Conference Reports

Europe Jazz Network Conference 2021, Tallinn, Estonia

Tony Dudley-Evans has just attended the  7th European Jazz Conference, held at the Telliskivi Creative City in Tallinn, Estonia between 16 and 19 September 2021. Here is his report in six parts:

The Group Photo. Photo credit Rene Jakobson/ EJN
  • The Europe Jazz Conference provides a brilliant opportunity for networking between major jazz promoters and festivals across Europe.

The Europe Jazz Network now has 172 members in 34 countries, and there was an excellent turnout at the conference with over 200 participants.  The key activity is the meeting and discussion with people of shared musical interests, and after an absence of two years the general feeling was that it was great to be meeting again and seeing old and new friends.The showcases are also a vital part of the conference.

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There were of course plenary sessions and group discussions; Prof. Ignaas Devisch from Belgium gave an excellent plenary lecture on the importance of finding the ‘homo erraticus’ in ourselves, that is discovering through wandering and experimenting without specific targets or objectives.  Musicians Maria Faust from Estonia and Alex Hawkins from  the UK struck a positive note in their plenary discussion, speaking of how they had both used the lockdown period to create a lot of new work, and how they had valued the freedom to do so provided by the lockdown.

Maria Faust’s “Mass of Mary”Photo credit: Rene Jakobson/ EJN
  • Estonia is justifiably regarded as the ‘song capital’ of the world

Estonia has a huge tradition of vocal music and choirs, and the conference showcases provided evidence of how this tradition has had a strong influence on Estonian jazz. 

On the first evening, Maria Faust, a saxophonist and composer, presented her ‘Mass of Mary’ with 19 members of the Collegium Musicale Choir conducted by Endrik Üksvärav, plus a horn section of alto saxophone (Faust herself), trumpet, trombone and bassoon.  This was a stunning piece that brought out the qualities of the choir, and integrated the horn section whose textures brilliantly complemented those of the choir.

Other vocal performances mostly featured vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kadri Voorand, who is a force of nature. She appeared on the first night at the Philly Joe’s Jazz Club with the Tanel Ruben Quintet in which her vocal skills were displayed in the unison themes, in duets especially with saxophonist Raivo Tafenau, and in her scat solos. Voorand also appeared with her excellent duo project with bass player Mihkel Mälgand, and in the six member Estonian Voices.A particular vocal highlight of the showcase sessions was the Tormis Quartet, which again featured Voorand with fellow vocalist Liisi Koikson and guitarists Jaak Sooäär and Paul Daniel re-interpreting the songs of Veijo Tormis, one of the most important Estonian composers of choral music.  The quartet took the opportunity of the conference to present an accompanying visual display of interesting facts about Estonia. This was extremely well done.
I also enjoyed sets by the improvising vocal sextet Improvoc, and the more straightahead Susanna Aleksander Quartet.

The Free Musketeers concert. Photo: Rene Jakobson/ EJN
  • There is also an interest in the tradition of experimental performance art in Estonia

The Free Musketeers presented a totally off the wall, completely mad performance in which the actor Jan Kaus portrayed theatrically a man initially without friends, then discovering friends, but who is then attacked and knocked out by his microphone.  This was in a sense so silly that it was hilariously funny, and I loved it.  Much of the enjoyment came from the excellence of the leader Mingo Rajandi on double bass, the brilliant interruptions from Ekke Västrik on synthesizer, and Ahto Abner on drums.  Apparently the group appeared with great success at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.

Kirke Karja. Publicity photo by Rene Jakobson
  • Estonian female instrumentalists mostly appear in the free improvised sets.

For me the highlight of the showcase sessions was a set featuring Kirke Karja on piano; she leads a trio with Etienne Renard on bass and Ludwig Wandinger on drums.  Their music was a very good example of music improvised freely within certain worked out structures.   Another key female instrumentalist is bass player Mingo Rajandi, leader of The Free Musketeers group described above.

  • The standard of the showcases was generally high

In addition to the sets described above, I enjoyed sets by Sooäär/Yaralyan/Ounaskari,  Peedu Kass Momentum and Uma, the latter group distinguished by the sound of the corno da caccia instrument played by Aleksei Saks; it is similar to the French Horn, but has a softer sound.  I was also impressed by the various performances by pianist, Kristjan Randalu, in both his solo project and in Peedu Kass Momentum and the Tanel Rubin Quintet.As well as theshowcases with Estonian groups, the Swiss trio Trio Heinz Herbert played a fine set as the first winners of the Zenith Award for Emerging Bands selected by a jury of six EJN members.

The opening dinner at Seaplane Harbour Photo credit : Rene Jakobson / EJN
  • Tallinn is a great place for a conference or festival

Tallinn is a very attractive city, and the conference was extremely well organised by the Jazzkaar Festival, Jazz Estonia and the Europe Jazz Network team

LINKS: Europe Jazz Network website

Full photo sets from the conference

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