Jazz Cerkno 2020 wrap-up

The jubilee twenty-fifth edition of the Jazz Cerkno festival was, due to the epidemic, moved from the May term to autumn. Thus, this year the festival took place between 17 and 19 September, in accordance with the strict health measures of the National Institute of Public Health. The main program of the festival this time did not take place in the city centre, but in the parking lot at the "old ETA" factory, where there was more space for listeners. Despite the changes, the jubilee edition of the festival offered an equally rich and varied program.

We heard ten concerts in the main program, and the accompanying one with seven events also included a few concerts. Of the ten ensembles, six were international and all had their premiere Slovenian performance in Cerkno: the Slovenian-Italian Ombak Trio, the Italian quartet Silvia Bolognesi Young Shouts, the Swedish-Austrian tandem Falling, comprised of reed player Mats Gustafsson and electronic musician Christof Kurzmann, an international Mopcut trio with musicians from the USA, Austria and France, the Austrian-American duo of pianist and drummer Ingrid Schmoliner & Hamid Drake and the Swedish-Austrian quartet Koma Saxo 4. In addition, we also heard Slovenian bands DrummingCellist & Big Band RTV Slovenia, Ground RitualsDré A. Hočevar [Container Doxa], and Oholo!.

The accompanying program was equally colourful. As part of the Young Researchers III music residency, which takes place under the mentorship of Dré A. Hočevar, guitarist Tobija Hudnik presented his band Equilibrium as Insta_bility at an online concert (broadcast from the Music School). In front of the Hotel Cerkno we listened to a children's interactive concert on the theme of jazz and improvisation (led by Boštjan Gombač, Blaž Celarec and Žiga Golob) and the Cerkno ensemble Kar Češ Brass Band with searing New Orleans jazz. A round table / podcast of Nova Muska entitled "Live Music During The Corona" (moderated by Igor Bašin - BIGor) was held at the same venue, which was attended, apart from festival and concert organizers, by Simona Perčič from National Institute of Public Health and Damjan Damjanovič from Ministry of Culture. We conducted two traditional workshops: Wild Food During Jazztime under the guidance of Dario Cortese and The Cerkno Sound Safari under the mentorship of Boštjan Perovšek. We have also prepared an exhibition of the festival's long-time official photographer Nada Žgank, who presented a selection of photographs from previous editions of the festival under the title "I Hear, I See: Jazz Cerkno". The exhibition is open at the bar Gabrijel until the end of the year.

As is the tradition in Cerkno, the musicians offered a wide range of music that connects jazz with other genres and approaches, from big band sound and links to spiritual jazz, folk and gospel through avant-garde classical music, minimalism, traditional Arab and African music to electronics, free jazz, rock and noise. The festival began with an excellent performance by the Big Band RTV Slovenija and the DrummingCellist project. The compositions of Kristijan Krajnčan (DrummingCellist is his stage moniker) were arranged in a big band style by Lojze Krajnčan, who also conducted. Guitarist Jani Moder, classical percussionist Petra Vidmar and percussionist Vid Ušeničnik performed as guests. The concert was met with enthusiastic applause, as well as Lojze Krajnčan’s short speech, in which he praised the organizers for their courage in organizing the festival in difficult conditions. This was followed by the premiere Slovenian performance of the Slovenian-Italian Ombak Trio, in which cellist Giovanni Maier and drummer Stefano Giust play alongside Slovenian saxophonist Cene Resnik. Resnik's winding, meditative and sometimes quite romantic melodies were accompanied by the cellist and drummer’s elusive rhythms. The playful and passionately played final concert was provided by the Italian quartet Silvia Bolognesi Young Shouts, skillfully combining the spirit of rebellious American folk tradition and modern jazz.

On the second evening, we heard three bands incorporating electronic sounds, computer manipulation, and experimentation into their sound. Guitarist Jani Moder, trumpet player Igor Matković, double bassist Jošt Drašler and drummer Marko Lasič (the latter was a replacement for the original member Zlatko Kaučič) gathered in the Slovenian quartet Ground Rituals, which was established this year. The band bravely confronted two worlds: more standard jazz and spontaneous improvisation. Afterwards, the Austrian electronic musician Christof Kurzmann and the Swedish reed player Mats Gustafsson, i.e. the Falling duo took the stage. Their sound world unfolded through barely audible sounds from a laptop and saxophone, which turned into violent outbursts with increasingly noisy murmurs and crackles. For the conclusion of Friday, we also received a heavy soundtrack by the international trio Mopcut, consisting of Audrey Chen (USA; vocals, electronics), Julien Desprez (France; guitar) and Lukas König (drums, synthesizer). The extremely well-coordinated trio arranged the unbridled and disjointed music into a completely harmonious and monolithic unit.

On Saturday night, we heard three concerts and one premiere of a video concert on the main stage. The latter was provided by the Slovenian band Dré A. Hočevar [Container Doxa], who prepared the animation for their experimental music. This was followed by a concert by the duo Ingrid Schmoliner & Hamid Drake, another premiere that many highlighted as one of the festival’s best concerts. We heard a stunning mix of avant-garde classical music, jazz, minimalism, yodeling and traditional Arabic chanting. The Swedish-Austrian quartet Koma Saxo 4 staged a real fireworks display of melodic and rhythmic ideas, full of chopped rhythms and melodic saxophone lines. In the end, the Slovenian septet Oholo! took the stage, a great collective that listens diligently while playing and reacts skilfully to what has been played. They impressed with a mix of old and new jazz, African motifs and improvisation.

Due to the difficult travel conditions in time of epidemic, the festival was visited by fewer representatives of other international festivals, who are otherwise regular guests of the pivotal Cerkno jazz event. This year, the anniversary edition was attended by the music directors of the Konfrontationen festivals from Nickelsdorf, Austria, Jazz & Wine of Peace from Cormons, Italy, and the Ljubljana Jazz Festival. Many media, such as Delo, Večer,  and Primorske novice newspapers, Slovenian national television, website Odzven, Radio Študent and radio Primorski val, wrote praisefully about the festival.

In both the announcements and the reviews, the journalists emphasized the difficulty of organizing concerts during the epidemic and the persistence of the organizing team to prepare the jubilee festival in an intact form. In addition to praising the organizers, the journalists highlighted the quality program as well as the loyal and grateful audience. Brigita Gračner and Marko Doles said on Radio Študent: “The bravery and stubbornness of the organizers, who managed to organize and carry out such a colourful and high-quality program despite the impossible conditions, deserve of course more than thanks. Jazz Cerkno deserves a street or a monument!", and Saša Dragoš from Primorske novice daily wrote "With the enthusiasm of the audience, seated far away from each other, which did not subside until the tenth concert, when the last rhythms of the Slovenian band Oholo! faded out."

For the successful carrying out of the festival in difficult circumstances, the organizers thank all the locals from Cerkno who either helped with the preparation or came to listen to our guests. Thanks also to you, dear sponsors, supporters and friends of the Jazz Cerkno festival!

See ya at the next, 26th edition of the festival, which, if the circumstances allow, will take place in less than eight months - between 20 and 22 May 2021.

A kind jazz greeting from Cerkno!

 Photo: Nada Žgank