From April 5 - 12 the first international Baku Jazz Festival, ‘Baku Jazz 2005’, was held in Baku, Azerbaijan. The organizer of the large, international gathering, which attracted a number of famous musicians, was the Baku Jazz Centre. The Friends of Azerbaijan Culture Fund, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Tourism, Azeurotel Joint Venture, the embassies of the USA and France and various companies all supported and sponsored the festival.
The idea of holding ‘Baku Jazz 2005’ was proposed by Rain Sultanov, saxophonist and Director of Baku Jazz Centre and Nuri Ahmedov, Director of Azeurotel Joint Venture and substantial contributor to the development of jazz in Azerbaijan. Prominent on the organizing committee of the festival were the Rector of Baku Musical Academy Farhad Badalbeyli and Director of Azintertour Oyrat Rustamzade. Farhad muellim kindly made available the halls of the Academy for performances. The work of the Baku Jazz Centre’s staff must also be noted. On the eve of the festival’s opening, a special internet site was set up to give information about the Jazz Centre and about the festival. We would especially like to mention the contributions of Leila Efendiyeva, Chief Editor of the ‘Jazz Dunyasi’ magazine and designers Orkhan Melikov and Sabina Melikova; they were particularly responsible for the festival’s logo which featured on accessories such as T-shirts, badges, silk scarves, booklets and diplomas. The third edition of ‘Jazz Dunyasi’ coincided with this event and featured articles on the principal participants in the festival; this was important in allowing the audience to become familiar with the musicians they were about to hear.

Nuri Akhmedov

In a word, all of these worked hard on the preparation of the festival, but the main burden fell onto the Jazz Centre’s director, Rain Sultanov. The path was not always smooth, for example; a performance by Aziza, the daughter of the renowned Vagif Mustafazadeh couldn’t, in the end, be realized. But Rain Sultanov proved that, in addition to his acknowledged musical talent, he has great organizational ability. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and his work was laid out before our eyes and ears. Jazzmen of the 1970s and 1980s could barely have imagined meeting the legendary musician Joe Zawinul in Baku and they were quick to appreciate Sultanov’s role in bringing him here. With all his work, Rain made the festival into a great occasion; even presenting his own project with Indian tabla player Udai Mazumdar.

The festival programme was based on three concerts per day, each one at least one hour long. After the main programme, for true aficionados, there were jam sessions which continued into the early hours. All the main concerts were recorded under a contract between the Jazz Centre and Lider Media Holdings and its Lider TV department. Two mobile mini television studios, six stationary and two mobile telecameras, professional directors and operators will help us to record and recall this festival. There were musicians from more than twelve countries; and the high level of talent could not go unnoticed. It cannot be said that there was the same level of interest throughout the eight days of the festival; but while there were often spaces in the opera studio concerts (which did not, however, affect the level of performance) the Jazz Centre concerts were invariably packed. Overall, on the three stages: Baku Jazz Centre, Opera Studio and Heydar Aliyev Palace there were nearly thirty concerts, representing the different styles and trends of modern jazz, from traditional to the latest avant-garde. Care was taken to provide the best atmosphere for both visiting and local musicians to perform.
Among the festival participants were: The Christoph Busse Trio (Germany), Geoffroy De Masure (France), Udai Mazumdar (India), Greg Osby, Allison Miller and Nathan Peck (USA), Timuchin Shahin and Debora Carter (Holland), the Fraser Fifield Trio (Scotland), the Katya Sourikova Trio (England), the Tbilisi Group (Georgia), Vagif Sadikhov, Arzu Huseynov, the Yakov Okun Quartet (Russia) and finally there was Joe Zawinul and his ‘Syndicate’ group. Azerbaijani jazz was also well-represented by: Salman Gambarov’s ‘Bakustik Jazz’ group, the Rauf Sultanov Quartet, Jamil Amirov’s ‘Savab’ group, Shahin Novrasli’s New Trio, the Rain Sultanov Group, the Emil Mammadov Trio, Alesker Abbasov’s group, The Svetlana Magerramova - Alexander Pozdeyev Duo, the ‘Beri Bakh’ vocal group and the ‘Orient Express’ group; there were also the winners of a pre-festival competition for young musicians in the Jazz Centre.

Arzu Huseynov

The festival began with performances by the Arena Jazz Orchestra, representing the senior generation of musicians and the youth of ‘Orient Express’, ‘Beri Bakh’ and others in the open air of Fountain Square. This concert was a prelude to the official opening ceremony in the Jazz Centre.
The Minister of Culture, Polad Bulbuloglu, in congratulating the festival’s participants, remarked on its importance for Azerbaijan and expressed the hope that it would become a tradition. Later Azeurotel Joint Venture Director Nuri Ahmedov stated his commitment to ensuring the growth of the festival in ensuing years. Then Festival Producer Rain Sultanov thanked all the individuals and companies who had provided help and support. After the official ceremony, the first guests, vocalist Debora Carter, drummer Allison Miller, double bassist Nathan Peck, Vagif Sadikhov and Bakuvian musicians Salman Gambarov and Shahin Novrasli performed.

Deborah Carter

From 6th April to the finale, all performers were presented with diplomas and gifts by the organizing committee. We have to say that in every respect the ‘Baku Jazz 2005’ international jazz festival met the highest standards, as affirmed by the local and foreign media and by the musicians themselves. The visiting guests were warm in their appreciation of the organization; as experienced touring players, of course, they were well-placed to judge. "The festival organizing committee has achieved much. I think this is a very important development for jazz in Azerbaijan." (Udai Mazumdar). "The festival, with talented participants from many parts of the world, is excellent. I am happy to be playing here and I have discovered for myself some new talents." (Debora Carter). "I would like to comment on the high degree of organization and the fine selection of musicians, and I liked the performances of the local artistes very much." (Katya Sourikova). "Like other Russians who come here I have very good impressions. The festival has reached European standards and, crucially, has presented good musicians." (Vagif Sadikhov). "The organization and everything I have seen and heard here has impressed me. Festivals are held in many countries and this one bears comparison with European and World standards." (Joe Zawinul). "This festival’s success was made possible by the smooth organization, the involvement of talented musicians and the variety of styles." (Greg Osby).

It’s worth commenting on this stylistic variety as it gave a special character to the festival. All styles and directions of jazz music were represented here: Be-bop, Post-bop, Soul, Modern Jazz, Free Jazz, Funk Jazz, Acid Jazz etc.

Like other musicians Vagif Sadikhov, who now lives in Moscow, combined Be-bop with the later Post-bop form. Although influenced by such immaculate pianists as Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Errol Garner, Ahmad Jamal, Wynton Kelly, Sadikhov has his own distinct style. He performed with his own trio: Anton Revnyuk (double bass) and Alexander Mashin (drums). The talented young Revnyuk can play the six-stringed guitar as well as bass with great skill and has a fine musical future. We can say the same about the other member of the trio, Alexander Mashin who is originally from St. Petersburg but now living in Moscow. An all-round talent, he can play with any combo.
Another Azerbaijani exile, Arzu Huseynov, shares Vagif Sadikhov’s musical direction. Now based in Moscow and working with Oleg Lunstrem’s orchestra, it’s no exaggeration to name him as the best post-Soviet trumpeter in the region. His strength lies in his perfect knowledge of the instrument, along with a great improvisational technique and original approach. In the festival he played with the group led by the popular bassist Rauf Sultanov, who played with Rashid Behbudov and Rafiq Babayev. The group was: pianist Vitaly Volkov, guitarist Rafiq Bunyatov and drummer Sergey Krasnyansky. In their repertoire were arrangements of works by Gershwin, Jobin and Kenny Baron among others; rhythms and harmonics were adapted while maintaining the integrity of the original compositions. As leader Rauf Sultanov said, the project depended on two very important factors: the selection of personnel and the group’s personal interactions; their playing proved the successful application of these principles. Vitaly Volkov has dedicated himself to music and is an excellent arranger; he could well lead a large orchestra. Solo guitarist Rafiq Bunyatov is at home with all kinds of music, he is one of Azerbaijan’s leading musicians. An experienced drummer with great heart, Sergey Krasnyansky believes he has found his niche in this group.

Russian pianist Yakov Okun also deserves special mention for his well-received performance at the festival; he has an outstanding, almost innate, technique and smooth improvisational playing. Sergey Golovnya, the excellent saxophonist in Okun’s quartet, intrigues and draws his audience in to his thoughtful performance. Sergey Vasilev plays bass guitar and double bass. Alexander Mashin, the drummer in the quartet, we have already described. Yakov Okun plays post-bop and modern jazz-style compositions.
Playing in a similar genre was pianist David Mazanashvili, with the ‘Tbilisi’ jazz trio. His relaxed style is also marked by the sincerity of his cahreacter. The trio’s double bassist, Nodar Elvtimishvili was another to impress with his technique. Along with Giya Salagashvili on drums, the ‘Tbilisi’ jazz trio demonstrated both their skill and close understanding; thus the audience applauded their set of post-bop jazz.

Azerbaijani pianist Emil Ibrahim continues to impress and his performance at the festival was no exception; he works in the modern or contemporary jazz genres. The release of his first CD coincided with the festival and has aroused great interest, as befits the hard work, energy and attention to detail that went into its production. He was accompanied in the festival by Ruslan Huseynov on bass, Tofiq Jabbarov (percussion) and Alexander Mashin on drums as they played compositions from the CD. If you haven’t heard his playing then I recommend that you buy the CD, listen to the improvisational skills and appreciate the excellent design.

Udai Mazumdar

In ‘Baku Jazz 2005’, vocal jazz was very well presented. One of the guests, Dutch singer Debora Carter has already been a resident of Amsterdam for some years where she records with her own Dutch trio, as well as with other, invited musicians. This was Debora’s second visit to Baku and, as she herself declares, she likes the city very much. She sang here with an international group: on double bass, Mark Zandveld; on piano, Bakuvian jazzman Salman Gambarov and drummer Alexander Mashin. Her repertoire included her own compositions as well as others by Sting, Ahmad Jamal and others, including one by Tofiq Guliyev. Her singing ranges across the styles; of course, jazz is the dominant style but we also heard ballads, soul, blues, R&B, scat vocal, Latin and other styles. Debora appreciated very much the work of Baku’s pianist Salman Gambarov; she heard a different sound from him and gave her songs a specific colour. During the festival she introduced her new CD, ‘Girl Talking’ which features her long-standing trio, was recorded live at a jazz club in The Hague and displays the benefits of their mutual understanding. The CD contains ballads, a jazz version of ‘New York State of Mind’, dynamic scat and Blues, all arranged in her own style. She has also risked perhaps the 1001st version of Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’, but has carried it off with conviction; in a word, this excellent singer is a mistress of her art. Nowadays there are so many accomplished musicians that some strain to achieve fame. Debora Carter is not counted among these pretenders; she is happy in her Dutch base and happy to bring the secrets of her homeland’s music to Europe.

The local vocalist representatives at the festival were Svetlana Magerramova, Leyla Mammadova and Javan Zeynalli. Svetlana played in a duet with Muscovite guitarist Alexander Pozdeyev; they performed nine compositions by A K Jobim and other composers. The singer’s favoured Bossa Nova and other Latin rhythms were thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. Her talented accompanist, Alexander Pozdeyev, who was well schooled in classical jazz on acoustic guitar, also earned high appreciation.
Now for some words about the younger musicians. First of all the increasing number of young jazz-playing groups must be welcomed. Rauf Babayev’s leading group ‘Beri bakh’ and ‘Orient Express’, among others, merit encouragement.

Joe Zawinul

One of the more active groups in the festival was ‘Orient Express’, with their Acid Jazz and repertoire of electronic jazz. They also experiment, particularly with Jazz-Rock. The basic group has three members: Anar Yusifov, keyboards, Elvin Behbudov, bass, and Elvin Bashirov on drums. In the festival, however, they added Ogtay Rustamov on trumpet and Emil Aliyev on percussion and there is an additional member: guitarist and singer Rob Cole (an Englishman now resident in Baku). Thus their repertoire includes the English influence of New Romance and Gothic. The catalyst in the group is the talented young musician Anar Yusifov, a dynamic seeker of new ideas. He likes to synthesise different styles, from Oscar Peterson to the latest electronic directions.

One other young musician deserves notice - pianist Riyad Mammadov. Although very young (in the 10th year at the Bulbul Music School) he has already played in several jazz festivals and has toured abroad. In this festival he played, on keyboards, with Zaur Ahmedov (bass guitar) and Elvin Bashirov (on drums).
In ‘Baku Jazz 2005’ there were some very interesting musicians from different parts of the world: Christophe Busse (Germany), Katya Sourikova (England) and Geoffroy De Masure (France). It is notable that they played different forms of jazz.


Polad Bul-Bul oglu

Christophe Busse is one of the best pianists in Germany. He experiments with the various stylistic opportunities offered by jazz, but favours the Modern Jazz style and plays his own compositions, as well as arranging others’ works to his own style. Busse prefers ballads and in the festival he sang a new version of a song by Sting’s group ‘The Police’ and also one of Donald Fagen’s songs. He brought his own trio to the festival: Sebastian Hoffman on bass and Thomas Hempel on drums. The trio’s first album, ‘Last Miles’ was released in 2003 and their follow up album is expected soon. He was very impressed by the festival, saying, "I had already listened to CDs by Rain Sultanov and Aziza Mustafazadeh and had some knowledge of your music, but I wanted to hear this music live. I enjoyed very much the music I heard at the festival."
I’d like to write next about Katya Sourikova. Originally from St Petersburg, she studied in London and is noted as an original thinker in her composing and playing of the piano: she combines jazz with avant-garde and classical music. Katya composes music for short films and multi-media projects and exercises her skills in other directions, too; she played all her own music in the festival. In coming to jazz she was influenced by Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, McCoy and Turner. Her style has developed gradually and she plays with highly professional musicians: Remi-Jean LeBlanc prefers the school of traditional jazz and Canadian drummer Ivan Bamford likes equally classical avant-garde and traditional jazz. As a musician, Katya Sourikova is constantly experimenting to maintain the audience’s interest.

Farhad Badalbeyli

French trombone player, Geoffroy De Masure played at the festival with his group ‘Tribu’. The group works in the areas of Funk and Free Jazz and is again highly professional. Educated in the most prestigious music centres in New York and Paris, among De Masure’s teachers were Steve Coleman and Robin Eubanks. His accompanying musicians were experienced and well-prepared.
Ethnic Jazz was not forgotten at the festival. This form, combining as it does folk and jazz, presents so many improvisational opportunities that its popularity with audiences is no surprise. Fraser Fifield’s group, from Scotland, represented this branch of jazz based on Scottish folk motifs. Fraser Fifield himself plays soprano saxophone and various flutes. His unique combination of traditional Scottish music with jazz improvisation is redolent of ancient Celtic themes.

Fifield combines composition with his playing, which has featured on more than forty albums. His trio included a rhythm section consisted of an amplified acoustic guitar and drums; the guitar was able to play the role of bass guitar and drums. Like other visiting musicians, Fraser Fifield expressed his pleasure at the organization and the high standard of musicianship of the festival.
Azerbaijani musicians also presented a high standard of Ethnic Jazz, and it featured in the playing of many of them, because Rain Sultanov, Shahin Novrasli, Emil Mammadov, Jamil Amirov’s ‘Savab’ group, Alesker Abbasov’s group and also Salman Gambarov featured Ethnic Jazz or a synthesis of Jazz and Mugham in different formats.
Shahin Novrasli harmoniously combines elements of classical, mugham and avant-garde in his music. USA musicians Nathan Peck and Allison Miller played together with Shahin in the festival. Experienced double bass player Nathan Peck has played with famous musicians like Wynton Marsalis, Paquita de Rivera and others. The New York drummer Allison Miller’s inimitable style drew admiration from audiences. In Shahin Novrasli’s words, he has been searching for musicians to meet his standards for some time and found them at last because they achieved a mutual understanding and complete harmony in their music. They enjoyed playing to such an extent that it drove them to new heights of imagination. Shahin played his own composition ‘Autumn of Love’ and Vagif Mustafazadeh’s ‘Waiting for Aziza’ and his own arrangement of two folk songs. He is planning a number of projects with this trio in future.

Deborah Carter

Rain Sultanov is an excellent musician, saxophonist and composer. Having an unusually broad range of styles he brought together a different type of group for the festival: Yasef Eyvazov (oud), Akif Manafov (trumpet), Rauf Sultanov (bass), Shahin Novrasli (piano) and a special festival guest from India, tabla player Udai Mazumdar. All the compositions played were Rain’s, being a combination of Azerbaijani music, Southern Indian jazz motifs and Shahin Novrasli’s classical contributions. This Ethnic Jazz contained unusual harmonies which combined elements from East and West in this novel grouping of instruments. Rain Sultanov is planning to release a new CD soon; it will contain some of the compositions played at ‘Baku Jazz 2005’.

The festival producer and Director of Baku Jazz Centre, Rain Sultanov, played an exceptional role in the organization of this project, which was such a pleasant surprise for Baku’s jazz fans. Double bass player Rauf Sultanov also played a significant role; his playing in the lower registers produced a special sound. The special guest from India, the very talented tabla player Udai Mazumdar, demonstrated the great opportunities afforded by this instrument. He plays classical Indian music but he also plays in other genres too, for the tabla lends itself easily to improvisation.
Azerbaijani pianist Emil Mammadov’s playing recalls Vagif Mustafazadeh’s style. For Mammadov, who is continuing a great tradition, music in international jazz forums has to be complete with elements of national jazz. He played with his own trio: Ruslan Huseynov on bass guitar and Iskender Aleskerov on drums. He is about to release two albums soon; one will be in a mugham-jazz style and the other in a more avant-garde direction. The other two groups: Jamil Amirov’s ‘Savab’ and Alesker Abbasov’s, played Ethnic Jazz in a jazz-rock style.

Pianist and composer Jamil Amirov plays electric piano and synthesizer. His arrangements of different compositions and synthesis of unusual sounds allows him to establish fusion. The group comprised: Shirzad Fataliyev (zurna, tutek and balaban), Emil Hasanov (bass) and Iskender Aleskerov (drums). On the eve of the festival, ‘Savab’ performed in Istanbul with great success - they are currently working on a new CD.
Experienced musician and solo guitarist Alesker Abbasov now lives in Turkey. He is a veteran of performances with Rashid Behbudov, work with Rafiq Babayev’s group and many tours, and is a composer and arranger. He played in the festival with Rauf Sultanov (bass), Salman Gambarov (piano) and Vagif Aliyev (drums). Playing rhythmically expressive intonations, he also plays lyrically. He played his own compositions, improvisations on folk motifs and also music from the repertoire of well-known musicians like Pat Metheny and Mike Manieri.

Shahin Novrasli

Azerbaijani pianist, teacher and composer Salman Gambarov has his own special niche in improvisational jazz music. This talented musician’s work is unique and his standards are so high that it is no exaggeration to compare him with the most famous pianist improvisers. It is difficult to categorise his playing - for me it is a synthesis of elements of jazz and mugham which have a compound harmonic improvisational structure. His music is close to Free or Avant-garde Jazz. His noted for his ability to play different styles at the same high level. We can hear from him Standards, Fusion, Free Jazz and Post-bop: in short, high quality multi-styled perfection draws in his audience. His set at the festival stood out for its originality; in this experiment he used the silent 1930’s film, ‘Latif’, made by Mikhail Mikhailov. Gambarov, on piano, was accompanied by nagara and kamancha.
Salman Gambarov noted ‘Latif’s cameral character. It is true that it is totalitarian propaganda but after watching six silent films he chose this one. He mentioned the contribution of Fahraddin Dadashov, Honoured Artist of the Republic, on kamancha, who did not shy away from this unusual project. And what about Gambarov’s own style? It is a synthesis of folk music with jazz. The music captured the spirit of the film and aroused rare feelings in the souls of the audience; it was a thought-provoking experience. The project proved once again Gambarov’s limitless imagination.

Rain Sultanov

Guitarist and composer Timuchin Shahin is known for his individual combinations of jazz with other musical forms. His studies of western, African and Indian musical traditions and his willingness to experiment are all evident in his performances. He plays fretless acoustic and electric guitars and electronic instruments, resulting in a rich melodic style; and his compositions are marked with his individual touch. In Baku last year for a concert, Shahin played with bass guitarist Kai Eckhard, but in the festival he was accompanied by Hans Glawishnig on bass guitar, Tony Moreno on drums and special guest saxophonist Greg Osby.

Greg Osby, as well as being the best known alto saxophonist in modern jazz, is an interesting character. As he says himself, his main inspiration comes from books, cinema (not American) and haiku poetry. His playing covers a wide range, including projects with rock and pop musicians; also playing with groups. In 2003 the ‘St Louis Shoes’ project saw him playing with a band of the same name. The ‘Project Z’ group played Fusion and Free Form. Osby’s linking up, in 1985, with drummer Jack DeJohnette’s group was a watershed in his playing, as he truly worked out his own path in jazz. Ornette Coleman’s ‘Free Funk’ form "M Base" was established at the same time and has been associated since then with big band funk and be-bop. The music was developed among alto saxophonists Steve Coleman and Greg Osby, tenor Gary Thomas and others. His performance in Baku was one of the best in the festival.
The part of the festival which will linger long in the memory was the performance by Joe Zawinul and his ‘Syndicate group. This concert was a real prize for the jazz lovers of Baku. One of the most remarkable exponents of modern jazz music, Joe Zawinul is popular throughout the world. His name is always linked to the group he established with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, ‘Weather Report’. The group split up in 1985 and he formed ‘Zawinul’s Syndicate’ to play music based on the melodies of many different countries, synthesising jazz with the ethnic traditions of the world.

Joe Zawinul’s concert played to a sell-out audience in the Heydar Aliyev Palace. Over the last few years the group has averaged nearly 30 concerts per year. His music may be characterized as ethnic jazz, but Joe Zawinul says, "I only use a form, the rest is improvisation". Talking to him is a unique experience; he is a progressive character and is very interested in people’s destinies.
For him music is a kind of dialogue; people and the relationships between them are his focus, music is secondary, although for others music is all. Zawinul’s range of interests is very broad and includes boxing and football. Group relationships are important to him and govern his choices when forming a group. Of course the level of professionalism is also important but there is no place in ‘Syndicate’ for anyone lacking essential human characteristics. The group has an international line-up: Jorge Bezerra (Brazil) on percusion and vocals, Alegre Correa (Brazil) on guitar, Linley Marthe (South Africa) on bass, Nathaniel Townsley (USA) on drums, and Sabine Kabongo (Belgium) vocalist.
The group’s vivacious performance lifted the audience; the precision of rhythm, professional musicianship, singer Kabongo’s sinuous dancing and singing won the audience over. Talking to us, Zawinul expressed his pleasure at the organization of the festival and at the quality of all he had seen and heard. He empathized with the people of Azerbaijan and was impressed by Baku.

Timucin Shanin

The final day’s programme of ‘Baku Jazz 2005’ was a very full one. The Fraser Fifield trio was first up on the Gala concert stage and played improvisations on Scottish melodies. Following was Katya Sourikova’s group and then Baku Jazz 2005 Festival producer, saxophonist and composer Rain Sultanov played with his specially invited guest from India, Udai Mazumdar. The latter introduced Sultanov’s composition from his latest project, ‘Tale of my Land’. Later Shahin Novrasli’s New Trio and Jamil Amirov’s ‘Savab’ were followed by Tofiq Jabbarov’s experimental group, including Udai Mazumdar (tabla), Natiq Shirinov (nagara), Alexander Mashin (drums) and Tofiq Jabbarov himself on percussion.
Laureates were awarded diplomas of the ‘Baku Jazz 2005’ Festival.

Following the Gala concert at the Heydar Aliyev Palace the official closing ceremony took place at the Baku Jazz Centre. The Minister of Culture, Polad Bulbuloglu, Director of Azeurotel Joint Venture Nuri Ahmedov and others spoke about the success of the festival and hoped that it would be the start of an annual event. Later special guest Joe Zawinul spoke, stressing the high level of Azerbaijani jazz, and saying that the concerts and jam sessions had enabled him to get closer to local music.
Finally, I’d like to say that Baku Jazz 2005, a real celebration for local jazz fans, was a great success. The organization and production of this event added greatly to Azerbaijani culture and to the preservation and revival of the spirit originated by the masters of Azerbaijani jazz.

by Faig Gurbanov