GĂRÂNA Jazz Festival – Sunday, July 9, 2023

GĂRÂNA Jazz Festival – Sunday, July 9, 2023

XXVII. GĂRÂNA Jazz Festival, Gărâna, Romania, Sunday, July 9th, 2023

The Sunday program of the highly successful festival continued with two concerts in the church in Văliug and three final performances at the Wolf’s Meadow in Gărâna. First, in the church, Michel Godard, one of the world’s finest players of tuba and serpent in the realm of jazz and improvised music, took the stage. As he clearly demonstrated to us in his trio during Saturday’s program at the Wolf Meadow, his pure, warm tone, musicality, and incredible technical skills left the church audience astonished at how easily a traditional serpent or seemingly cumbersome tuba can sound and how many emotions they can convey. A very pleasant start to a musical Sunday.

Michal Kratochvíl: Michel Godard began his solo concert on the serpent while playing a recorded bass guitar in the background. He performed music dedicated to love and also explained to us the fascinating instrument he was playing. In the past, it was quite famous in France and supposedly present in every church. It is meant to imitate the human voice and serves as a link between Heaven and Earth. He even compared it to instruments like the didgeridoo. He then played the first recorded blues, „Black Snake Blues,“ which amusingly suits this instrument. He later breathed new life into it with a modern twist, explaining that it’s great to incorporate old instruments into contemporary music. He also played several pieces on the tuba, beautifully filling the church space with the splendid sound of this instrument.

The last church concert of this year’s Gărâna JazzFest was kicked off by the quartet of Marta Popovici, a talented young Romanian singer whom we first got to know at JazzTM 2021 in Timisoara. Her fellow musicians Bogdan Tănase – guitar, Alexandru Marin – bass guitar, and Gabi Matei – drums, have remained unchanged since then, only the pianist couldn’t make it. However, their music has undergone significant progress. Marta Popovici lives in the Netherlands, where she is pursuing a jazz master’s program at the Prins Claus Conservatory in Groningen, focusing on narrative storytelling in composition. The music of her quartet was remarkably impressive. I recommend evaluating in the video excerpt.

Michal Kratochvíl: Marta Popovici and her band truly captivated me with their lively rendition of songs from the album „Hazy Eyes.“ Modern jazz sung in English, and most importantly, original compositions! In a previous report from Timisoara, I once mentioned that petite Marta reminded me of our own Marta Kloučková. The songs have a strong rock drive, yet the sound was absolutely fantastic in the church setting. In „Do you remember,“ she did a duet with the guitarist, and in another piece, the band pushed the envelope, with Marta reaching angelic heights in an intense passage. Dynamic contrasts, well-structured compositions, and a concluding monumental sprawling epic with multiple acts are interwoven with numerous rhythm changes, intricate passages, and perhaps even a hint of prog metal at the end. It was brilliant, bravo!

The concluding, pinnacle artist of this year’s Gărâna JazzFest was meant to be Anouar Brahem, an exceptional Tunisian oud player, an African twelve-stringed lute, according to the program. However, following his wishes, he kicked off the evening performance at the Wolf Meadow, which honestly contributed to a straightforward climax of the final festival night. The strong sun illuminating the stage pushed the beginning of his quartet’s performance almost an hour later to prevent any rapid detuning, especially of Anouar’s oud. With his longtime fellow musicians, the German Klaus Gesing – bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, the Swedish Björn Meyer – double bass, and the Lebanese Khaled Yassine – percussion, they played for us his original, exceptionally sensitive, enchanting music that rests on his resolute openness to the world and the determination with which he builds bridges between modernism and Arabic and Islamic musical heritage. The focused audience gratefully absorbed every note and rewarded his quartet with well-deserved ovations.

Michal Kratochvíl: Anouar Brahem reassured us with his exquisite meditative music, and the concert flowed in the same spirit as the one we could witness a year ago in Ljubljana. Once again, the sun bathes the festival area in Gărâna, without anyone even noticing, and Anouar contentedly hums along to his oud playing, while the bass clarinet beautifully colors the entire band’s sound. It’s delicate, understated, and precise. You can allow yourself to be carried away and simply drift along; it’s a continuous flow of fulfilling music. Another enriching experience with a spiritual dimension, followed by truly frenetic ovations that even surprised the performers themselves. Indeed, it was clear who the headliner of the festival was for the majority of the audience.

The penultimate concert of the festival belonged to the Norwegian trio: Daniel Herskedal – tuba, bass trumpet, Eyolf Dale – piano, and Helge Andreas Norbakken – percussion. Daniel Herskedal convinced us that he is an incredibly capable musician and composer who pushes the boundaries of his instrument to its very limits. His music, supported by the pianist and the extravagant drummer with unconventional percussion instruments, flowed with absolute grace and equilibrium, perfectly blending the spirit of jazz with the compositional craftsmanship of classical music. Furthermore, the concert culminated in an unprecedented drum solo, as seen in the video excerpt. An excellent preparation for the evening’s climax.

Michal Kratochvíl: The next concert started quite powerfully, featuring a highly interesting trio that has been performing together for 9 years and has released 4 albums. I was greatly looking forward to Daniel Herskedal’s trio, and my expectations were fulfilled. The evening in Gărâna reached its peak, and music was played from all their shared albums. Nordic music inherently possesses a certain distinctiveness, a touch of melancholy, and the ability to paint landscapes with sound. Daniel swiftly alternates between the bass trumpet and the tuba, and the diverse compositions tick away one after another, full of exciting moments and successful solo performances. In this pulsating music, the tuba was elevated to a solo instrument! Truly innovative is also the drummer and percussionist, playing, for example, on wooden blocks instead of conventional drumsticks. His utterly disarming solo is complemented by sighs, and at times, it becomes an almost mystical experience, which garnered enthusiastic applause. After the meditative experience with Brahem, this trio truly got our blood pumping and further escalated the intensity, driving us to the brink of ecstasy. At the concert’s finale, „The Mariner’s Cross“ was performed, and towards the end of the solo introduction, the sound engineer passed the tuba from one side to the other. Such details are worth it when the band brings its own sound master. Bravo!

The final performance by the unfamiliar group, The Side Effects, was a clear programming bullseye, the culmination of the entire five-day festival! The Norwegian trio of Marius Neset – saxophone, Stian Carstensen – accordion, guitar, banjo, and Thomas Strønen – drums, percussion, excited us from the very first piece. We anticipated that the acclaimed saxophonist Marius Neset, with his sonic power and tonal finesse, would be the clear guiding force of the original trio. However, the highly skilled and equally significant collaborator was accordionist Stian Carstensen, who expertly modulated his accordion and surprised us with his banjo playing. It was a great delight to absorb the fantastic musicality and energy of both extraordinary musicians, driven forward by the wild drummer. Perhaps the video excerpt below will sufficiently convey the unforgettable concert of this trio, which left us in a state of trembling ecstasy.

Michal Kratochvíl: Can something even better come after the previous performance? Or at least equally good? The answer came swiftly, and yes, indeed it can. The closing evening of the festival was truly exceptional. The brand-new project, The Side Effects, offered yet another innovative combination of instruments, and the music itself was quite unconventional. The programming was so well done that the entire evening built up perfectly. At the outset, Marius dominates on the tenor saxophone, ranging from wild and untamed passages to meticulously controlled ones; the accordion is played like a Hammond organ, creating a delightful frenzy. The accordionist doesn’t introduce the pieces by name, only stating who composed each one. When Marius takes the lead again and launches into a tenor sax solo, our jaws drop, and we tremble with excitement because he plays as if his life depended on it. And the entire trio’s rhythmic drive was on the verge of a musical climax. Absolutely captivating concert, bravo, bravo, bravo!

The brief switch from accordion to banjo didn’t diminish the intensity of the performance. It was just for one piece, and then the accordion continued to modulate its sound fearlessly, and the journey carried on. Lastly, the overall sound of the festival deserves recognition; it was absolutely fantastic in all the performances. Further frenetic ovations seemed never-ending, and the musicians didn’t need much persuasion for an encore. Clearly, they also have a remarkable sense of humor and presented a rendition of Céline Dion’s ballad „All by Myself.“ They even wanted the audience to sing along with them…

Overall, we must congratulate the organizers, led by Marius Giura and his children Caius, Simona, and Cristina, for the exceptionally successful 27th edition of their festival, and express our gratitude for the unforgettable musical and social experiences. I recommend to all those hesitant to start planning their trip to the upcoming 28th Gărâna Jazz Festival. Thanks to the interconnected highway network, the journey from Brno to Gărâna/Valiug takes only about 8 hours. You haven’t seen a jazz festival like this before, and you probably won’t experience it anywhere else around here!

GĂRÂNA Jazz Festival – Sunday, July 9, 2023