Live review

Pancevo Jazz Festival, Serbia

Pancevo Jazz Festival, Serbia
(Culture Centre, Pancevo, 31 Oct – 2 Nov. 
Review and photos by John Watson)

The warmth of Paolo Fresu’s flugelhorn sound, and the passion it conveys, has me spellbound… then I hear the voice singing. Is it really that voice – the voice of Chet Baker? Indeed it is. Paolo has expertly woven Chet’s vocal on Blue Room into the live sound of his new trio, in a tribute to the American trumpet legend at the Pancevo Jazz Festival, Serbia. And it is simply marvellous.

Paolo Fresu at the Pancevo Jazz Festival (Photo © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

The project, Tempo di Chet, features the Italian flugelhornist and trumpeter with two superb musical companions, pianist Dino Rubino and bassist Marco Bardoscia. Rarely has standard  jazz flowed with such a combination of ease, beautiful expression and sheer joy.

Blue Room was the only number in their late night set to include Chet’s own vocal, and from memory his a capella version of the song – recorded for Pacific Jazz but unreleased at the time – was part of the film Deep In A Dream. A rare treasure. The trio’s versions of other standards associated with Baker – starting with My Funny Valentine and also including Basin Street Blues – was complemented by original pieces reflecting the American’s style, including Chat With Chet, composed by Rubino. Overall, a stunning performance.

Charles Tolliver (Photo © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

Another celebrated trumpeter with a completely contrasting style, Charles Tolliver, also brought a great deal of joy to the 22nd Pancevo festival, which is held in the Culture Centre in this small town, a 30-minute drive north of Belgrade. The American veteran’s All Stars were driven by the leader’s firecracker trumpet style – full of energy and emotion, though as he played so few long notes it was difficult to discern a clear structure in his improvising. However, he sparked plenty of wonderful music from the band, with fellow legends Buster Williams on bass and Lenny White on drums, plus the very able Jesse Davis on alto and Keith Brown on piano. Particularly sparkling was a version of what Charles called “the jazz national anthem”, Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight, with a fiery solo introduction from the trumpeter leading into a surprisingly up-tempo version of the theme.

Another wonderful surprise in the festival was the 12-piece Austrian ensemble Little Rosie’s Kindergarten, whose combination of imaginative composed themes and vibrant free improvising worked brilliantly well. A strong feature was the superb singing of Anna Anderluh and Anna Widauer, with many of the compositions seeming to spin engagingly around their rich voices. In one number, Judith Schwarz left her drumkit and conducted freely improvised, punchy tones and delicately controlled long notes from each section of the band, like a wizard casting spells around the ensemble. 

Austrian singer Anna Anderluh, complete with facepaint, in Little Rosie’s Kindergarten (Photo © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

Anderluh also gave an engaging solo performance in the centre’s cafe bar, which she titled Leave Me Something Stupid.

I wish I could say something positive about drummer Mark Guiliana’s new group Beat Music. I have huge respect for Guiliana, and I’ve enjoyed his playing enormously in many groups, including his own earlier ensembles. But this group – with bassist Chris Morrissey and synth players Samuel Crowe and Nicholas Semrad – just sounded like a pounding, relentless and unimaginative machine. Perhaps it would have worked in a club, with stage smoke and laser lights, but it didn’t work in a concert hall. It was also painfully loud, and I noticed the leader frequently re-securing his own earplugs… lucky him.

Mark Guiliana and Chris Morrissey with Beat Music (Photo © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

I know there will be greater – more human – music to come from Mark. 

There were no disappointments from the Cross Currents Trio, with bassist Dave Holland, saxophonist Chris Potter and tabla master Zakir Hussain. Their concert on the opening night of the festival was at a high level of inspiration and interaction – and a dash of humour too, when Zakir concluded a stupendous solo workout on tabla with the opening notes of the theme from The Pink Panther, followed by Potter adding a sprinkling of A Night In Tunisia in his own solo, and Holland rounding off the fun with a quote from Sonny Rollins’ St Thomas. 

Zakir Hussain with Cross Currents (Photo © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

Serbian bands naturally featured strongly in the festival, which opened with pianist Dragan Calina’s Quartet, a driving group powered by splendid drumming from Peda Milutinovic. It was a shame that the leader’s own soloing was buried too deep in the sound mix. The Ming Quartet are young Serbian female singers, and their set was enhanced by the soloing of guest alto saxophonist Luka Ignjatovic, who had also played splendidly in Calina’s Quartet. The singers’ versions of Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay and Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile were highlights. Plenty of lovely playing, too, from Hungarian pianist Peter Rozsnyoi’s Trio. 

Israeli group the Shay Hazan Quintet suffered travel problems and failed to arrive in time to perform on the opening night. The group performed a short set the next day in the Culture Centre cafe bar before the scheduled evening performances by other bands in the main theatre, and then had to move on to the next gig.

Their Pancevo trip will clearly not be a happy memory for them, but those of us who were thrilled by so many of the concerts at the festival had countless happy memories to take home.

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