He played with John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, Jan Garbarek, Bob Dylan, Erik Clapton, REM, Cesaria Evora, Annie Lennox, and others… Trilok Gurtu, a world-class percussion virtuoso, performed on Thursday in Cracow at the opening concert of Jazz Juniors Festival. During the same festival night, the stage was taken over by masters of atmospheric sound from Amsterdam: Ben van Gelder (sax) and Reinier Baas (guitar).

Ben van Gelder has won international recognition as an alto saxophonist who combines lyricism with virtuosity. Guitarist Reinier Baas is highly valued for his musical sense of humour as well as daring rhythmic and dynamic shifts. At the concert, the artists performed, first and foremost, their own original compositions.

The beautiful atmospheric music they brought to Cracow comes from their CD Mokum In Hi​-​Fi, released three years ago. The album, which is a homage to Amsterdam – the city they both live and work in – came out after nearly a decade of fruitful collaboration marked by numerous concerts in various configurations, including a trio with legendary drummer Han Bennink and as soloists with Metropole Orkest. The two musicians have given several hundred performances together on numerous stages in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.

Reinier Baas has come to Cracow in a double capacity as an artist featured in the festival programme and a Jazz Juniors Competition juror. Another member of the jury, the legendary percussion master Trilok Gurtu, gave a solo concert in the second part of last festival night.

One of the most influential jazz musicians of our time, this 70-year-old master of improvisation presented a genuine show, which he titled Five Elements – in Hinduism they are earth, water, air, fire, and sound.

The concert was, indeed, a unique display of the artist’s skills and abilities. His music combines influences from many parts of the world. Having heard his performance, one no longer finds it surprising that he has performed, live in concert and in the recording studio, with such different musicians as, for instance, John McLaughlin, Jan Garbarek, Bill Lasswell, Robert Miles, Omara Portuondo, Joshua Redman, Joe Zawinul, and Pat Metheny… The list is endless. Apart from jazz stars, he has also worked and appeared with, among others, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Annie Lennox, and R.E.M., as well as sharing the stage with such eminent world music artists as Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal, Cesaria Evora, and Salif Keita.

Trilok’s 1988 album Usfret greatly influenced such artists as Talvin Singh, Asian Dub Foundation, and Nitin Sawnhey, who brought Gurtu’s music to the dance clubs.

Among the many recent albums that feature this India-born virtuoso as bandleader, of special interest are Massical (2009), 21 Spices (2011, with Simon Phillips and NDR Big Band), Spellbound (2013, homage to Don Cherry, recorded with trumpeters Nils Petter Molvaer, Paolo Fresu, and Ambrose Akinmusire), and God Is a Drummer (2020).

In Cracow, the artist said: ‘Rhythm is life; it never dies.’ The audience, carried away by Trilok Gurtu’s rhythmic vocals and improvisations, including one on a popular Polish melody, rewarded him with a long, standing ovation. 

Friday brings new excellent artists to the Jazz Juniors stage: the Cracow-based duo of Bartek Leśniak / Artur Małecki and Tim Berne Trio, led by a US saxophonist who has been present in the international stage for four decades. As leader, Tim Berne has recorded more than 50 albums under various labels. During this year’s edition of Jazz Juniors, he will appear with Gregg Belisle-Chi (guitar) and Hank Roberts (cello) with brand-new compositions written specially for this line-up.

Photos by Michał Łepecki