XXVII. GĂRÂNA Jazz Festival, Gărâna, Romania, Thursday, July 6th, 2023
After the opening festival evening of top-notch jazz from Poland, Thursday offered an expanded program featuring four jazz ensembles, mostly from German-speaking countries.
Following the usual rearrangement of advertised bands, the international quartet led by Paul Zauner, the founder and organizer of the annual jazz festival INNtöne in Diersbach, took the stage as the first performers. Austrian trombonist Paul Zauner performed alongside American pianist Carlton Holmes, Austrian double bassist Wolfram Derschmidt, and Serbian-born drummer Dušan Navakov. Their rendition of classic jazz standards was quite tranquil in the first half of the concert and may have been somewhat unexciting for the audience eager for daring jazz. However, the legendary „Witchi-Tao-To“ by Jim Pepper brought a welcome liveliness to Wolf’s Meadow, and the closing poignant „Creole Love Call“ by Duke Ellington ultimately delighted the satisfied audience.
Michal Kratochvíl: I’ll cut to the chase and say that Paul Zauner’s performance didn’t resonate with me at all. The gradual start drew me into the music very slowly, and as this monotonous and somewhat overly saccharine introduction seemed to have no end, I gave up, and for the rest of the concert, the music presented by this band was mainly a backdrop to me, especially since it was mostly Abdullah Ibrahim’s music. Paul completely spoiled the whole concert for me with his attempts at recitation/singing. However, even such a performance will surely find its fans within the immensely diverse program of the festival.
Paul ZAUNER Quartet, GARANA JazzFest, 6.7.2023
A significant change to Thursday’s program was brought by the German trio Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr feat. Jörg Brinkmann. The perfectly synchronized brothers, pianist Roman and younger trumpeter Julian, were wonderfully complemented by the unconventional trio addition of avant-garde cellist Jörg Brinkmann. Thanks to the brotherly closeness and harmony with Jörg, their music flowed beautifully throughout the space. Whether Julian played the trumpet or flugelhorn, he created a warm atmosphere. The radiant piano palette of his brother Roman added freshness and airiness to the trio’s sound, while Jörg elevated everything with his cello. It was a great joy to listen to their melodic compositions with improvised solos from all three musicians. Perhaps the most impressive was the solo performance by the virtuoso cellist Jörg, which was a major highlight of the evening for me. Truly an outstanding showcase of 21st-century European jazz, I recommend the video excerpt below.
Michal Kratochvíl: Fortunately, after the previous performance, it was time for beautiful melodies, intricate arrangements, and a completely different musical experience from the Wasserfuhr brothers, enhanced by the wonderful Jörg Brinkmann on the cello. Right from the first presented composition, „Solitude“ I started to enjoy the festival atmosphere again and completely tuned in to the sweet note and beautifully intricate compositions. „Lost Time“ was a precise example of the aforementioned. They also played a new piece for us, „Minnie“ as well as their very first composition as brothers „You’re a Friend of Mine„. In the next piece, a darkened introduction on the cello with bass registers of the piano sets the tone, followed by a magnificent interplay between the piano and cello. The cello takes on the role of a double bass when the piano takes a solo, and then the trumpet joins in, leading us powerfully to a satisfying conclusion. In these moments, memories of the splendid concert by Marcus Stockhausen in Dobrš come to mind, particularly due to the beautiful, clear sound and the exquisite cello parts. These memories were only intensified by another beautiful solo from Jörg, which brings many exciting moments and the wonderfully resonating sound fills the valley with the Wolf’s Meadow. Captivating melodies like these can be created this way, and it can be an absolute delight! A magnificent concert.
Julian & Roman Wasserfuhr feat. Jörg Brinkmann, GARANA JazzFest, 6.7.2023
The third band of the second festival evening brought another radical change. The Romanian funk-rock ensemble Blazzaj awakened everyone present with their highly energetic performance. According to the program, the group of musicians from various genres (from jazz to classical to hardcore) has devised since 1998 a comprehensive, dynamic, and colourful instrument powered by bursts of energy, written in the mirror and read as Blazzaj. The dominant vocalist Tavi Horvath was significantly supported by the other musicians. Gradually, they managed to get many spectators, including several enthusiastic children near the stage, dancing along.
Michal Kratochvíl: I was content to observe the Romanian funk escapade or rap’n’roll Blazzaj from a distance. The „White Jazz“ (Jazz alb) struck me as a bizarre combination of various styles that worked at times and at other times did not. I found the metal-infused elements more appealing compared to the funkier ones. Perhaps the lyrics carried deep messages, but unfortunately, we didn’t understand them, though the singer’s constant poses and delivery seemed to suggest so. Allegedly, the band is considered a cult phenomenon in this region, well, as they say, to each their own taste…
Blazzaj, GARANA JazzFest, 6.7.2023
The clear highlight of the evening was the Austrian Syndicate, born out of David Helbock’s strong admiration for his American teacher Peter Madsen. They first met in Vorarlberg in 2001, after which Peter Madsen became David’s professor, mentor, and friend. For this joint project, they handpicked the finest rhythm section that Austrian jazz has to offer: Herbert Pirker on drums, Raphael Preuschl on E-bass and bass ukulele, and Claudio Spieler on percussion. The „wild young lions“ of Austrian jazz joined forces with one of the most sought-after sidemen in international jazz of the past two decades. A very successful, nourishing jazz-rock rich with keyboards, synthesizers, and powerful rhythms in the spirit of the renowned Austrian musician Joe Zawinul.
Michal Kratochvíl: The Austrian Syndicate hit us with a proper barrage right from the start, igniting the concert with the hit „Money in the Pocket“ by Joe Zawinul. The band’s name, considering the music they presented, is not coincidental, and the spirit of Joe Zawinul is felt in every composition. The second track „The Ups and Downs“ introduced by David Helbock with spacey synthesizer sounds, is joined by a tight percussion groove and a beautifully humming bass line. They then slowed it down with the ballad „We Need Some Help Down Here“ by pianist Peter Madsen, only to return to the elevated fusion in the style of Zawinul. The band is firing on all cylinders, and I’m already looking forward to their upcoming album. I caught myself grinning from ear to ear as I nodded my head and tapped along, admiring how well they meshed together. To wrap up the evening, they delivered a thoroughly infused rendition of Mozart, which spiralled into playful passages and echoes, extending the ride for a while longer. An encore was a must – and then another. That’s how it’s done!