REPORT: Katowice JazzArt Festival in Katowice, Poland

Stryjo at JazzArt
Photo credit: © Enrico Bettinello

Katowice JazzArt Festival
(Various venues, 26-30 April 2018. Report by Tony Dudley-Evans)

The JazzArt in Katowice in the south of Poland may not be the largest jazz festival in Europe, but it is certainly one of the most varied and the most creative. It takes a broad definition of jazz and over just 13 concerts it gives an overview of what is the most interesting contemporary music around today.

My visit began with a double bill with two singers from the Faroe Islands, Elvor and Konni Kass.  I was impressed by Konni Kass’ soulful voice and occasional saxophone playing. More interesting on day two was the Polish piano trio Stryjo, who take the notion of audience interaction one step further than most bands. Their music is totally improvised, but takes a more melodic approach than other improvising groups, by creating a series of tunes which they develop before moving on to a second melody. They ask the audience for suggestions of themes for their improvisations, so we had a tune based on “ambivalence” and another on “condolences”. A request for more positive themes led to “enigmatic” and “spring'” The latter led to the drummer launching a series of crashes on the ride cymbal perhaps reflecting the thunder outside.
Ganavya Rajna Pianohooligan
Photo credit: © Enrico Bettinello

The eclectic choices made by artictic director Martyna Markowska were apparent during the rest of my day two. Jeremy Gara of Arcade Fire performed a solo electronic set in which the visuals were generated by the sound. Then the Ganavya Rajna Pianohooligan trio played a stunningly beautiful set of 16th Century Indian songs that managed to integrate the songs and the (tabla-like) mrudangam playing with the classically influenced piano improvisations of Piotr Orzechowski, who has the totally inappropriate nickname of Pianohooligan.

Rimbaud#4, the quartet that weaves the symbolist poetry of Arthur Rimbaud into a totally appropriate free jazz context, continued this mood of drama and passion. The performance of Elodie Brochier was particularly impressive as she declaimed the poems with expressive use of of her arms, face and eyes.

On the final day Mats Gustaffson’s Fire Orchestra performed a set of their new material Arrival.  The new line up, declared to be “the best yet” by Gustaffson, has moved away from the “waves of sound” approach of previous versions of the band to a more measured and gentler approach. In this, the vocals of Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg are very much to the fore. The extended piece moved with considerable momentum between improvised and composed passages and between features for different soloists or band sections. There were powerful statements from the string section, the contrabass clarinet and Gustaffson on baritone sax.

Gustaffson was back to his more ferocious playing in a late night event in the atmospheric setting of the turbine hall in the old coal mine that is now an industrial museum. This was the perfect venue for an amazingly “full on”, very loud thrash with BNNT, a Polish bass and drum duo.

The placing of the acts in exactly the right setting is a strong feature of the festival. It uses the KMO building, the former Communist Party HQ, which now has a jazz club and various other spaces of varying size, plus other venues round the city.

I am grateful to Martyna Markowska for the invitation and to Karolina Juzwa for translations of the themes suggested by the audience in the Stryjo concert. 

Categories: miscellaneous

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