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Pančevo Jazz Festival 2022 (Serbia)

Pančevo Jazz Festival

(Kulturnog centra Pančeva, Serbia. 4-6 November 2022. Review and photos by John Watson)

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Marcin Wasilewski. Photo copyright John Watson/

There is certainly a great deal of fine music on the international jazz scene – but once in a while a performance is so overwhelmingly wonderful that you know it will stay in the mind forever.

And this was the case when Polish piano master Marcin Wasilewski launched into an uptempo solo with incredible ferocity, creating massive waves of sound, relentlessly driving forwards like a tropical storm, piling chords upon chords with stupendous rhythmic punch.

Joe Lovano. Photo copyright John Watson/

The pianist – with bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz – has long been celebrated for beautifully crafted, slowly paced and gentle creations (with six ECM albums to the trio’s credit). But on this occasion, at the twenty-fifth Pančevo Jazz Festival in Serbia, a startling switch into musical overdrive was thrown, and it was wonderful. They were billed as the backing trio for American saxophonist Joe Lovano, and it was his tune “Forth Worth” that provided the launchpad for the trio’s explosive performance.

The saxophonist’s feathery and abstract improvisations had been quite touching at times earlier in the concert at the Culture Centre. But to follow Wasilewski’s awesome solo was a heck of a challenge, and the saxophonist certainly fired up his style, though the honking and squealing he briefly indulged in towards the end of the piece sounded a little desperate.

The festival always offers delightful surprises, and this year another Polish band, the young quintet EABS, thrilled the crowd with a performance in the centre’s foyer that showed considerable technical mastery as well as dynamic drive. They told me later that they are coming to Ronnie Scott’s in the New Year, so watch out for the dates. Another young band in the foyer, Kuhn Fu, led by German guitarist and singer Christian Kuhn, gave a wildly entertaining, energetic performance heavily laced with humour.

The Throw. L-R Uri Caine, Mark Helias, Ches Smith, Erik Friedlander. Photo copyright John Watson/

Cellist Erik Friedlander’s electronic set-up was stricken by technical problems at the start of the performance by his American group The Throw, but a tightly-controlled and often inspired performance followed, with excellent contributions by pianist Uri Caine, bassist Mark Helias and the brilliant drummer Ches Smith. Caine, in particular, is always a joy to hear, and Smith’s drumming and percussion playing is at an astonishingly high level, while Helias holds the depth of the music faultlessly.

Simsa Funf leader Sebastian Simsa. Photo copyright John Watson/

The festival had opened with gorgeously romantic bandoneon sounds from Daniele Di Bonaventura and his Italian Band Union, while Simsa Fünf – led by Austrian drummer Sebastian Simsa – drew on a wide musical palette, with particularly fine and technically immaculate soloing from soprano saxophonist Štěpán Flagar.

Israeli Ofer Mizrahi – on a multi-stringed double-necked guitar, trumpet and vocals – brought distinctive world music to the festival. Not jazz, certainly, but fine playing. And – no doubt to give the festival an essential financial boost – there was even a show by a Serbian middle-of-the-road pop star, Alex B, with her band The Fergusons, who were later joined for some lively gospel sounds by the delightfully named Merry Gospel Choir.

LINK: Festival website

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