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The 5th  Qara Qarayev  international                                                            
contemporary music  Festival          Baku, Azerbaijan, 14-19 April 2013


Piano III. "Around Blues"


Do you know what blues is? It is when you crawl home on Friday evening after a hard week, barely enough strength to undress and walk into the bedroom, and you find your wife with another man… You go to the kitchen, open the fridge with the last bottle of beer. This is the Blues. A sad sense of hope…

That was how Marcel Worms, a pianist from Holland began his concert on April 19 in Mugam Center presenting his program "Around Blues".

I must say that bringing jazz to Baku is like going to Tula with one's own samovar. The audience loves this genre. Azerbaijan not only hosts stars of world jazz scene, but also possesses its own top-class jazz musicians.

In this sense, the invitation of Marcel Worms was an ambiguous step: the Dutchman has neither qualitative pianism or musical imagination, nor the art of improvisation. I assume that during the concert some listeners might even be tempted to replace Worms on any of the Baku pianists playing jazz in the restaurant that would make it more interesting and "delicious".

However the idea of the concert was curious. Since 1996, Marcel Worms "collects" blues plays and he already has more than 200. Blues for him is not only a blues mode. These are some deeper archetypal properties that are able to combine music of different styles. Many composers work specifically for the Worms' project.

Worms selected 19 pieces for the concert in Baku. There were more traditional compositions, such as "Blues on a Bright Background" by Joey Roukens, "Etude in Blue" by Alexander Rosenblatt and "Honky Blues" by Michael Finnissi was the first play written for the project. In a "Stalemate" by Fanta de Kanter blues meets atonality in the spirit of the last century.

Several compositions were based on a synthesis of jazz and national modal systems. The longing for harmony and peace sounded in transparent and sad prelude "Waiting for Friday" by a Syrian composer Kinan Azmeh. "Tûran Blues" by Mohammed Ali Kammoun from Tunisia comprises blues intonations, eastern melodies ornamentation, North African modal and clustering techniques. The compositions "Omi" by Ayo Oluranto from Nigeria and "Blue Johannes" by Reza Vali from Iran were less interesting. A pianist performing a tiny piece by Frederic Rzewski "Blues from 'the Road'" drew the public's attention by playing and whistling simultaneously, and in "Nganda Blues" by Justino Chemane he managed to beat the rhythm by rattles attached to his leg, and also played a wooden box in pauses. Curiously, Worms brought the "Nganda Blues" from Mozambique, where he had to spend a week on the journey through the local clubs before his "guide", an adviser of the embassy, brought him a small score, the only recorded performance that he managed to get.

The following works by famous composers stood out sharply against the background of the whole program: the stylish in its rigor play for the left hand "Base" by Louis Andriessen and "variety show-like" but ingenious "Ragtime" by Mauricio Kagel. The other three plays made a separate union: quasi-jazz "Prelude" from the "24 Preludes" cycle by Qara Qarayev, a prelude "General Lavine Eccentric" by Claude Debussy and a bright and witty play "Monsieur Bee Line-eccentric" by Faradzh Karayev written as a response-parody.

The climax of the program was the "Swinging Music" a piece of 1970 by a Polish composer Kazimierz Serocki, which looked ultra- avant-garde in comparison with the rest music of the concert. It was performed by a quartet of Marcel Worms, Baku musicians Ramiz Mamedli (clarinet), Igor Butenko (trombone), Eyyub Aliyev (cello) and Ukrainian conductor Vladimir Runchak. Serocki created an interesting idea of making an academic quartet to imitate the sound of jazz ensemble. Thus every musician performs an unusual role of using the technique of an instrument's timbre and function substitution. So, the clarinetist played by a palm on the open bell (without a mouthpiece) imitating the sound of cymbals; playing on the strings of the piano replaced the electric guitar; cello performed the roles both of a double-bass and that of percussions. Trombonist and clarinetist played the mouthpieces, sung the sordino and imitated the rhythm section as modern beat-boxers. An excellent performed inventive and colorful play in positively revived the concert.

A piece "In the end" by Guus Janssen closed the concert program. It had also been written specifically for the blues project. Worms noted that it was dedicated to pianists of the 1930s and answered the question "How to finish a jazz composition?" It seemed that the musicians of that time did not care much about it. Many standard cadences roamed from one piece to another. But with the help of these standards the composer made a simple and ingenious thing, he combined the whole play out of bare cadence phrases! Moreover, according to Worms, one invents cadence options even while playing using one's own performing experience, so the length of the play depends entirely on the mood of a pianist. Probably nearly two-hour concert made the Dutch guest pretty tired: this time the cadencing lasted not longer than two minutes and ended with passages from Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata which according to the composer of the play, was aimed to deliver an unexpected and spectacular ending.

For an encore Marcel decided to make the public a pleasant surprise and played the original blues theme "Willow Weep for Me".

Unfortunately the idea of the concert was much better than its inspiration. For the decades all over the world there are interesting projects based on a mixture of jazz and academic music, avant-garde art, national traditions, etc. etc. In this context the concert of Marcel Worms was not the most successful Festival page, but it marked one of its most promising directions for the future.

Prepared by Natalia Surnina, Press-Center of the Festival

Deutsche Botschaft       Ministry of Culture of Russian Federation             Republique Française              Gemeente Amsterdam       Fonds Podium Kunstum performing arts fund NL           ArtsCouncil Azerbaijan