REPORT: Jazz Juniors Festival in Kraków

The 42nd Jazz Juniors Competition was won by Marcin Pater Trio
Photo credit: Andrzej Banaś (Jazz Juniors 2018) 

Jazz Juniors Festival
(ICE Kraków Congress Centre 29 November – 2 December 2018. Report by Mary James)

The Jazz Juniors Festival continues to raise its game. Held annually in Kraków, it presented the confident outward face of Polish jazz with concerts by Marcin Wasilewski Trio and a Tribute to Tomasz Stańko featuring Avishai Cohen (trumpet) and Jeff “Tain” Watts outstanding highlights. The year the event reverted to its original name and format, Jazz Juniors, a competition that has run for over 40 years and whose laureates include Marcin Wasilewski in 1992. The auditions and concerts took place in the beautiful surroundings of ICE Kraków Congress Centre which added to the gravity of each audition and rewarded each musician with superlative sound.

Twenty six bands entered this year, the top prize being no less than five European festival appearances, concerts in China, Moscow and Budapest, a Polish National Radio concert and funding for a record deal on Italian label Emme Records. Seven bands qualified for the auditions, all but one from Poland. Two bands were led by women: RAME Jazz5tet from Italy, led by Valentina Fin on vocals, and Monika Malczak Quintet. All the bands played original music ranging from folk-infused to full-on skronk, and there were some unusual lead instruments such as harmonica and accordion, making the task of the judges very difficult. It is a credit to all entrants that despite the undoubted stress of competition, there was a spirit of co-operation between bands (two bands sharing a bass player) and many musicians took the opportunity to widen their networks and attend to the business side to their careers by talking with jury members and guests after the judging had ended.

The First Prize winners, Marcin Pater Trio (Marcin Pater vibes, Mateusz Szewczyk bass and Adam Wajdzik drums) are no strangers to entering competitions. Pater reached the finals of B-Jazz, won the Jazz Baszta Festival and the International Percussion Festival in Italy, a reflection of the strength of vibes teaching in Poland. His I Love You Baby, Goodbye sent shivers down your spine with its silky harmonies and slow pace.

Second prize winner RASP Lovers left no-one in the audience with any doubt that Romantic Alternative Schizophrenic Punk is exhilarating. And RAME Jazz5tet explored the links between jazz and poetry and were rewarded with third prize for their thoughtful introspective music and arresting vocals from Fin.

If ever there was proof needed that competitions are worth the stress, then look no further than last year’s winners of the Hitch On Music Competition, Quantum Trio from Poland and Chile, who packed out the brick lined basement of Piec Art Acoustic Jazz Club off the main square in Krakow. A busy year of touring and recording has honed some of the band’s raw edges, and a concert length set enabled us to hear their full range of moods (and wonderful tunes) from blisteringly fast to reflective. The breathtaking solos of saxophonist Michal Jan Ciesielski had all the precision of a laser.

Mention should be made of Weezdob Collective, also at Piec Art, who gave us a second opportunity to witness the presence, lyricism and passion of Kacper Smoliński’s harmonica outside of his own band. Smoliński is one of the few Europeans studying jazz chromatic harmonica, and has already won significant prizes. The Collective played a joyful, enjoyable and confident set from their debut album Star Cadillac, and the interplay between sax and harmonica in particular was a delight. The band has played together for five years and some members have been friends since childhood, another example of the strength of the Polish music scene where music schools are attached to primary schools.

A new organisation Music Export Poland, whose aim is to expand the distribution and promotion of Polish music, artists and recordings on foreign markets, organised a panel discussion about music export with contributions from Iceland, Canada, Poland and the UK (represented by London Jazz News). The panel member from Poland explained his work in promoting Polish avant-garde music in China, at which he is increasingly successful, reminding listeners that no matter how well known you are at home, in China you start from scratch, a challenge and an opportunity.

Mary James attended the competition as a guest of the organisers.

Mary James, who lives in Gloucestershire, works with John Law and others. Twitter @maryleamington

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