FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: 2017 Sarajevo Jazz Festival (Part Two - 3-4 Nov.)

Hamid Drake and Mats Gustafsson
Photo credit:  Vanja Cerimagic via Sarajevo Jazz Festival Facebook page

Sarajevo Jazz Festival
(3-4 November 2017. Festival Round-Up Part Two by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Day Four moved on from the three-day John Zorn marathon (see earlier review) to present a varied programme with more of a focus on European jazz. Mats Gustafsson began the evening with a measured and thoughtful solo set on baritone saxophone. Hamid Drake followed with a similarly absorbing solo drum set. In the absence of William Parker, recovering from an operation in New York, Mats and Hamid came back on to play a duo set. Apparently, they had originally been introduced by Don Cherry and first played together as a duo on the day of Cherry's death. This was only the second time they had played in this format though they have been together in larger configurations.

Their set was notable for the way they listened to each other and interacted, producing music of great warmth and charm.

Next up was the Belgian French trio Hermia Ceccaldi Darrifourcq, which for me is one of the most exciting groups in Europe. The strength of the music arises from the telepathic understanding between Valentin Ceccaldi on cello and Sylvain Darrifourcq on drums who create intense driving rhythms over which saxophonist Manuel Hermia manages to find his own space.

The Austrian quartet Kompost 3 rounded off the evening with a set full of interesting ideas, but with the occasional longueur that made for exhausting listening at the end of the night. Some critical evaluation of their material would almost certainly make this a really strong band.

Day Five - my last day - was full of variety and fascinating surprises. The afternoon set presented En El Amor with Natasa Markovic singing songs from the Sephardic Jewish tradition in Sarajevo. The Sephardic community arrived in Sarajevo 500 years ago after various moves following their expulsion from Spain, and maintained many of their traditions, especially in music. The songs were in a medieval Spanish, Judaeo-Spanish or Ladino, and have a passion and atmosphere of longing reminiscent of Portuguese fado that Markovic brought out fully. The idea of basing the songs in a context of gentle contemporary improvisation with Michel Godard on serpent, an ancient instrument similar in sound to the tuba, and Jarrod Cagwin on drums worked brilliantly.

There was also some excellent accordion playing from Mario Batkovic, also from Bosnia. Accordion is 'harmonika' in Bosnian so, expecting a solo harmonica set, it was a pleasant and welcome surprise to hear a solo accordion set that moved between a kind of minimalism and bursts of high energy.

Thumbscrew, a new cooperative trio from New York with Mary Halvorsen on guitar, Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara in drums, was very much a trio of equals with tunes written by all three and a gentle flowing interaction that always held my attention.

James Blood Ulmer finished the night off with a solo set in blues mode; wonderful guitar within the blues tradition. His vocals struck me as aptly described as 'raggedly soulful', but after a time I began to find them repetitive.

A few thoughts on the festival itself: it's a well run and brilliantly curated event with a strong and uncompromising commitment to contemporary music/jazz. This was the 21st Edition, the first festival having taken place one year after the end of the siege of Sarajevo. It has clearly built a following in the city with a number of people commenting to me on its importance to the arts scene in the city. The audience is large with a good age and gender balance. It is one of Europe's major festivals.

LINK: Sarajevo Jazz Festival

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