FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Pancevo Jazz Festival, Serbia

Joe Lovano at Pancevo Jazz Festival
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

20th Pancevo Jazz Festival, Serbia
(Kulturni Centar, Pancevo, 2-5 November 2017. Review and photographs by John Watson)

“We live in a blessed world of music,” said Joe Lovano. “The music takes you to so many beautiful places.”
The great American saxophonist was speaking on the opening night of the 20th Pancevo Jazz Festival in Serbia, and no doubt he was speaking metaphorically about creative destinations of music as well as expressing his delight in bringing his artistry to interesting locations.

The small town of Pancevo, a 30-minute drive north from the Serbian capital Belgrade, is indeed a very interesting place. With a population of around 70,000 and an extensive if often faded legacy of Austro-Hungarian architecture, Pancevo punches way above its weight in the arts world.
The town’s jazz festival grew, as so many do, from modest beginnings, with concerts and jam sessions featuring the best Serbian musicians of the day. With careful programming, and financial support from various sources over the years, it has now become one of the most significant festivals in Europe, combining outstanding artistry with a friendly atmosphere and an acoustically sympathetic venue: the Kulturni Centar (Culture Centre).

For the 20th anniversary, festival artistic director Vojislav Pantic had assembled an impressive programme. As well as Lovano’s Classic Quartet, the festival featured saxophonist Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire with his quartet, trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s Quartet, the large international ensemble Artistry In Broken Rhythm, soulful singer China Moses with her band, and saxophonist Daniel Erdmann’s trio Velvet Revolution.

Regional performers were represented by leading Serbian band Fish In Oil, and there were some superb jam sessions after the main concerts with the Schime Trio. In the centre’s foyer, an excellent exhibition by the outstanding Serbian jazz photographer Zelimir Gvojic added considerably to the atmosphere.

Lovano always demonstrates immense creative energy, and his Classic Quartet – with pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Otis Brown III – provided fresh impetus for his imagination and the power of his sound. With compositions including Full Moon, Full Sun, Mystic and Golden Horn he delighted the packed theatre. The encore – Billy Strayhorn’s Star Crossed Lovers – was absolutely gorgeous.

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil also offered many delights, with the altoist streaming intense, sweeping lines, shadowed by clarinetist and bass clarinetist Oscar Noriega, and with pianist Matt Mitchell darting and dodging the horns as percussionist and vibes player Ches Smith stoked the fires to tremendous effect.

Avishai Cohen’s trumpet covers a tremendous tonal and emotional range, from cool eloquence to angry intensity, and his quartet – with pianist Yonathan Avishai, bassist Johnathan Zelnik and drummer Ziv Ravitz – gave a glorious, passionate performance, mainly of poignant pieces from the new ECM album Cross My Palm With Silver, including Will I Die Miss, Will I Die? and Shoot Me In The Leg.

Ambrose Akinmusire at Pancevo Jazz Festival
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
 On the closing night of the festival, a concert of freely spinning lines and complex melodic structures from German saxophonist Erdmann’s Velvet Revolution – with Theo Ceccaldi on violin and viola, and the UK’s Jim Hart on vibes - was a joy, while Ambrose Akinmusire squeezed exultation from the high trumpet register, contrasting with darkly emotional shading in beautifully controlled low notes. However, his quartet – completed by pianist Sam Harris, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown – seemed at times to be in different spaces, bringing confusion rather than clarity to an otherwise excellent set.

LINKS: John Watson's complete set of photographs from the 20th Pancevo Jazz Festival

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