by Virgil Mihaiu
Romanian Jazz News
from Jazz Notes 9/4 1997Copyright © 1997, Virgil Mihaiu
In spite of its limited material resources, JAZZ NOTES evinces a commendable interest in informing its readership about worldwide developments in our field of interest. Recent cases in point: Paul W. Blair's comprehensive article about Indonesia's musical situation and Antonin Truhlar's report on the Czech jazz scene.
To write about what has been going on in Romania's jazz life since Ceausescu's dictatorship was finally overthrown (December 1989) would require too much space. That is why I shall concentrate only upon some events that have taken place in my own city during the last year or so. Actually, Cluj-Napoca is Romania's second important cultural center after its capital, Bucharest. Nowadays, this magnificent Transylvanian metropolis tends to replace Sibiu (where 22 editions of the country's foremost jazz festival were organized between 1974-1995) as the jazz capital of Romania. The main international event moved here, and with the help of the French Cultural Center led by Mr. Matthieu Royet we have been given the chance to enjoy a wide range of contemporary musicians' live acts: Steve Lacy from the USA; Gnter Sommer and Sigi Busch from Germany; some of France's top jazzmen - Louis Sclavis, Henri Texier, Aldo Romano, Sylvain Kassap, among others; Britain's Paul Rogers, Paul Dunmall, and Tony Levin; Hungary's Mihaly Dresch Quartet; the bold ethnic-jazz group Trigon from the neighboring so-called Republic of Moldova; Switzerland's Jrg Solothurnmann; the Hazari jazz-rock combo from Yugoslavia, etc.
Besides, in separate concerts we could admire France's Orchestre National de Jazz, conducted by Laurent Cugny, and the Youth Big Band led by Peter Herbolzheimer (sponsored by the Federal Government of Germany). Quite a few of the Romanian musicians who emigrated to the West came to Cluj to perform. Thus, Ion Baciu Jr. returned from Sweden together with a band of youngsters from the Stockholm Royal Academy of Music, while Nicolas Simion (who established his headquarters in Vienna) proved to be the strongest Romanian contribution to the European post-hard-bop scene. Simion, ts, bass-cl, ss, found some ideal partners in his Romanian friend Mircea Tiberian, p, as well as in the American drummer Peter Perfido and the Austrian bassist Reinhard Ziegerhofer. All these musicians accepted the not too high royalties they were offered here, being aware of the extraordinary quality of the Romanian musical public. Such appreciative, warm, responsive spectators provide a moral compensation indeed, in contrast to the country's dire economics.
No wonder, if we think of the high standards beset in Cluj-Napoca by its Music Academy, the Philharmonic Orchestra, the two Opera Houses, the contemporary music ensembles, etc. Almost concomitantly with the international jazz festival's 3rd edition, Cluj-Napoca hosted an event dedicated to contemporary classical music, starring the brilliant Stockholms Saxofonkvartett from Sweden, British trombone player Barry Webb, French flutist Pierre Yves Artaud, and American composer Jack Fortner etc.
Leading Romanian jazz musicians were also present in Cluj-Napoca during the last months: pianist Harry Tavitian and percussionist Corneliu Stroe with their unique mixture of the traditional and the avant-garde, Stefan Vannai's Youth Big Band, the Marius Popp Quartet, Mircea Tiberian's Trio with versatile saxophonist Christian Soleanu and the gifted 23 year-old singer Marta Hristea. Although the number of our active jazzmen has dramatically diminished after the country's borders were opened, there are also some encouraging signs: the Music Academies of Bucharest, Iasi, and Cluj-Napoca have opened jazz sections, and many of Romania's TV and radio stations broadcast plenty of regular jazz programs. New jazz clubs have been opened (the leading ones in Cluj are Music Pub and Diesel).
Finally, some good news about my own outfit, entitled Jazzographics and made up of Alan Tomlinson, trombone (a member of the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra), Harry Tavitian, piano, Corneliu Stroe, percussion, and myself, poems spoken in various languages and occasionally bass guitar. Ever since 1993, our open-form jazz poetry performances had been presented only outside Romania. With huge efforts we managed to make our debut in my country in October 1997. The tour was organized by Ern Ciupe's ANO Foundation, as part of a first Festival of Alternative Arts in Cluj. The performance given on the stage of the Romanian Opera House (a superb baroque building of the late 19th century) was well-attended. Three TV channels (including Romanian Television) recorded our improvised concoction of verses, freewheeling sounds, jazz rhythms, archaic tunes, music-theater, and even dancing, as our special guest was the choreographer Livia Tulbure Guna. In Bucharest Jazzographics got support from ArCub, a newly founded center for cultural projects led by Carmen Croitoru. Judging by the reaction of the British Council's representative, Mr. Jeremy Jacobson, after he attended our show, there seem to exist some prospects that the group may be included in the program of the Romanian-British literary and musical encounter due to place in Ordea next Spring.