Joshua Redman, Donny McCaslin and Marc Ribot shine at bumper Belgrade Jazz Festival

This year the Belgrade Jazz Festival chose a programme more aimed at exploration than familiarity and featured many emerging artists plus a smattering of more familiar names to add balance to the line-up.

Joshua Redman (above) was probably the biggest name this year and his show featuring Reuben Rogers on bass and Greg Hutchinson on drums was a masterclass in the art of the trio. Mixing standards and self-penned songs Redman was in ebullient mood throughout playing numerous excellent solos – Rogers and Hutchinson the perfect sparing partners.

Fellow American saxophonist Donny McCaslin, ably supported by Jason Lindner on keys, has certainly moved up a few notches in his career. His tall imposing figure stalking the stage and his explosive soloing making for a terrific concert.

Away from these more familiar names was a treasure trove of emerging artists who offered a great insight into the current direction in jazz. Trumpeter Peter Evans (below), a founder member of Mostly Other People Do The Killing, here presented a new project as a bandleader and composer, leading what could be described as an 'avant garde chamber orchestra'. Mixing through-composed music with free improvisation it was a breath-taking show. Individually and collectively the band wove delicate passages with explosions of energy.


The mix of electronics from Sam Pluta and Levy Lorenzo, plus drums and bass from Jim Black and Tom Blancarte respectively, laid down the platform for Mazz Swift's plaintive violin and Evans' brilliant horn playing. A must see band who are really offering something different.

There was also an excellent concert from French saxophonist Emile Parisien (below), playing here with his own quartet. Parisien, who regularly plays as a sideman and also duo with Joachim Kuhn, was brilliant in his role as front-man and composer. The complex material, much of it improvised, was always accessible and exciting with Parisien hopping energetically around the stage as he led the band.


Another stunning concert was Giovanni Guidi's 'Inferno' project (below), his approach is more measured and composed than Parisisen's. Featuring beautiful lyrical tunes with compatriot Francesco Bearzatti taking blistering sax solos in another memorable performance.


One of the many highlights of the festival was Marc Ribot (below) paying homage to the 'Philly Sound' with a nod towards Ornette Coleman's Prime Time band from the same era. Ribot and the Young Philadelphians with strings hit the stage with real energy. This melding of orchestrated bass-driven disco music and Ornette Coleman's wild and baroque jazz-rock could be a recipe for disaster, however, in the hands of these super talented musicians it was pure joy.


Seminal tune 'The Hustle', saw former Prime Time bass pioneer Jamaaladeen Tacuma (below) thumping out the low-end with drummer Grant Weston driving the band through several mash ups of the song, while it was left to Ribot to play guitar as Ornette might have blown his horn. It was a wonderful celebration of a distinct time in music history, with old classics such as 'Love Rollercoaster, 'Do it Anyway you Wanna', 'Fly Robin Fly' and a great version of Colemans's 'Voice Poetry' dusted off and given new life in a wild and exhilarating concert.


German drummer Eva Klesse and her quartet also showed great promise. Her blend of free jazz, folk and dance music has a distinctive blend of emotion and expression. Already winning of the Newcomer of the Year at the German Echo Jazz awards, and voted the most impressive act at the 2016 12 Points festival, in San Sebastian, she's one to watch out for.

It's worth noting this festival's listening experience is quite intense with four concerts a night starting at 7.30pm and ending at 2am in the centre of Belgrade in the Dom Omladine (Youth Centre), which has two stages, plus a couple of shows at the much larger Sava Centre. Belgrade's philosophy is to programme a concert series that heavily features newer artists while also respecting more mainstream acts. For a five-day festival it is incredibly cheap (around £85 for all 21 shows) and Belgrade itself is a fascinating city to spend a few days looking around with the festival always taking place on the last weekend in October.

– Story and photos Tim Dickeson

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