Review: Cerkno Jazz Festival

Bob Weir visits the small town of Cerkno in Slovenia for an imaginatively staged jazz festival beneath snow-capped mountains

The pretty town of Cerkno in northwest Slovenia near the Italian and Austrian borders is a spectacular setting for an imaginatively staged festival. There were three concerts each night in an intimate, 250-seat marquee in the central square against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

The festival opened with the guitarists Samo Salamon (Slovenia), Manu Codjia (France) and Mikkel Ploug (Denmark) playing tightly arranged originals with innovative soloing in contrasting but compatible ways. They mixed melodic jazz with elements of fusion and modern experimental and classical music. The German Doppelmoppel quartet had emotional range and exuberance a-plenty. Trombonist brothers Conny and Johannes Bauer played off each other over shifting rhythms from the guitars of Uwe Kropinski (acoustic) and Helmut Sachse (electric). Tumbarinos di Gavoi, a Sardinian folk ensemble, were a big hit here in 2011. Their lively traditional songs and dances engaged the concert audience as much as they did on the streets and clubs throughout the festival.

Friday's concert was similarly varied. The young Slovenian trio of Marko Karlovcec (saxes) and the Drasler brothers Jost (b) and Vid (d) drew inspiration from Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. They ran the gamut from subtle minimalism to ferocious outbursts with great assurance. The international group The Electrics (from Sweden, Germany and Canada) operated within a quite different free jazz vein. Axel Dorner (tp), Sture Ericson (reeds), Joe Williamson (b) and Raymond Strid (d) were concerned with continual shifts in pace and dynamics and the use of extended playing techniques and electronics. The Finland's Kimmo Pohjonen's extraordinary accordion playing, with his daughter Saana on drums and the vital involvement of sound engineer Kimmo Antikainen, was unlike anything previously heard on the instrument. His attractive originals moved freely from poignant lyricism to bombastic stadium-rock climaxes, all put over with extrovert showmanship.

The last day kicked off with a late afternoon session of solo cello by the German-based American Tristan Honsinger. His eccentric presentation (including surreal poetry, guttural scatting and comic gestures) served only to highlight the seriousness of his instrumental virtuosity and his mastery of a wide range of musical genres. He returned to open the evening concert with Johannes Bauer (tb), DD Kern (d) and Hans Falb (turntables) in a group assembled specially for the festival. Their ad-lib playing succeeded magnificently. The Italian Eco D'Alberi Quartet (Edoardo Marraffa (ss, ts), Alberto Braida (p), Antonio Borghini (b) and Fabrizio Spera (d)) operated in a more conventional post-bop style with great imagination and energy. The evening peaked with a showcase for Brazilian rhythms and fun from Cyro Baptista (pc, v) & Banquet Of The Spirits (with Brian Marsella (kyb, v), Shanir Blumenkranz (b, oud, v) and Gil Oliveira (d, pc)).

Add to all this late-night cafe society, workshops for schoolchildren to learn Slovenian folk instruments, a feature film about the accordion maestro Kimmo Pohjonen, a course for budding jazz photographers mentored by Ziga Koritnik and a concluding lunchtime picnic at the scenic Cerkno Ski Centre for the most welcoming and efficiently organised small festival I have ever attended. Next year's details will be posted at

Photo of Cyro Baptista by Žiga Koritnik

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