Festival Review: Jazzkaar, Tallinn

Written by | Festivals, News

The quote “Small country, big jazz” by John Cummings perfectly encapsulates the 2024 edition of the Jazzkaar festival in Tallinn, Estonia. Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the festival showcased many international superstars, European highlights, and national discoveries. This year’s festival can be summarized as bass-heavy and vocally powerful.

The deep foundation of the festival was provided by bassists such as MonoNeon, Christian McBride, Michael League with his band Snarky Puppy, and Estonian bassists Mingo Rajandi and Janno Trump. The vocal aspect was contributed by singers like Ledisi, Afra Kane, Bianca Rantala, Andreas Schaerer, the Estonian Voices, the Portuguese singer Maro, and the Brazilian Dora Morelenbaum.

The festival, traditionally held in the last week of April, was opened by the young Estonian singer and composer Bianca Rantala, who composed her work “Moral Paradox” for a large ensemble including strings and a vocal ensemble. The Estonian Voices, an acapella sextet led by singer Kadri Voorand, proved to be one of the best vocal groups, presenting their new album “Kallimale” with perfect harmony and groove. The Portuguese singer Maro demonstrated that sometimes all it takes is three guitars and a singer to create wonderful music on stage. The Brazilian Dora Morelenbaum, accompanied by guitarist Guilherme Lirio, performed intense renditions of new Bossa Nova in an intimate concert setting. The Swiss Andreas Schaerer, with his Evolution Trio featuring Kalle Kalima on guitar and Björn Meyer on bass, brought a different vocal color with his vocal virtuosity.

The Estonian Voices | Photo by Angela Ballhorn

The festival ended powerfully with Ledisi’s Nina Simone program, where she ignited a magnificent closing firework in a shimmering golden sequin dress. Instrumental highlights included trumpeter Theo Croker and the renowned Estonian jazz saxophonist Maria Faust, who played an idea-sparking duo concert with Danish drummer Kresten Osgood. The duo NoSax NoClar, formed by Julien Stella and Bastien Weeger at a train station, virtuosically explored the various sound possibilities of their wind instruments, with (bass) clarinets and saxophones spiraling upwards with circular breathing.

The bassists provided the foundation for the festival. Contrabassist Mingo Rajandi performed her “Werewolf” program for the first time on the main theater stage. Janno Trump, an electric bassist and last year’s jazz award winner, showed with his extended JT Conception that funk made in Estonia is second to none. For his record release, he brought in Danish harmonica player Mathias Heise, who also spiced up the funky performance of the flamboyant US bassist MonoNeon. MonoNeon, in his signature outrageous outfits with a neon-colored crocheted face mask, got the audience dancing with his pounding funk grooves in the tradition of Funk Parliament and George Clinton.

Janno Trump & JT Conception | Photo by Angela Ballhorn

The appearance of Snarky Puppy, led by founder and bassist Michael League, was a dream come true for the festival after more than ten years of effort. The large ensemble’s Baltic tour resulted in a sold-out concert at the Alexela Arena, happy faces on and off the stage, and a new entry in Snarky’s country list after 20 years of constant touring. Solos by Justin Stanton and Chris Bullock in the tricky compositions had the audience vehemently demanding encores, which the band delivered with hit encores like “Shofukhan” and “Lingus.”

Christian McBride’s band, although not his most innovative, featured a young ensemble with tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover and drummer Savannah Harris, who ignited a firework of energy in Chick Corea’s rarely played composition “La Fiesta” and Christian McBride’s “Brouhaha,” leaving the audience calling for encores.

Christian McBride with Nicole Glover | Photo by Angela Ballhorn

Paler in the 2024 festival edition were Eve Risser with her large ensemble Red Desert Ensemble, the Luxembourg piano trio Dock in Absolute augmented by two dancers, and Afra Kane, whose music impressed with good classical piano technique and unconventional songs but still seemed unsure of its direction. Festival highlights included Snarky Puppy on the main stage, Maria Faust on a smaller stage, and pianist Kirke Karja in an intimate solo studio concert.

Tallinn’s Jazzkaar festival celebrated its 35th anniversary in grand style, solidifying its reputation as one of Europe’s premier jazz events with the 2024 edition showcasing the incredible depth and diversity of the jazz world. Highlights like Estonian Voices, Snarky Puppy’s long-awaited Baltic debut and Christian McBride’s fiery ensemble left audiences euphoric, while intimate shows by rising stars like Bianca Rantala and Dora Morelenbaum offered a glimpse into the genre’s future. As it enters its next 35 years, the Jazzkaar festival remains a cultural treasure for Estonia, bringing the very best in jazz to the shores of the Baltic Sea and cementing the nation’s place as a true jazz powerhouse.

Last modified: May 22, 2024