Jazz in Georgia: The Good Life


Obvious fact: Life can be good in Georgia. A slightly less obvious fact: more so if you’re a jazz aficionado. At least couple of times per year, you get to witness world class performers weaving their magic here. What Eastern Promotion and TBC Status did this year, though, exceeded my wildest expectations. Boy was that good.

Eastern Promotion dutifully provided accreditation and not be outmatched, I dutifully approached the head of TBC group. Mamuka Khazaradze, who was kind enough to offer his insights regarding the event.

“What we’re doing here, what Eastern Promotion is doing, is putting Georgia on the map of World jazz. The Jazz festivals have become a business card of Georgia and that’s something we’re very proud of. And as a listener, we’re very grateful for the opportunity. This is some quality jazz we’re being treated to,” he told us.

Onto the music itself, now. Tower of Power, American R&B band (throw in some soul and blues, too, please) were given the honor of being the opening act. Turns out they’ve been around for ages now and it showed – only years of mastering your craft can hone your skills the way these folks seemed to possess. And then again, when you’ve been on the scene for so long, you’re perhaps forgiven for a loss of some stamina and diminishing output – none of this here, though, not even a slightest hint of redundancy. One of the things not all bands are adept at (or less keen to do) is close-up communication with the listener. I tell you, if the Tower of Power had come any closer, we’d have been hugging them (and some of us did!). Unsurprisingly, the band went out with a thunder of an applause, and that evening I was pretty convinced that that was as good as it would get. I was mistaken.

The next day, the Joe Lovano Classic Quartet treated us to some exquisite saxosymphony (I just invented a word!). The grammy-winning Lovano was the star of the show, with listeners thoroughly enjoying the music. The respect and love for classical music shone through and while I myself am not much of a fan of saxophone, it’s hard to call the performance anything but outstanding.

What happened on the third day though is harder to put into words. I’ve tried mesmeric, brilliant, breathtaking, sublime – nothing really comes close to capturing what it was like to be there and listen to it. One of the best moments of my life as a listener (and I’ve listened to good jazz in all over the world). First came the Georgian prodigy Papuna Sharikadze, together with Eddie Gomez and a drummer named Tyson. 7 tracks they played and all seven are in my “Must Listen” youtube playlist now. You had a rendering of Chic Corea’s Sicily there and then you had Papuna’s own theme, called Tbilisi, and it sounded like a music retelling of the history of its namesake, you had the Bohemic Shardeni of today there, the understated beauty of Old Tbilisi, all the way back to the dark 90s and tanks on Rustaveli Avenue.

He proceeded to offer yet another of his own rendering, this time of a tender Megrealian melody called Skani Chirima (for those of you that want to look it up). Two more tracks and they went out to huge applause, all the while proving Khazaradze’s earlier statement: with performers like these, Georgia is on the world jazz map.

The following half an hour was what I was so struggling to find words to describe: pure genius and sheer happiness is as close as I’ve got so far. Stanly Clarke – if he needs any introduction, I suggest you stop reading this scrabble and go look him up. Clarke somehow got 4 young prodigies in his band, one of them Georgia’s own Beka Gochiashvili, by far the single most popular jazz musician in Georgia right now. And deservedly so – his young age bellies the mastery far beyond his years.

It looked… it looked like a school lesson. Clarke standing in front of the “class,” tutoring them, and the pupils carrying out instructions without mistake and with contagious exuberance. And Clarke stood there, thoroughly enjoying his lesson. At one moment, when the Afghan member of the band pulled out an especially tricky part, Clarke burst into laughter and you could see that it was laughter of delight. Mute the video of that performance, look at the public and you might think it was a black metal gig: people banging their heads and literally screaming out of excitement. My hands hurt: I’ve never done as much clapping before. And it was a thoroughly sad feeling to realize that I might never experience this again, listening to them live. Genius. Ge-ni-us. Clarke, Beka, all other boys. It doesn’t get better, virtuoso or professional, than that.

Inga Mumladze

09 November 2017 17:55