Smida Jazz Festival review, an avant-garde approach toward music

Aug 26, 2019
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It’s been a week now since I came back from Smida Jazz Festival and the time just seems not enough for the experience to fade out. It was my first visit to the festival so I went there with no expectations. I wanted to discover what the festival has to offer, with no prearranged program or a ”must see show” in mind. I was in the discovery mood. What would you expect when the organizers announce that Smida best uncovers itself when jazz takes its form. So, give me some jazz baby.

Leaving Bucharest on a Wednesday morning in a car stiffed with tents, backpacks and all kind of camping equipment, the journey was at its starting point. Bucharest – Smida is an almost 8-hour drive road in a country where highways are just a political debate subject. Never mind this, at least I travelled in good company. We stopped for one night in a small village close to Sibiu, Sat Vale, a place that seemed to be the closest gate to Narnia we could find. Already 400 kilometers away from the city and our lungs would start to breathe again and the mind to relax. The imposing stature of the mountains always reminds me about how volatile and insignificant our daily problems are.

It’s Thursday now and it is time to hit the road again and reach Smida, in the Apuseni mountains, at an altitude of 1.000 meters. Kilometer by kilometer the traffic would fade away and the air would become colder so the need for air conditioning in the car would be replaced with open windows. Just a few more streamers and we are there.

Oh, I forgot to mention. It started to rain just a few kilometers before reaching Smida. Needless to say, we had to mount the tent in rain. Anyhow, mountains, serenity, calm, no problems….all that stuff. We are here now, at Smida Jazz Festival, at the fourth edition, ready to explore the festival. 

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Once I have past the festival gates, 20 meters from the camp site, the bucolic grounds unfurl to reveal a playground for both grownups and children. Between people playing with frisbees, children running in all directions and dogs roaming free, the only gripe you could have is that you will not have the time to discover all that Smida has to offer.

On the day time the festival offers all kind of activities: photography workshop, creative writing workshop, caving activities, kayak and bicycle guided tours, stand-up paddle and many more. 

Oh, and there’s the music, too. With a main stage promoting an avant-garde jazz, Smida is projecting its image into the realm of the music experiment. Thursday I have discovered Leo Betzl Trio. Man, what a bliss for my ears and soul their music was. The Munchen based trio ceaselessly switch between rhythms to flesh out 90 mesmerising minutes of a pure techno jazz with hard atmospheres.

Maximilian Hirnzwiebel from Leo Btzl Trio
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One other thing that stroke me during these guys concert was that a lot of people in the audience were sitting down. But in the three days spent at the festival I realised that this was the story of every night. Most of the people sitting and only a couple of dozens of rebels dancing in the front of the stage. I know, there is jazz and there is jazz, but still, if the tempo is up and the energy is floating, move those dancing feet. Feel the jazz!!!

Nik Bärtsch's RONIN project was the main act of the evening. With his usual Shaolin monk presence, Nik Bärtsch unveiled a perfect balanced combination between studied grooves and improvisation. Switching from 4/4 to 7/8 patterns the band understanding of music in tandem with their perfect communication transported me into an imaginary world where harmony dominates the common consciousness. 

Szun Waves at Smida Jazz Festival
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Blending upright bass synths, coming from the electronic producer Luke Abbott, with textured harmonies from Jack Wyllie's sax and complex grooves from Laurence Pike, Szun Waves delivered a full spectrum jazz sound. As they unleash a barrage of urban jazz epics on to a curious crowd, their edgy pattern swarm like flies – they’re vital and ecstatic. 

I was surprised to see so many people opened to new music that celebrates the experiment and transcend the boundaries of genres. In moments like these, it becomes easy to forget that beyond these mountains, there exists a world that is becoming increasingly devoid of nature core values of harmony and community.

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