Live reviews

 Gărâna Jazz Festival 2023, Romania

 Gărâna Jazz Festival

 (Gărâna, Romania. 5-9 July 2023 Festival Round-Up by Oliver Weindling)

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The Side Effects. L-R: Stian Carstensen, Marius Neset and Thomas Stronen. Photo credit Michal Sykora

The Garana festival has now reached its 27th edition. In the Romanian Carpathian mountains, south of Timisoara, which itself had a major festival just the previous week (reviewed here). Started by musicians – actually in the garden of the house where I was staying – it has now grown, under the fatherly eye of Marius Giura, to 19 bands over 5 days in a special festival arena with capacity for around 3000 daily. And then there were daily morning concerts in the church in Vāliug in the valley giving the opportunity to hear some of the younger Romanian musicians, as we as some other more intimate performances.

Mainly top quality artists with very little from outside the European continent: a few ECM artists, such as Sinnika Langeland, the Finnish singer and kantele player, previewing her new album “Wind and Sun” based on the poetry of Norwegian Jon Fosse, Marcin Wasilewsi Trio, as part of a Polish night in memory of guitarist Zbigniew Seifert, saxophonist Oded Tzur and the magisterial Anouar Brahem. Entirely appropriately perhaps, as it overlapped with the 80th birthday of label founder Manfred Eicher. And also a few on ACT, such as Marius Neset, David Helbock and Leszek Możdżer and the Wasserfuhr brothers.

A regular focus of the festival is on the Nordic region, as one can see from the posters showing all the previous editions. This year it included the band of energetic bassist Per Mathisen with Jan Gunnar Hoff (who included guitarist Nguyen Le as well as the only UK musician at the festival, Gary Husband, proud that he had just won the Parliamentary jazz award), Langelland, Rebekka Bakken, tuba player Daniel Herskedal and The Side Effects, a trio of Stian Carstensen, Marius Neset and Thomas Stronen.

It becomes very difficult to pick just a few highlights. But a few give a good idea! Leszek Możdżer on the first night did a bravura performance on piano. With a springboard of the music of Chopin, he created something both mesmerising and gripping. Even ‘pure’ Chopin needs virtuoso technique. So to use it as a foundation for improvisation needs even more imaginative skill. At times, he seemed to move from Messiaen to Ravel to Chopin in a matter of seconds. But it can be exhausting keeping up with a guy like this, who can sprint a marathon! And too easy for some of the subtleties to pass one by.

Oded Tzur. Photo credit Michal Sykora

Oded Tzur’s Quartet was thrilling. The saxophonist played a set based around the music off his latest album (already reviewed on this site). It is basically a love letter to his wife Isabela. And he has three co-performers who are on the same wavelength as him. Pianist Nitai Hershkovits, whom we heard at the Vortex recently with Ari Hoenig and Tom Ollendorff, played solos which got better and better. Tzur has the confidence in his band to give them maximum space to solo. To prove the point, it ended with a moving version of Elvis’s hit “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”, with exquisite solos from Hershkovitz and bassist Petros Klampanis. It was a shock to me that Tzur hasn’t played in London since a memorable performance at the Vortex in 2017.

Paul Zauner Quartet. Photo credit: Michal Sykora

Paul Zauner, as trombonist, came with a great trio of Carlton Holmes on piano, and his regular rhythm section of Wolfram Derschmidt and Dusan Novakov. Focussing on the music of Abdullah Ibrahim (who played an extraordinary solo concert in 2019 at Zauner’s Inntöne Festival), Holmes managed to find the spirituality, while Zauner declaimed as much as performed on trombone.

David Helbock has a fertile imagination that takes one to unusual places in his projects, apparent since his initial group Random Control. He did this on the second night with a taster for his new album “Austrian Syndicate”, a tribute to Joe Zawinul. Meanwhile, on the third night, he performed with French vocalist Camille Bertault. With her he has found a partner who can instantly get the energetic drift of his thinking! Hermeto Pascoal immediately comes to mind in his approach. She is with him all the way in every twist and turn. And intriguingly singing some jazz standards in French, such as “Good Morning Heartache”.

Michel Godard. Photo credit Michal Sykora

Michel Godard led a trio with Serbian singer Nataša Mirković and Luciano Biondini on accordion. Moving between serpent – a precursor of the tuba – tuba and bass guitar, similarly the music was chosen from the last 500 years and from so many different sources. But it was a solo performance on the Sunday morning in Vāliug where he really came into his own. He explained the parallels of the serpent and the didgeridoo as instruments being thought of as links to the soul. And he certainly proved his point, when he played. His enthusiasm, both in describing what he was doing and in the performances themselves, was joyful. “My Heart Belongs To Daddy” had pathos and humour in equal measure. A shame, like with many at the festival, that we don’t hear him more in London.

Just a handful of ‘pure’ singers on the bill. Nataša Mirković, Bakken, Bertault, and not least Dean Bowman of Screaming Headless Torsos fame, with his 5000-Pound Band, reflecting his now being resident in Romania. They covered gospel and soul with great panache.

The festival ended with a great crowd pleaser of the most sophisticated type. Stian Carstensen on accordion and banjo, Marius Neset on saxophone and Thomas Stronen on drums – “The Side Effects” – showed the great irreverence and respect for music that is no surprise given their pedigrees. And when I was reflecting about how they had connections to the London scene around Django Bates and Iain Ballamy (such as his collaboration with Carstensen on ‘My Little Radio’ and with Stronen in ‘Food’), I was amazed and delighted to hear them topping and tailing their set with the Loose Tubes stalwart “Armchair March”, by Django. At times sounding like an organ trio, at others like a delicate function band, the band sent us off with a spring in our steps into the cold Carpathian evening.

LINK Festival website

Categories: Live reviews, Reviews

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