Forty-one kilometres west of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, the compact village of Cerkno has been host to a world-class jazz festival for almost a quarter century. Jazz Cerkno 2018 added to the illustrious tradition with three days of notable performances mostly in a specially erected canvas tent, complete with a sophisticated sound system, adjoining the darkened and homey Bar Gabrijel. What was most evident was how musicians from this country of fewer than 2¼-million people, which arguably has benefitted most economically from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, can easily hold their own in the international improvised music scene.
Roots Magic the all-Italian quartet which closed that night’s show and the festival, crafted a startlingly singular blend of 1960s FreeJazz with versions of 1930s Delta classics. Consisting of Alberto Popolla on clarinet and bass clarinet, Errico De Fabritiis on alto and baritone saxophones, bassist Gianfranco Tedeschi and drummer Fabrizio Spera, the four emphasized the Blues continuum, with Spera’s rollicking backbeat helping knit the decades-apart sounds, and the reedists providing both rhythmic oomph and the emotional, near song-like expression.
Remarkably the band sounded perfectly comfortable playing singer Geeshie Wiley’s “Last Kind Words” from 1930 with a coarse clarinet lead, as it did Roscoe Mitchell’s “Old” from the 1960s, which was propelled by a double bass ostinato that easily revealed its Blues underpinnings. Frugal with solos, the rhythm section left the spotlight to Popolla, who proved that chalumeau smears from a bass clarinet can also effectively interpret the melisma of primitive Bluesman Charley Patton; and De Fabritiis whose freak-note elaborations of modernist compositions from John Carter and Julius Hemphill tunes was notable from either of his saxophones
Photos by Susan O’Connor