(The Forge, Camden Town, 17th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Slavid)
I have to confess that until this gig I knew nothing at all about Moldovan Jazz. However, I was reassured when I got round to checking on Wikipedia to find that it only contains one word – Trigon. But this is a band that has been around for 25 years, produced umpteen CDs, and achieved a lot of success in France, Germany and most of continental Europe, but has disappointingly never before been in the UK.
So it's great that the festival could put on this concert - put together by promoters Kazum with the Moldovan Embassy and the Romanian Cultural Institute. It had clearly excited London's 45,000 strong Romanian community – and this was a young vibrant multinational sell-out crowd.
The band is made up of virtuoso viola player Anatol Ştefăneţ, one of the founder members, plus Dorel Burlacu (keyboards and harmonica), Valentin Boghean (soprano sax, flugelhorn, flutes and whistles) and Garri Tverdohleb (drums and percussion).
The melodies were mainly folk tunes – Moldovan, Romanian and Bulgarian certainly, often in complex time signatures, and usually at several different speeds. But the complexity of the time signatures is made to sound totally natural by the ease of the musicians so that it definitely swings even if you can't quite work out how.
Meanwhile there were also the jazz tunes. Birdland, Caravan and others – with definite shades of Weather Report, and yet clearly not American Jazz. And other tunes that lifted influences from all sorts of other places including circus tunes.
Burlacu's keyboard becomes more prominent on some of the jazz numbers, and his party piece is a sparkling solo on the harmonica. Tverdohleb's percussion drives the music along through the constantly shifting rhythms. Boghean plays some blistering solos on the soprano and then shifts between various folk instruments including several wooden flute/whistles and a large version which I think was a type of Kaval.
The stand-out voice is the spectacular viola playing of Ştefăneţ. Whether playing at breakneck speed through the folk tunes or morphing into something close to western swing, or making avant-garde squeaks and noise by scraping the back of his viola, his performance was mesmerising. The beauty of Trigon is that they don't play jazz with a folk influence, or folk music with jazz solos, what they do is an integrated whole with both influences coming together to create a special combination.
A thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Peter Slavid broadcasts a show of European modern jazz at www.mixcloud.com/ukjazz