Valamar Jazz, Day 2. Ralph Towner in the Euphrasian Basilica


Today it's all been about the basilica, a.k.a. "The Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the Historic Centre of Poreč", or for all you listophiles out there, Unesco World Heritage Site No. 809. Its bell tower, by some margin the tallest structure in the old town, is visible from everywhere here. And if you climb the 121 steps to the top, here's view you get as your reward:



There has been a religious building on this site since the second half of the fourth century. The five star attraction here are the mosaics in the basilica commissioned by Bishop Euphrasius in 553 AD. The mosaic-maker was indeed so grateful to the Bishop for his commission, he rewarded his boss in perpetuity (as part of the mosaic) with this portrait, and a nifty carry-home version of the building:



It's hard to believe that guitarist Ralph Towner - or indeed many musicians - get the opportunity to play in a building with quite so much history breathing from its walls. As Festival Director Tamara Obrovac said in her introduction, the mission of Valamar Jazz Festival is to bring "great jazz in great ambiance". And how. The courtyard of the basilica, open to the skies, on the longest day of the year, starting in daylight and descending into darkness certainly had ambiance. At the beginning the sounds of seagulls and camera shutters risked drawing the attention away, but we were gradually drawn into Ralph Towner's world. It was from the fourth number onwards that I got hooked by the performance: Solitary Woman from the 2001 ECM album Anthem. It was one of only two numbers played on twelve string guitar. Towner uses the deep resonance of that instrument to reach out in a more public way, to gain a detachment from the phrase he has just played, to give the sound its own life and to stand back from it and observe it.

Ralph Towner at the sound-check. Euphrasian Basilica, Porec. 21st June 2012


And that feeling of music declaimed on the twelve string brought to mind quite how intimate, sensual, close-up Towner's work on nylon-stringed classical guitar is. He often experiments on the boundaries of silence, but tonight he had the audience's attention completely held.

The most moving and inspiring came at the end. In the first encore - Anthem - Towner seemed to bring back ghostly, indistinct, evanescent memories of earlier ages. Courtly or religious? Dowland or Byrd? Who knows, they were gone as rapidly as they had arrived. But he seemed to be giving back to the building, evoking the spirit of lamentation and contemplation whih has been practised in these buildings for a millenium and a half.


And from there, a brief visit to the festival after-party. The beautifully lit gardens of the Villa Poresini were hosting a fine young local group, including players who have been off honing their chops in Berklee and Paris, I was told.

Some party. The Croatian for "Good night" is "Laku noć". But with a hang as agreeable as these gardens, and people as friendly as these ..... the temptation will definitely be to stay - "Laku noć" is going to get increasingly harder to say each night as this festival progresses.

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