The 28th edition of the Skopje Jazz Festival took place on 22 – 26 October. During five festival evenings, visitors - many coming from the neighbouring countries - had the opportunity to enjoy live, animated music.
According to its legendary director, jazz disciple Oliver Belopeta, the festival has gone through three phases since its founding. In its first 5-6 years the festival was small, low budget, and had by and large un-sensitised audience. In the second phase, starting with the late 80s, the festival developed a quality program and started gaining recognition. Its third phase started in the 90s, when the festival became a well known event on the international jazz scene.
Held traditionally at the end of October, the jazz festival has over the years become a distinguishing landmark of Skopje. Some of the greatest jazz musicians of our time have played at the event. This year was no exception.
The beginning was unusual this time though. Local musicians had the honour to open the event. Their participation was a rare occurrence at the festival, which is almost exclusively international.
A trio called Skopje Connection kicked off this autumn’s jazz season with the promotion of its album “Amam”. This Turkish word means public bath. Several of those baths, legacy of the Ottoman era, are among Skopje’s major tourist attractions. One of them, the Cifte Amam, was where the album, described by critics as “music with intense emotions, sophisticated sound ...and magical ambience” was recorded.
The two local musicians in the trio, Jian Emin (horn) and Gjorgji Sarevski (guitar), and their Italian colleague, trumpet player Luca Aquino, performed an outstanding concert for the Skopje audience on the first night of the festival.
The second evening was titled “Women in Jazz” and it comprised powerful performances by two internationally renowned female jazz musicians. The first part of the evening belonged to Japanese–German pianist Aki Takase, and the second to Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur. The two performers had the task of showing that women have a lot to offer in the still male dominated world of jazz, and they did this amazingly.
Takase’s music is said to represent the progressive and modern in jazz, while yet respecting the musical traditions of old Japan. Thrilling the Skopje audience, Takase dedicated the concert to legendary American jazz pianist Fets Waller, and played music inspired from his work.
The second artist of the evening, Marilyn Mazur is best known for her collaboration with Miles Davis. Since 1989 she has worked with her band “Future Song”, and since 1991 she has also joined the group of famous sax player Jan Garbarek. Referred to as the “queen of percussion”, she and her group presented themselves to the Skopje jazz aficionados with repertoire which was described as close to 80s retro and rich with Miles Davis influence. According to the critics, Mazur proved worthy of her status as one of the best and most inventive European percussionists.
The third evening of jazz was set aside for performances by two big names in modern American jazz. The first part of the show belonged to pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio, whereas the second presented a famous New York sax player, James Carter. Carter and his quintet did a lively and energetic concert and got the audience on their feet.
Two original performances marked the fourth evening of the festival. The Norwegian duo Arve Henriksen & Jan Bang was followed by John Hassel and Mariha Street from the US. The evening was also dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the famous German jazz label ECM. Arve Henriksen released his last album “Cartography” last year for ECM.
The evening was described by Skopje music critics as unconventional and mysterious. Henriksen and Hassel’s trumpets, both unique in their own way, took the audience to a musical adventure into the unknown and experimental. Hassel is known as one of the founders of the “Fourth World” music style which combines the ancient with the modern, the east with the west, and the “ethno” sound with electronics.
The finale of this year’s edition of the Skopje Jazz Festival was the concert of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White, who have recently come back together as the “Return to Forever”. For many jazz lovers, the reestablishment of this electric fusion phenomenon, an iconic band in the jazz of the 70s, is a great reason for celebration.
In a crowded hall, where people filled every corner of available space, the trio of jazz legends gave the Skopje audience a concert to remember, or as followers would call it, a "concert for the soul".
The Skopje Jazz Festival is likely the most recognizable music event taking place in Skopje. This year it was selected as one of the country’s super-brands by an international branding group.
Late October is a good time to be in Skopje. As leaves fall from tree branches before the breeze of autumn, and wait to be picked up by communal workers, they sometimes dance on pavements to the pulse of jazz in the air.
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