Autumn & Jazz in Skopje

Skopje was one of the cities I wanted to see the most, both because of my interest in the Balkans and because it was my mother’s birthplace. While I was making plans to go to Skopje, I was waiting for the dates of the 40th Skopje Jazz Festival to be announced. I contacted the festival organization to follow the festival on behalf of the MuzikNews website and shortly after, I received an e-mail from the festival management that my accreditation request was approved.

Skopje, which we arrived the day before the festival, welcomed us with a sweet cool autumn weather and a breathtaking view of Vardar. The next day, we met with Simona from the organization at the office of the Macedonian Opera and Ballet by the Vardar river and received our press kit and invitations from her.

In the lounge area in front of the Macedonian Opera and Ballet, activity started with the first lights of the evening. The sweet excitement of the audience, who came early and sipped their drinks and chatted, was warming the air that was starting to get cold.

We showed our vaccination certificates and put on our masks and entered the building. At the entrance of the foyer, keychains with trumpet figure of NLB Bank, the sponsor of the organization, were presented as a gift, and there was a stand where the souvenirs of the festival were sold, and a stand where jazz records were sold next to it.

The 40th Skopje Jazz Festival opened with the performance of Mats Gustafsson. Known for his improvisational performances, Swedish free jazz saxophonist Gustafsson is one of the important names of the Scandinavian jazz community, having participated in recordings and concerts of many different artists as well as his solo albums.

In his concert, Mats Gustafsson almost immersed the audience in a story set in the forest, with his improvisational performance using members of the saxophone family and woven from sounds that go beyond the limits of the instrument.

In the second concert of the night, Malaysian-born New York artist Linda May Han Oh (bass) and her accompanying Fabian Almazan (piano), Ben Wendel (saxophone) and Eric Doob (drums) were on stage.

Linda May, who currently plays bass in the Pat Metheny Quartet, was named “Bassist of the Year” in 2018, “Bassist of the Year” and “Artist of the Year” in 2019 by the Jazz Journalists Association. In the performance of Linda May, who played electric bass as well as double bass in the concert, her avant-garde aspect stood out especially in improvisations, along with the functional walking of the bass and the passages saluting the standard jazz. The performance of the quartet with brilliant careers was one of the enjoyable concerts of the festival.

Andreas Polyzogopoulos (trumpet) and Kyriakos Tapakis (oud) accompanied the pianist Tania Giannouli in the team that participated in the festival from Greece.

As expected of a leader, Tania Giannouli kept the concentration of the band and the audience high by passing other instruments at the right timings throughout the performance. During Andreas Polyzogopoulos‘ trumpet solos, I felt like I was on a ship off the Mediterranean offshore. The oud of Kyriakos Tapakis was the engine of groove and took us around the colorful shores of the Eastern Mediterranean.

On the third day of the 40th Skopje Jazz Festival, this time I was at the Macedonian Opera and Ballet for the Yordan Kostov Ensemble concert. This concert was the live premiere of the team’s new album released by SJF Records. The Macedonian artist, who is also a composer and arranger, wanders around free jazz without straying too far from Balkan melodies. The ensemble, which includes many instruments such as violin, saxophone, guitar, bass, drums, flute performs minimalist music. At one point in the concert, I felt like I was listening to a psychedelic rock band in the 60s.

Austrian band Shake Stew, consisting of 2 drums, 2 bass, alto and tenor saxophones and trumpet, performed one of the highest-energy concerts of the festival program and was applauded for a long time by the audience. Exciting, dynamic rhythms and agile melodies reminiscent of car chase scenes in 70’s detective movies… Shake Stew were dancing on the stage and the audience was dancing in their seats. The band’s synchronization at the fall and rise points of the songs was perfect. Their music, in which they melt different disciplines and rhythms in the same pot, is inspiring.

At the closing concert of the festival, there was Roberto Fonseca, whom I was eagerly waiting for. Grammy nominated Cuban pianist/composer Roberto Fonseca presented an interdisciplinary eclectic musical feast on stage with his piano-bass-drums trio. The color and energy of his Afro-Cuban roots was reflected in both his music and his stage performance. The audience rewarded drummer Ruly Herrera with applause for her creative drum attacks in improvisation. With the concert of the trio, who masterfully combined naturalness, sincerity and professionalism, the 40th Skopje Jazz Festival closed with a delicious taste.

Özgür ÖGÖZ

(Photos: Tatjana Rantasha)