suite Ushai, composed especially for this ensemble and four singers. Ushai means „victorious breath“ in Sanskrit and symbolizes the triumph of the heart over the mind, a very fitting name for creative, dynamic, orchestral jazz, enhanced by the superb acoustics of Gallus Hall. The powerful musical experience was further enhanced by soloists Lovro Ravbar – soprano and alto saxophones; Jaka Janežič – soprano and tenor saxophones; Aleš Ogrin – keyboards; Gašper Kržmanc – guitar; Miha Recelj – drums.

Michal Kratochvíl: We had to manage the subsequent buffet at a faster pace and we moved underground again to the amazing Gallus Hall, where we were treated to a Slovenian Armed Forces Big Band. My expectations were not too high, and it was worth it, as I was all the more pleasantly surprised by the modern, dense sound of the orchestra and the hilariously arranged pieces. The instrumental soloists were also excellent, perhaps only the vocals were a bit too much for me. A fine concert with a great sound.

The group of ten young Slovenian percussionists Domen Cizej, Luka Hren, Jakob Žerdin, Anže Mikulan, Julijan Kunej, Gaj Bostič, David Nik Lipovac, Tilen Zlatnar, Martin Pinter, Aljaž Ogulin attracted the attention of the large audience under the big plane tree. They presented an original composition by Domen Cizej for percussion ensemble called Stream Ø Stem Revision. An interesting and unusual tune for the expected highlight of the evening.

Michal Kratochvíl: Domen Cizej and his small percussion orchestra were a pleasant addition to the evening and their inventive rhythms gave us a pleasant mood for the next highlight of the festival.

Ten years ago, Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson expanded his original free jazz trio Fire! into Fire! Orchestra, a group of jazz musicians from different countries. In 2021, the band introduced a new approach by adopting the concept of community-based activity (CBA), i. e. teaming up with musicians from the local area and rehearsing a special program a few days before the concert. The orchestra will then play new pieces written especially for the ensemble as well as older stuff in new arrangements.

Fire! Orchestra CBA Ljubljana on the main stage in the Cankarjev dom park completely exceeded our expectations. The band consisted of Mats Gustafsson – reeds; Cene Resnik – tenor saxophone; Susana Santos Silva – trumpet; Mats Äleklint – trombone; Martin Hederos – Fender Rhodes, organ; Maša Bogataj – guitar; Julien Desprez – guitar; Urška Preis – harp; Jelena Ždrale – violin; Ema Krečič – cello; Aleksander Sever – vibraphone; Johan Berthling – bass; Andreas Werliin – drums (Sweden, Slovenia, Portugal, France) conveyed a considerable amount of energy and joy to the enthusiastic and appreciative audience. Absolutely great!

Michal Kratochvíl: Fire! Orchestra performed with a conveniently recycled line-up with some members of bands that also played at the festival, plus for example Susana Santos Silva, whom I had the opportunity to hear at Jazz goes to Town. In the music of Fire! Orchestra, there is so much going on that it might catch the unprepared listener off guard, but on the other hand it must be said that the concert was at least rhythmically very clear. There were plenty of instruments in the band, I enjoyed the electric harp and of course Mats himself on baritone saxophone. When he started conducting a controlled improvisation, it was downright delightful. His vehement gestures invited his bandmates now to solo, now just to bark, and when he let Julien Desprez from Abacaxi speak, things happened again. He performed one of his pedal solos again, basically playing mostly with his feet, and I was ecstatic in these ecstatic moments. The rock drive culminated into total free jazz, Susana wrestling with Mats and out-fucking each other. Then came the sing-along Blue Crystal Fire (a cover of Robbie Bash), probably the most serene moment of the show, and Maša Bogataj had a pretty solid sing-along. The violin and cello then lead us into another piece of intense music, where they manage to break it down into total free jazz again and one just eats it up, because it doesn’t take long before they’re back to supplying us with understandable hyped-up energy. Mats presents himself with a flute solo with various smiling shouts, then he conducts again, the trombone comes to the fore and the whole orchestra rages around him. Wonderful! Mats Gustafsson seems to be an eccentric dude, and he cutely sent us up the arse at the end of the concert. He didn’t mess with Bogdan, the festival director, who celebrated his birthday the day after. A fun insert at the end and another highlight of the festival!

Another radical change of the last festival evening was the duo Freekind, consisting of Croatian pianist and singer Sara Ester Gerdelj and Slovenian drummer Nina Korošak Serčič. Their creative philosophy „be free, be kind“ is also expressed in the duo’s name. The performed pop jazz captivated especially the young audience, who sometimes got carried away to dance.

Michal Kratochvíl: Freekind were like a fist on the eye after such a performance. Pop after the crazy energetic show Fire! Orchestra, I managed to get bored and we went to the CD club early to wait for the next band.

The last number of the festival belonged to the Belgian quartet Ottla by guitarist Bert Dockx. Ottla is the surname of Franz Kafka’s beloved sister, after whom the young Bert Dockx once christened a bicycle and later his first band. In the Cankarjev dom club, Bert Dockx – guitar; Thomas Jillings – tenor saxophone, clarinet; Gerben Brys – bass; Louis Evrard – drums, percussion played their straightforward, vital jazz with full vigour. A satisfying end to a demanding festival.

Michal Kratochvíl: Ottla, this bunch with the evil guitarist Bert Dockx was on fire right from the start. The effects and boxes were not spared, but he worked with them in a different way than, say, Abacaxi. However, he also used the guitar to spit out all sorts of sounds, but most of the time he played clean and clear, which made his musicality and fluffiness stand out. Unfortunately, as the concert progressed, the inventiveness seemed to fade, and in the end, thanks to my own fatigue, I remember mainly the beginning.

The four-day jazzfest in Ljubljana greatly exceeded our expectations in terms of scope, variety, precise organization and very friendly atmosphere. Most of the concerts were free of charge, and a ticket for the main stars of the festival cost only 90 Euros. We would like to thank the organisers for the considerable expansion of our jazz horizons and we look forward to the next Ljubljana Jazz Festival.

Michal Kratochvíl: We had a great time in Ljubljana and if the festival keeps on the path it has set, inviting interesting and innovative performers, it will surely attract our attention in the future and we will gladly visit it again. Thanks for the great music and human warmth.

Reports from other days: