(Kosice, Slovakia. 18-19 August 2019. Round-up by Oliver Weindling)
The music, the attitude, the commitment in evidence at this showcase/festival organised by the Slovak Hevhetia label were an inspiration. Over 15 years, Hehvetia has released over 250 albums, ranging across the board from vocal and lyrical jazz through to classical via folkloric and hard core free improv.
The festival’s location, Kosice, is the second city of Slovakia, situated close to the borders with Hungary, Ukraine and Poland, on the edge of the Tatra Mountains. This really makes it unsurprising that a broad-minded jazz label should exist in such a city. A strong historical pride, combined with the ability to absorb from the neighbouring countries of Hungary, Poland and Ukraine is reflected in a similar diversity in the label and the approach of its founder Jan Sudzina.
To this cultural mix and curiosity, the fire has been stoked by money initially from being a European Capital of Culture in 2013, which helped in the creation of a beautiful arts centre using the buildings of a former military barracks.
The bands showed the full jazz spectrum that the label encompasses. So, from the freer jazz end, there was Backspace [Augmented], based around the accordion of Zbigniew Chojnaki, who, as with the other instruments, used electronics to broaden the soundscape. They created what could be regarded as the soundtrack to an imaginary film and visuals would certainly have enhanced the impact of their show.
By contrast, there was the energy of the Big Band Małopolski from Krakow. Well-drilled by their musical director Ryszard Krawczuk, they played work by the likes of Michal Urbaniak and other Polish legends, but also a lengthy suite by Rosario Giuliani. The show ended with a couple of tunes with beatboxer Andy Ninvalle, resident in Amsterdam. They certainly had the tightness and energy required to show that a big band represents the Rolls Royce of the jazz scene.
As much as stylistically, the musicians involved cross the European borders. Guitarist Francesco Bruno led an upbeat contemporary quartet from Rome and, as equally intense as Backspace [Augmented], was the French group Nebula Machina, where the sounds of contrabass clarinet, double bass and trumpet merged together to create great textures and momentum.
Mów was one of the few vocalist-led groups, enthusiastically and competently by Ania Bratek, who shows a strong range of colours in her voice. Her sounds merged well with Aga Derlak who played piano and keyboards but was certainly no backing singer when she joined in.
Of the many other acts, Szymon Klima stood out: a clarinettist who has released classical albums on Hevhetia. A strong contrapuntal element creeps through subliminally into his music, especially between Klima and tenor saxophonist Darius Rubinowski. High octane, folk-inflected at times, rocky at others, the group got the audience going.
Hevhetia is about to show, where it can, environmental credentials. Some of the next recordings will be made directly using solar power, for example, as a way of exemplifying the Kenyan fable of the hummingbird and the forest fire as told by Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai.
As Adam Baruch, a festival organiser himself and extensive reviewer for his website The Soundtrack of My Life, pointed out in his talk (link below), filters are essential in a world where we can now be overwhelmed by music. And certainly it is the small labels as shown by the likes of Hevhetia which are essential to provide such a filter. We know of such labels all over Europe (not least my own, Babel) and they need to be encouraged to continue to use their creative imaginations to support their endeavours.
LINKS: All the albums of Hevhetia are available through all the digital platforms and CDs can be ordered from Czech Music Direct.
Categories: Live review