“We need new anthems | we need new people | we need new anthems” hypnotically repeated Siyabonga Mthembu, singer of Shabaka and The Ancestors, at the Sunday concert, the concluding event of the 58th Jazz Festival Ljubljana. His words beautifully summarised one of the key postulates of this festival: new anthems for a new era.
The psychedelic and joyful music of the said band, finding inspiration in jazz traditions from all four hemispheres, conveyed a sense of transcendence. Rob Mazurek performed in a similar ritualistic, well-nigh pagan tone on Saturday, creating his blend of electronic-suffused distorted trumpet, repetitive piano, ecstatic tingling and his own charisma. Saturday was also full of melodies of the Near East, of undulating and forceful, rock-informed passages of Karkhana. No less ecstatic was the mighty sound of the revived Akosh. S Unit, improvised music imbued with Pannonian melancholy.
These gigs took place in the central festival venue, at the CD Club, which hosted several outstanding artists, including the Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet. Employing a rigorous, precise and contemporary jazz vocabulary, the four virtuosos literally ripped apart the packed auditorium on Saturday. The previous day Amok Amor approached a similar reinvention of tradition, only more radically tackled, and the Lucia Cadotsch Trio engaged in a heavenly subtle and polished jazz. That same night we also witnessed an eruption of variegated sound: arriving from the future, Cointainer Doxa, an impro-techno-funk band composed of young up-and-coming (Slovenian) artists, rocked the CD Club at 1.30am.
Dre Hočevar (drummer, composer and musical activist), Cointainer Doxa’s producer, is responsible for the emergence of this newly-fledged band. Hočevar curated the festival’s ambitious accompanying programme, launched in Cankarjev dom Park (Council of Europe Park) by the multi-media performance event that included 40 young musicians and dancers. On Saturday, the Igor Lumpert Quartet presented one of the most distilled and exciting deliveries of his distinctive idiom. In the morning, the CD Park hosted a Jazz Bazaar and a well-attended art workshop aimed at the Festival’s youngest audiences.
Two concerts merit particular mention: firstly, the CP Unit that thrashed the Gromka Club under the leadership of the explosive sax player Chris Pitsiokos. Loud, wild and focused music, and one of the most innovative versions of present-day free jazz. Secondly, it was a special honour to host two jazz legends, Archie Shepp and Reggie Workman. On the grand stage of Gallus Hall and with an all-star line-up composed of somewhat younger musicians, the veterans played reinterpretations of compositions by John Coltrane (as re-composed by Shepp). This perpetuation of the lasting legacy of jazz displayed no particular tendencies towards reinvention – it stemmed from and thrived in its devotion to creative honesty and vibrancy.
On the occasion of this concert the Jazz Festival Ljubljana presented Reggie Workman, an outstanding double bass player and teacher, with a special distinction in appreciation of his invaluable contribution to development of Slovenian jazz. Namely, Workman has tutored some of the most propulsive Slovenian jazz musicians. The Festival ended on another note of leave-taking. The tenure of Pedro Costa as Creative Co-director to the CD’s in-house Festival Director, Bogdan Benigar, has ended after seven fruitful years (2011–2017). His contribution to broadening the music horizons of Slovenian audiences will not cease to resonate among the local jazz aficionados. We can only hope that he will continue to enrich our festival with his warm personality and grace us with his very own... human presence.
As has already been said: new people and new anthems are coming. Again and again.