With the lofty goal of having Timisoara become the European Capital of Culture, through its humble beginnings, JAZZx (formerly known as JAZZtm) set out to bring a new kind of energy to the people of this city. Over the course of nearly a decade since its inception in 2013, JAZZx has brought to local audiences some of the most forward-thinking and novel acts adjacent, but not limited to the genre of jazz. Among these past participants you would have caught on stage over time: Hidden Orchestra, Anoushka Shankar, Guillaum Perret & The Electric Epic, Jacob Collier, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah, The Cinematic Orchestra, Yussef Dayes, and Hiromi Uehara.
While, unfortunately, I only managed to participate to a small part of the first edition, I did finally make it to this year’s edition (mostly) in full. So while I can’t offer an exhaustively detailed account, I can most certainly underline what I felt were the highlights, as well as some of the shortcomings of the 2022 edition of JAZZx.
The unfolding of JAZZx happened to line up with some nigh record high temperatures, reaching some 37-38°C (but feeling more like 43°C), presenting obvious challenges for the organizers, performers, but for the audience as well. On the first day, I arrived downtown to see that about twenty minutes before the event, participation was fairly scarce. Admittedly, at 20:00 hours on a Friday, in that heat, people might have considered different leisure activities to start their weekend and understandably so.
To kick the festival off, the announcer invited on stage Radu Vâlcu Quintet, known mostly as RVQ, in the long-standing tradition of JAZZx, to have a Romanian band start each day of the festival. RVQ is a group with which I became acquainted late in 2020 before their debut album was released. Upon finally engaging with their debut, Daydream, I was stunned. It really was something impressive, unlike anything else I’ve witnessed before in terms of a musical experience.
Daydream, as a sublimation of RVQ’s artistic ethos, takes cues from modern jazz, modern classical music, as well as various corners of world music. It’s a mélange voiced aptly by a careful selection of instruments and thoughtful, authentic compositions. It’s not something I would have ever expected from a debut, but there it is, in all its glory.
Now there I was, a certain distance from the stage, eagerly watching the band getting on stage and grabbing their instruments, prepared to offer us the living rendition of these dashing songs. So they did, in the smoldering heat, giving it their all. It was, for all intents and purposes, a consummate performance on their side, and while the live mix didn’t favor their sound entirely, it was a lovely sight to behold. Their suave, yet lively, and intricate demeanor transpired with a strong resonance through them via the songs. If I ever see that they’re going to be playing nearby, I will go out of my way to see them for sure.
The show was off to a good start, but as the concert progressed, I could feel the heat getting to me in every way and started to ponder being able to sustain it all. Around the middle of Lucy Woodward’s set, I finally caved and went home, missing the rest of her set as well as the headliner of the day – Ashley Henry Trio. From what I gathered the next day from acquaintances that stayed until the end, people had a great time and the performances were great – as expected.
On Saturday, things were looking up as, while the heat was present, it became more tolerable. The evening was opened by yet another one of our bands, namely, Muntet. I haven’t had contact with the band’s material beforehand, so it was very nice to have my first contact in concert. By the end of their set, I wasn’t really sold on their material, as it simply didn’t click with me in spite of the fact that on paper, it would be something totally up my alley. I do however commend them for their performance, which was very energetic and heartfelt.
They’re a group of people that clearly know each other very well, have a fluid command of their respective instruments, and most importantly, enjoy expressing themselves in this medium. Their brand of jazz takes a fairly visceral approach to the genre, shifting towards other areas, depending on the mood, while taking inspiration from modern mindsets. It was quite a memorable performance and it most certainly set the mood for the rest of the evening, leaving us, the audience, right where we have to be.
As the band got off stage and the announcer was ready to introduce us to the next act, he first had some mixed news for us. Apparently, İlhan Erşahin did not make it to the festival due to canceled flights. Faced with this situation, Istanbul Sessions and the organizers looked for a workaround. So, without any prior rehearsals or any such kind of preparations, Teodor Pop, pianist/keyboardist for local band JazzyBIT has joined Istanbul Sessions on stage as a replacement. Needless to say, I was surprised but was left fully slack-jawed by the end of their performance.
Pop turned out to be an amazingly organic fit with the rest of the ensemble, proving that he’s not just a great player of his instrument, but also a great musician who made it feel like this is how the band was meant to play. The entire set was improvised, giving us a unique, one-of-a-kind performance, which was simply electric. It’s hard to describe ultimately, but I guess you can picture it as a fiery display of intricate jazz fusion, played by some of the most passionate people. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, as well as a very fun and engaging show and the reaction of the audience seems to have agreed with my feelings, erupting in shouts, applause, and whistles at the end.
As the band got off stage, before having welcomed Hiromi Uehara and her string quartet up (known in this lineup as Hiromi The Piano Quintet), I noticed that the square where the stage and the audience are was suddenly packed almost to the brim and people seemed to be still gathering. As Uehara walked on stage, in her usual slightly flamboyant, slightly casual style and demeanor, the audience kind of lost it for a minute and just went wild with cheers. Understandably so, it’s nothing short of a miracle that we all got to see all these bands so far, particularly her – without having to pay for tickets.
She proceeded to give us a short intro on how “Silver Lining Suite” came to be during the pandemic/quarantine period, out of feelings of isolation, entrapment, and other related things. The record flows in a very organic way, as a single whole unit, boasting a narrative thread that when unraveled, comes across as something of a fantastic movie, more than a plain old album. The “Silver Lining Suite” which opens the record is divided into four movements, much like a symphony: ‘Isolation’, ‘The Unknown’, ‘Drifters’, and ‘Fortitude’ and that’s what the show started with. The rest of the songs on the album were also played during the set.
I can’t even begin to describe the experience of seeing this live performance. It was a consummate performance at a superlative level. Uehara plays the piano with a scintillating, ludic glee and a fair, yet rapturous passion that is uniquely hers. Her constant motion and gesturing are an integral part of her performance, as the music overflowing within her, cannot be contained by the exit valves which are used to convey it via an instrument.
She conveys the music and the concept with her entire being and it is an ineffable joy to witness and live that, second by second, alongside her. It’s truly heartwarming in the most pleasant nuance of that word. Not once, but several times during the performance I had shivers running down my spine with such an intensity that it raised goosebumps over my entire body.
After finishing (apparently) the set, the band walked off stage and we, the audience, chanted, whistled, applauded, what have you, deafeningly for a solid couple of minutes, only rising in intensity as the band walked back up for an encore. To me, that encore was the mother of all encores ever. It was a ten- or so-minute improvisation on folk and gypsy folk tunes and themes specific to our region in her style of classically infused jazz playing. It was a delight of the tastiest kind and the tallest order. After closing with this, the audience simply exploded. We witnessed pure magic and our joy could not be contained. It was the most satisfying end to a brilliant evening.
Attempting to head back on Sunday for the final day of the festival, I was faced with some logistical issues. Now before the event, I was hanging out with a friend, discussing the music we heard over the past two days. We were disappointed to hear that Ebi Soda suffered a similar fate to İlhan Erşahin and was not able to make it to the festival due to canceled flights, having JazzyBIT take their place that evening in order to keep the evening running smooth.
Said logistical issues had me arrive at the festival right around when Stanley Clarke and his band started playing, thus missing both TajNic Trio and JazzyBIT. I did not manage to stay around for long enough to witness the entire show as, like most people, I had to get to work on Monday morning. I gathered from acquaintances that the shows on Sunday were solid indeed, but after digging into the repertoire played that night, according to my palate, I don’t have big regrets about missing out.
While I commend the initiative of the festival and particularly whoever curates the lineups within their structure, I do have to say that the sound quality of the PA setup left a fair deal to want this year. The layering and staging of the instruments were serviceable, however, for the most part, the bass seemed to be fairly absent, or just not kicking well enough in relation to the rest of the layers. Although, the most bothersome of these details was a spike in the treble area which made high notes very shrill and grating. This, I hope, isn’t reflective or indicative in any significant way of the way the festival is planned and is merely some kind of technical mishap of some kind.
Beyond any kind of shortcomings and heated inclement weather, JAZZx was a very fun and enjoyable experience and I most definitely hope to reach it next year, the year after that, and so on. While it’s not a very long or expansive festival by any stretch of the imagination, it boasts a lot of qualities and is a welcome stack of diversity and beauty to Timisoara, a place many of us call home.
Photos: (c) JAZZx (Dana Moica, Cornel Putan, Mihai Toth, Petru Cojocaru)
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