Wednesday, 26 July 2017

28 Years and Running: Skopje Jazzes it up   
It may come as a surprise that a place like Macedonia, where jazz is seemingly removed from local culture and tradition, has housed an annual jazz festival for almost three decades. Having established itself as a prestigious and important music event not just in the country but in the wider region of the Balkans and Europe as well, the Skopje Jazz Festival marks its 28th edition this year.

Between October 22 and 26, Macedonia’s capital will house about a dozen jazz performances by both local and international names, guaranteed to make the next several evenings and nights in Skopje exciting for the city’s residents and visitors.

Four different venues will house the concerts: the evening performances will take place at the Universal Hall, the Macedonian Opera and Ballet and the Army Hall, while the midnight gigs will take place at the Hard Rock Club.

This year, somewhat unusually, as the festival normally starts with a performance by foreign guests, the opening night will see the Skopje Connection playing – a trio featuring musicians from different cultures and backgrounds: the “new rising star on the Italian jazz scene” Luca Aquino on trumpet and flugerlhorn, the “gifted composer and astonishing multi-instrumentalist” Dzijan Emin on French horn and melodica, and the “guitarist and composer of contemporary music” Georgi Sareski on acoustic guitar.

The trio will promote the recently released album “Amam,” which was recorded in Skopje’s Cifte Ammam, the fifteenth-century Turkish hammam. “This particular hammam boasts beautiful acoustics and an incredible natural reverb, which compliment the 13 tranquil, yet powerful compositions and improvisations on the album,” according to the festival’s official website. It described the album as “more than just a creative collaboration between Macedonian and Italian artists,” but one containing “highly emotional songs, sophisticated sound, fantastic interplay and dream like ambience.”

The Skopje Connection will perform on October 22 at 8:30pm in the Army Hall. Tickets to this concert cost 300 Macedonian denars (around 5 euro).

The second evening of the festival is dedicated to women in jazz. The earlier performances will be by “one of the most versatile figures in contemporary jazz,” the pianist and composer Aki Takase. Born in Japan, Takase lives and works in Berlin, intensely collaborating with her husband Alex von Schlippenbach (in duets and with Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra), as well with many other musicians of the European New Jazz. Her Aki Takase Plays Fats Waller project, which she will present at the Skopje Jazz Festival, received in 2004 the German record critics’ award.

The Marilyn Mazur Group will also perform on the second evening of the festival. Born in New York to Polish and African-American parents, Mazur has lived in Denmark since she was six. Mazur, on drums and percussion, will perform alongside Frederik Lundin on saxes and flute, Krister Jonsson on guitars and Klavs Hovman on bass, who make up her band. The other two bands with which she performs are Future Song and Percussion Paradise. Mazur is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, such as the Jazzpar Price in 2001, the Norwegian Telenor Culture Award in 2007 and the Ben Webster Prize by the Ben Webster Foundation.

Aki Takase and the Marilyn Mazur Group will perform on October 23 at 8:30pm at the Universal Hall. Tickets for the joint concert cost 500 Macedonian denars (around 8 euro).

The late performance of that night will be by the Michele Polga Quartet from Italy. Consisting of Michele Polga on sax – “one of the most exciting contemporary jazz musicians and composers in Italy today,” Paolo Birro on piano, Stefano Senni on double bass and Walter Paoli on drums, the quartet will present Michele Polga’s newly released album “Clouds Over Me.”

The Michele Polga Quartet will perform on October 23 at midnight in the Hard Rock Club. Tickets cost 300 Macedonian denars (around 5 euro).

The third evening of the festival is reserved for two great names of the US modern jazz: pianist Brad Mehldau in a trio formation and saxophonist James Carter with his quintet. Mehldau, whose most consistent output over the years has taken place in the trio format, will perform in Skopje with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums. Since the mid-1990s, Mehldau has performed around the world at a steady pace with his trio, as a solo pianist and with a number of great jazz musicians, including Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Lee Konitz, Joshua Redman, Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, John Scofield and Charles Lloyd. In addition, his music has appeared in several movies, including Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” and Wim Wender’s “Million Dollar Hotel.”

The second performance of the early evening will be by the James Carter Quintet, consisting of James Carter on saxes and flute, Corey Wilkes on trumpet, Gerard Gibbs on piano, Ralph Armstrong on bass and Leonard King on drums. Considered as one of the New Giants of Jazz, Carter has had a prolific career, including the release of nine recording between 1993 and 2005, playing on session and in live settings with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Cyrus Chestnut, Rodney Whitaker, Frank Lowe, Julius Hemphill, Madeleine Peyroux, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Charles Mingus Big Band.

The Brad Mehldau Trio and the James Carter Quintet will perform on October 24 at 8:30pm in the Universal Hall. Tickets cost 600 Macedonian denars (around 10 euro).

That day’s late-night gig is also an American act – Jose James. This newcomer on the jazz scene is regarded as “a jazz singer for the hip-hop generation.” With one album behind him – “The Dreamer,” James’s concert in Skopje coincides with the release of his much awaited second album, “Black Magic,” another original and powerful blend of jazz, hip hop and blues.

Jose James will perform on October 24 at midnight in the Hard Rock Club. Tickets cost 300 Macedonian denars (around 5 euro).

The fourth festival evening is dedicated to the 40th birthday of the legendary jazz label ECM with two unique concerts: the first one by Norwegian Arve Henriksen and Jan Bang duo, and the second by John Hassel and Maarifa Street.

Arve Henriksen is one of the most exciting new figures on the present European jazz stage, famous for his unique and individual trumpet sound. ECM has released an album, “Cartography” this year. In Skopje, Henriksen, on trumpet, voice, keyboards and electronics, will be accompanied by Jan Bang, a musician and producer from Kristiansand, on keyboards and electronic instruments.

As part of the same concert will perform Jon Hassel and Maarifa Street from the USA, consisting of Jon Hassel on trumpet and keyboards, Eivind Aarset on guitar and bass, Jan Bang on sampler and live sampling and Kheir-Eddine M’Kachiche on violin. Also a composer, Jon Hassell is the visionary creator of a style of music he describes as Fourth World, a mysterious, unique hybrid of music both ancient and digital, composed and improvised, Eastern and Western. In the last two decades, his recordings, built around a completely unique ‘vocal’ trumpet style (developed in studies with Indian vocal master, Pandit Pran Nath) have inspired a generation of his collaborators like Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Kronos Quartet and Ry Cooder. His trumpet show up on records of world stars like Bjоrk, Baaba Maal, David Sylvian, Talking Heads and Ibrahim Ferrer. Film and theatre credits include scores and performances for Wim Wenders’ “Million Dollar Hotel” and “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

Arve Henriksen and Jan Bang and Jon Hassel and Maarifa Street will perform on October 25 at 8:30pm at the Macedonia Opera and Ballet. Tickets cost 500 Macedonian denars (around 8 euro).

Chico Pinheiro e Banda will play at the late-night performance of that evening. Chico Pinheiro on guitar and vocals will be accompanied by Luciana Alves’s voclas, Paulo Paullelli on bass and Edu Ribeiro on drums. The young jazzman has performed and recorded with the "cream of the crop" of Brazilian artists such as Rosa Passos, Chico César, Dori and Danilo Caymmi, João Donato and Luciana Souza, while also making his mark internationally, recording and playing with Roberto Fonseca, Cachaíto Lopez (Buena Vista Social Club), Mark Turner, Chris Potter, Brad Mehldau, Eddie Gomez, Claudio Roditi, Duduka da Fonseca, Anthony Wilson, Victor Mendoza and Giovani Hidalgo.

Chico Pinheiro e Banda will perform on October 25 at midnight in the Hard Rock Club. Tickets cost 300 Macedonian denars (around 5 euro).

The Skopje Jazz Festival will close with a performance of the Jazz Musician of the Year, the legendary Chick Corea. Performing as part of the jazz supergroup Power of Tree, Corea, on piano and keyboards, will be joined by Stanley Clarke on bass and Lenny White on drums.

The Power of Tree will perform on October 26 at 8:30pm in the Universal Hall. Tickets cost 2,000 Macedonian denars (around 32 euro).

In addition to purchasing tickets for each separate performance, jazz lovers can also buy a complete set for all the performances, including the evening and midnight ones, for 3,200 Macedonian denars (around 52 euro). For more information on where to buy tickets, the festival’s programme and venues, see the Skopje Jazz Festival’s
official website.

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