The J.A.M. – Jazz Appreciation Month – which has been held for 15 years in April in Podgoriça, the capital of Montenegro, has become a must for jazz lovers in the Balkans. It is a Jazz Festival that takes place during a whole month, mainly on the W.E. from April 4th to 30th.
The instigator and leader of this organization is Mrs Maja Popovic, a person who is as efficient as she is calm and quiet. It is funny how many jazz artists in distant European capitals smile broadly at the mere mention of her name. When Maja invites jazz musicians to participate in her next festival, they immediately agree. She is also part of the Jazz – France – Balkans network, of which Couleurs Jazz Media is the designated reporting partner.
As a follow-up to the 2022 edition of J.A.M in Montenegro, this dynamic international cooperation sent a delegation of this network to Podgorica, where they were able to attend concerts scheduled in the festival program and held meetings to further develop the project of jazz networks between cities in France and the Balkans.
Slaven Ljujic, bassist and drummer from Montenegro, who graduated from the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston with all the laurel crowns on his head, is a concrete illustration of this project, since he increased his Connection 3 trio with the French saxophonist, Baptiste Herbin.
Slaven Ljujic will be in return the guest with his “Connection 3″ (drums, double bass, guitar) in the context of the concerts Couleurs Jazz au Canal, on May 25 at the Espace Jemmapes, in Paris and at the Couleurs Jazz Club of Musicora on May 26, 27 and 28.
Also, for the Festival J.A.M, he invited the virtuoso saxophonist Baptiste Herbin, it was on April 11, at the Dvorist Kuslevove Kuće in Podgorica, an open-air stage, for a concert that raised the enthusiasm of the audience.
Modern Jazz fusion on original compositions of this quartet, as well as the cover of standards, which they interpreted for the first time together, guided us comfortably seated, in amazing and varied layers of sound. There was a lot of freshness in spite of the high level of demand of the arrangements. The trio was visibly happy to meet again and Baptiste Herbin, always as inspired and attentive to offer the best of his music for his new playmates, as for a very good audience of music lovers.
What a joy for our ears, sometimes saturated with clones of jazz trios, to discover such delightful harmonies on a very high level rhythmic!
Slaven Ljujic and Baptiste Herbin would later tell us that the next day’s concert, in the marvelous Kraljevsko Pozoristé Zetski Dom Theatre in the historical capital Cetinje, was even more pleasing for the augmented trio and, of course, for the numerous audience, since they benefited from the hindsight and experience of the previous day’s concert.
Other jazz colors were revealed on this occasion, on the palette of great and memorable jazz evenings.
Within the framework of the exchanges of the network “Jazz France Balkans” of other concerts to be announced like the “Saso Popovski Trio feat. Olivier Samouillan “.
With Saso Popovski on the guitar, who himself is also the Artistic Director of the Bitola Jazz Festival. We met him last year at the Nissville Jazz Festival.
The guitarist Sašo Popovski is a composer with pure melodies and lines, clear structures and an overflowing imagination. Balkan rhythms and melodies hold no secrets for him. His latest album, Fallen Land, was released by the SJF in Skopje. The trio often tours with Olivier Samouillan, French multi-instrumentalist and composer.
Among the few other wonderful artists who performed at this year’s J.A.M. in Podgorica, we should mention:
Elina Duni & Rob Luft Band. The Swiss-Albanian singer Elina Duni who will release on June 16 a new album on ECM, “A Time to Remember“, her 5th on the German label. She also recorded under another label, in 2020 “Lost Ships” with the London guitarist Rob Luft, and this is the program they presented in Podgorica.
The ethno-jazz group Trigon led by Anatol Stefanet, a Moldavian composer and viola player who won the prestigious “Charles Cros” Prize of the French Academy of Arts in 1994 for their first album “Moldavian Weeding in Jazz“. He has since recorded no less than 14 other albums under his name. The group Trigon represents Moldavian & Romanian jazz at its highest level.
We also had the opportunity to listen to the Sarajevo pianist Adis Sirbubalo in solo. The artist is a jazz graduate from Columbia College in Chicago. In recent years he has performed with musicians such as Eddie Gomez, Christian McBride and Chuchito Valdes. He won the award for best solo performance at the American Jazz Festivals in Elmhurst and Notre Dame. The repertoire of his solo concert is a combination of original pieces and traditional music, especially the sevdalinka, which Adis performs on an unusual instrument in traditional Bosnian music.
The Nikolov-Ivanović Undectet. Two other musicians from the Balkans, Vladimir Nikolov and Srdjan Ivanović, the latter well known to us, and originally formed in Athens, will be programmed at Jazz in Noyon, a new member of the Jazz France Balkans network, next October.
The two leaders of this group have been able to combine their talents and experiences to create a band of 11 musicians from different backgrounds (Balkans/France). While Nikolov excels in working with international orchestras and ensembles and on film projects, such as the Oscar-winning French film “The Artist“, Srdjan Ivanovic, is known in Europe in different groups of which he is the leader such as the Blazin’ Quartet or Xénos which will release a new album in September.
They offer an original and modern vision of European jazz fusion, integrating rich Balkan influences. The ensemble has released two albums, Artistry in Broken Rhythm and Frame and Curiosity. It won first prize in the 2019 Jazz Made in New York competition. Our colleague from the American magazine Jazz Times has ranked this ensemble among the most creative jazz ensembles in Europe today.
We also had the chance to attend a very exciting and musically rich lecture “Jazz as a Universal Language” by Professor Virgil Mihaiu, a famous jazz critic from Cluj, Romania, before we left for the “Jazz Factory Festival” in Bitola, Northern Macedonia.
In summary, after having attended two editions of the Podgorica Jazz Festival, we recommend to our attentive readers to dare to go off the beaten track and not to be satisfied with the “big” summer festivals which always program the same American or European groups the most known, imposed by the “big” tour operators and which are supposed to generate important receipts in tickets.