Review: Cerkno Jazz Festival

Bob Weir extols the virtues of a well-priced and perfectly handled festival in rural Slovenia, featuring Chicagoan cornettist Rob Mazurek

Cerkno is a small town, hardly more than a village, far from any significant urban area. Yet it manages against the odds to fill a large marquee for ten concerts over three evenings. This is done on a budget which would make even hard-pressed West European festival directors blench. A weekend ticket works out at about £3 per concert with free entry for children and disabled persons.

One might think on this basis that they could only manage a third-rate festival with local bands playing for beer money. Not at all. The lineup was international and comprised some of the most currently creative groups in a very professional and imaginative programme. It all seems to be achieved on faith, hope and the charitable input of a skilled team of volunteers with the jazz knowledge and light-touch managerial skills of festival director Bostjan Cvek bringing it all together.

The top attractions were distinguished Americans. Legendary bassist Barre Philips and master drummer Hamid Drake were notable for the sterling quality of their performances and their self-evident enjoyment of the event both on and off stage. Mr Phillips played twice. His solo concert in the town's music school was a brilliant display of his often unconventional instrumental skills. His Emir A3 trio with vocalist Emilie Lesbros and Lionel Garcin (saxophones) was equally impressive. Hamid Drake's DKV Trio with Ken Vandermark on clarinet, tenor and baritone saxes and Kent Kessler (bass) played energetic, swinging contemporary Chicago jazz in the most exciting and enjoyable manner.

Another pillar of the Chicago new jazz scene, cornettist Rob Mazurek (pictured) with his Sao Paulo Underground trio, were not far behind in terms of originality, inventiveness and entertainment. The same was true of the opening concert by the Slovenian radio & TV big band playing originals by young Slovenian drummer Zan Tetickov drawing on Balkan folk music themes. Guest appearances by celebrated folk-jazz virtuosos Theodosii Spassor (Bulgaria) on kaval, Macedonian guitarist Vlatko Stefanorski and Filip Novosel (Croatia) on tambura added immeasurably to the concert's success. The session was recorded for CD issue later this year.  

Other standouts included the multi-national Peeping Tom quartet, energised by German trumpeter Alex Dorner, with a very original take on the bop to Ornette Coleman repertoire. Robert Jukic's 'Life' project was a long, life-cycle composition stripped down for a sax, bass and drums trio from their CD by a collective of 32 musicians. The adaptation was entirely effective due to the strength of the writing and the high quality of the improvising.

The other concerts by Zoambo Zoet Workestrao (Slovenia), Naked Wolf (Netherlands) and Eivind Opsvik 'Overseas 1V' (NYC-based Norwegian bassist/composer) were all from the more creative side of jazz-rock, incorporating varying elements of free improvisation. Although not entirely to my jazz tastes, I found them interesting for the emphasis on high energy, humour and lively presentations. They appealed strongly to the younger crowd and this should not be underestimated for the future of our music.

Next year's 20th edition of this enterprising and sociable festival promises to be extra special. I recommend a visit as the ideal way to kick-start the festival season in this most relaxed and picturesque setting. The website to watch is

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