Jazzkaar festival in Tallinn blends well with the cozy, European jazz festivals. In late April, the spring is on the way to Estonia’s capital, and the music blossoms in competition with the flowers (and some Norwegians and Finns in more or less dubious shopping).
Jazzkaar this year ended with Jan Garbarek Quartet, a manifestation of female singers Estonian and the Finnish band Jo Stance. Earlier at the festival, one could hear Zap Mama, Vigleik Storaas Trio, 12 Points Plus (Kaja Draksler Acropolis Quintet, Elifantree and Metal-O-Phone), Statoil’s big band (!), Danish, German and French Das Kapital and a number of bands mainly from the mainstream of today’s jazz landscape.
Jazznytt came to the city when the concert with the American bassist Christian McBride was cancelled due to an alleged car accident… Instead the Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu stepped up on short notice. And what a replacement! Relatively young, but incredibly technically brilliant pianist in the modern jazz expression in the legacy of Keith Jarrett and his kind. With the Estonian music in the bottom, and the modern jazz piano tradition in mind, he gave us a wonderful moment. Randalu has most of his life kept house in Germany, but now, apparently on the way back to his home country, Estonia shall be very pleased. Nowadays he plays with Dhafer Youssefs new quartet, so here it is only to note the name. After that we met a collection of no less than four Estonian bass players + a drummer in the constellation Aces of Basses. Many may think that two bassists can be too much, but four was actually over the very top. Although a few of them, especially Peedu Kass, who played the acoustic bass, and who is trying to establish himself as an international musician, and the young, female bassist Mai Jõgi, with fine and funky electric bass game, gave us pleasant moments.
The next day we saw with anticipation the concert with the new Rudresh Mahanthappa and his band Samdhi. A concert that was very “first to one hundred,” but that had its original and interesting features in between. Unfortunately, I found too many of the songs too similarly structured that I could not get too enthusiastic. But that Mahanthappa and his fellow musicians can play they instruments, no doubt.
Before that we met another local big talent, pianist Joel Rasmus-Remmel Trio. A young band in the landscape where there are infinitely many piano trios, but this band had originality and joy of playing. In particular, we noticed that the drummer Aleksandra Kremenetski with energetic playing that clearly drew the trio to come in a nice way.
The last band that day was the Swedish, German, Cuban trio Tingvall Trio. Martin Tingvall is a wonderful pianist who has all the Swedish jazz piano tradition in his mind, plus Brad Mehldau and all the other technical talents in his brain. Bassist Omar Rodrigez Calva was raised and served to us ignorant of the Cuban tradition and the bass in and out. He reminded a lot about Arild Andersen occasionally, especially in those sections where he left off in full drive. German Jürgen Spiegel followed the two in an excellent manner. A kind of “the new” e.s.t. at its best (?); I could not understand why this trio has not been given considerably more attention. Festival Norway – mark you, these three guys!
When the American singer Lizz Wright started her concert with Neil Young’s great “Old Man” (from “Harvest”) and makes the incredibly beautiful, “Silence” (from her debut album “Salt”) as the first encore – all alone – “Have you heard the silent night? / The earth is always singing / Praises of the morning sun / Even before morning / And the whole world is singing of / It’s beauty all day long / And even the quiet dark / That silence is a song “, I don’t care what she fills the space in the middle with. And when this is available only hours after one has seen 40 000 Norwegians on the BBC News singing the child song “Cbarn av regnbuen” on Youngstorget in Oslo, there is no doubt that the lump will come…
But I can promise that the concert was well kept. With a relatively new band, that has traveled with her for three months, and was reasonably well rehearsed, she made one of the finest vocal performances I can remember to have heard in years. Traditional yes, but with a voice that sits right in the spinal cord. Deep, sensual, open, clear and thoroughly present in every note that is served.
Jazznytt should have been at the concert with The Brand New Heavies next, but since I heard them a decade ago when they were “brand new,” I chose to drop them this time. The brand-new is probably not as fresh and beautiful any longer… And it would anyway have been nonsense to hear more music after Lizz Wright’s performance.
The last day started with a manifestation of Estonian female vocalists. Estonia is a country with a long singing tradition, and nearly every person in the country has at some time been member of a choir. Therefore, it is to be expected, but that also brings out a number of eminent singers. Program title “Jazzis ainult tüdrukud” can be interpreted in Norwegian in many ways, but contained a fine, talented band backing no less than nine vocalists, each performed two songs each. Not everything was equally good, of course, but we noted particularly Anna Põldvee’s personal voice in fine versions of “Joleen” and “Bang, Bang”, Liisi Koiksons clear voice in two beautiful self-composed songs with Estonian text and Kadri Voorands experimental first song. She is probably the one of the Estonian singers who has been longing to develop her own style, both with the use of electronics and original ideas. In addition, it is a joy to see her happy acting and stage charm.
And then it was really only the Jan Garbarek Quartet featuring Trilok Gurtu left. Featuring Trilok Gurtu can probably sound a bit misleading, since he figures quite often in this setting as a “substitute” for Manu Katché, which is often on tour at the same time as Garbarek.
I could have written a whole book about this concert, but I will spare you. I showed up with a very open mind, and was ready for a good Garbarek concert. But unfortunately – it was not a wonderfully beautiful experience because the distance between Garbarek’s golden and great sound and the other musicians was too large. Garbarek is a brilliant saxophonist, both on soprano and tenor saxophone. At this concert, I thought he had to spend a lot of energy and time to “gather the troops.” When he took a little break and left the stage to Rainer Brüninghaus (piano and synth), Yuri Daniel (bass) and Trilok Gurtu (percussion), I felt more or less that all the energy and interaction was missing. Certainly Brüninghaus was much more energetic this time than most of the time we’ve heard him previously, but when Gurtu simply could not follow him, then dropped a lot of fish. It’s a shame, a terrible sin. But there is, unfortunately, not much we can do about it.
So Jazzkaar 2012 ended in a downturn. But it does not prevent that we will put the mug to the east to the beautiful city on the Baltic Sea next year.
This year, the festival had also moved out of the great Russian theater, which has been the main stage for several years and over to a large tent in the port area. There was no optimal solution, especially because of the sound, in parts of the tent, was disturbed by the air conditioner. It must be corrected before next year’s festival!