GĂRÂNA Jazz Festival – Saturday, July 8, 2023

GĂRÂNA Jazz Festival – Saturday, July 8, 2023

XXVII. GĂRÂNA Jazz Festival, Gărâna, Romania, Saturday, July 8th, 2023

The Saturday program of the festival continued with two concerts in the Văliug church and the longest series of five performances on the Wolf’s Meadow in Gărâna. First, the young Bucharest-based band Răzvan Cipcă Trio played for us in the church, consisting of Răzvan Filip Cipcă on guitar, Vlady Săteanu on bass guitar, and Anthony Gutierrez on drums. The trio members prefer a free approach when it comes to their musical style. Their admiration for American influences, especially Bill Frisell and Julian Lage, was abundantly clear. A pleasant start to the rich Saturday program.

The second performance in the church, added to the program at the last moment, belonged to the unfamiliar (I apologize) Serbian pianist Vasilij Hadžimanov. The beginning of his solo concert on the electric piano unexpectedly captivated me. Creative, masterfully executed improvisations on his own themes alternated with rapid runs and romantic, calming passages. The concert built in intensity with each successive piece, and the filled church gratefully rewarded Vasil’s artistry. His playing style, unique improvisations, and dynamic phrasing strongly reminded me of my favourite Keith Jarrett. Vasil’s beautiful concert eventually moved me significantly. With tears in my eyes, I had to congratulate him right after the concert. Instead of a formal thank you, he warmly embraced me, a completely unknown photographer/filmmaker. Thank you for an extraordinary musical and emotional experience!


The evening’s opening on the sunlit Wolf’s Meadow belonged to Dean Bowman’s 5000-pound Band. Charismatic singer Dean Bowman, who has made his mark in jazz, rock, gospel, and soul, performed with Serbian jazz pianist Vasilij Hadžimanov and Americans Nimrod Speaks on double bass and Ronnie Burrage on drums. The expressiveness of his voice, achieved through mastery and combination of various vocal techniques and styles, earned Dean Bowman significant acclaim from the audience in Gărâna, thanks also to the excellent accompaniment of all three fellow musicians. The boldness of the avant-garde gospel singer and jazz vocalist with a rocker’s soul was a perfect fit for the start of Saturday evening.

Michal Kratochvíl: Dean Bowman, currently based in the nearby town of Reșița, delivered fantastic soul jazz enriched with gospel, traditional tunes, and blues. His excellent vocals and at times almost trance-like performance, along with the groove of the band, added an incredible energy to the performance. Add to that a great selection of repertoire, and you have the surprise of the day, or perhaps even the whole festival. I don’t know if it was because the festival grounds were finally bathed in sunlight, but I really connected with this enjoyable performance. The video clip should best illustrate the ride for you.

Norwegian artist Sinikka Langeland is one of the rare voices of the North. She masterfully commands both her voice and the kantele, a traditional Finnish instrument. At Gărâna JazzFest 2023, Sinikka presented her project „Wind and Sun“ alongside a stellar ensemble of Norwegian jazz stars: Kristina Fransson – trumpet, Bendik Hofseth – saxophone, Jo Skaansar – double bass, and Markku Ounaskari – drums. Her musical interpretations of Jon Fosse’s poems draw from folklore, but she has brought the timeless aspect of Fosse’s poetry into the present through the musicians who elevate the compositions to new heights with their improvisation and masterful interpretation, inviting us all on a journey through the timeless landscape envisioned by Jon Fosse. A very impressive concert!

Michal Kratochvíl: The next performance, on the other hand, was from a completely different realm. Sinikka Langeland is essentially a folk singer who navigates in jazz waters. Initially, this performance struck me as beautifully avant-garde, particularly due to the singing, as we are not very accustomed to Norwegian. It blended seamlessly into the festival program, and that distinctive ECM sound was immediately recognizable. Just listen and let yourself be carried away. The compositions were based on the poetry of Norwegian poet Jon Fosse, and included pieces like „It Walks and Walks„, „You Hear My Heart Come“ and „Child That Exists“ which was performed by Sinikka and the drummer. These were very intimate pieces that required deeper immersion. It’s remarkable how such music can function in Gărâna even at this hour. This profound, mystical, meditative, and charming performance was fittingly concluded with a wolf’s rune for protection against wolves, considering the festival takes place on the Wolf’s Meadow.

The third performance of Saturday evening brought yet another radical change in musical style and confirmed the exceptional diversity of the festival’s programming. The trio of Michel Godard & Luciano Biondini & Nataša Mirković drew us convincingly into their musical world. French tubist Michel Godard creates, discovers, and weaves connections between centuries and musical cultures through the practice of improvisation and its codes, as well as through encounters with two exceptional musicians: Italian accordionist Luciano Biondini and Bosnian singer Nataša Mirković, a passionate advocate of Sephardic songs. These three experienced musicians presented us with a beautiful dialogue between ancient times and the present, where Italian and Balkan medieval compositions intertwined fascinatingly with contemporary compositions by the performers themselves. Michel Godard also introduced us to the serpent, a traditional wind instrument that imitates the human voice. Another significant highlight of the Saturday evening.

Michal Kratochvíl: The next intriguing instrumental combination didn’t keep us waiting for long, and on the stage appeared an excellent accordionist, a singer, and a player of both tuba and serpent. At the beginning, Nataša used her body as percussion and sang beautifully and even touchingly. Michel introduced us to the unusual serpent, but during the concert, he occasionally took up the bass guitar and, above all, the tuba. Most of the compositions were his, encompassing a mix of everything from the Balkans to Italian classics, spiced up with Bosnian lyrics or even taking us to Albania. A successful performance.

The long-awaited midnight concert by the quartet of Israeli saxophonist Oded Tzur unquestionably fulfilled our expectations. Oded Tzur, whose original saxophone playing technique, „The Middle Path,“ has been astounding critics and audiences for years, performed his Isabela project at Gărâna, dedicated to the beauty of his wife. He was joined by pianist Nitai Hershkovits, Greek bassist Petros Klampanis, and the new drummer Cyrano Almeida. Oded Tzur convincingly showcased his unmistakable style, blending ragas and jazz. The delicate musical language of the balanced quartet lifted us to unusual heights. I highly recommend the last two pieces of their performance in the video excerpt. Artistically, the strongest highlight of Saturday evening.

Michal Kratochvíl: With the next performance, we were once again taken to a completely different realm. Oded Tzur fascinated me with his stage presence as a reserved frontman with black glasses. The introverted music gave the impression that all the players on stage were drawn into themselves, playing their parts and soloing in mutual connection. Dreamy and intimate moments alternated with more intense passages, primarily led by Nitai, showing that the band knows how to really let loose. Live, they presented their latest album „Isabella“ dedicated by Oded to his wife. He read us a short poem „To Love“ and continued the concert with a dreamy composition that perfectly suited the cold, dark Gărâna evening. Just when I began to feel that the dreaminess might be a bit overwhelming, they revved up again, satisfying me completely. But what they delivered in the third piece was magnificent. As a change of pace, it was a power-packed piece, highlighted by Nitai’s commanding solo that seamlessly transitioned into a drum solo. It was clear that we were witnessing the pinnacle of this evening. The next piece was almost like a lullaby, with a touching moment when Oded came to Petros after his bass solo and patted him on the shoulder. As an encore, they treated us to an exceptionally well-executed lively piece, bringing this highly successful performance to a close..

The last, seventh band of Saturday’s program brought Rebekka Bakken to the stage, one of the most impressive European vocalists. Her music is hard to categorize, but it’s very difficult to forget once you hear it for the first time. The songs of this Norwegian were both stunning and lyrical in Gărâna, showcasing her exceptional vocal qualities. Her four experienced bandmates perfectly supported the charismatic Rebekka. Enchanting melodies composed by herself, along with reinterpretations of favorite songs and the heart-rending final blues, made her concert in Gărâna an unforgettable performance. The highlight of her concert was the closing BLUES, as seen from 05:40 in the video clip.

Michal Kratochvíl: At the very end, in the chilly darkness of the Gărâna valley, another Norwegian enchantress with her voice, Rebekka Bakken, presented herself on the Wolf’s Meadow stage. The band, moving with incredible ease, the Hammond organ, and the grand sound were another reason for satisfaction. Blues rock as it should be, complemented by various covers, perhaps even from Tom Waits. Then, Rebekka sang in Norwegian, and during this moment, I literally had goosebumps. Undoubtedly, the most powerful experience of the entire concert, and you can also enjoy it in the video (hopefully). Live, it was truly disarming and monumental. I must also highlight the encore, where, once again, the guitarist shone with an absolutely epic solo, and this blues rock ride sent us into ecstasy.