| It’s more than just a festival. Every two years, the members of the Lithuanian jazz scene get together in Birštonas. They foregather in this small town, in the back of beyond in the Lithuanian countryside, near to idyllic rivers and lakes, to find out what their peers have been putting together in the past few months. The result is that festival programme is neither the normal parade of the familiar, nor attempts to make an international breakthrough by putting some well-known name out in front. What one witnesses is a fascinating tapestry of significant and talented Lithuanian artists appearing in rapid succession, either in the municipal hall or in one of the late night locations. And the audience, for its part, also knows how to value this innovative and strong offering. The public shows that it can appreciate even the left-field projects with attentiveness, goodwill and openness of mind.
The stylistic range of the festival over its three days was broad, with occasional moments of reaching back into tradition. The keyboard player Dainius Pulauskas, for example, had a nine-piece band which time-travelled through two decades of fusion. Their show was lavish in the prog rock manner, and firmly rooted in the sound of the eighties. A trio of saxophonist Liudas Mockunas with bassist Eugenijus Kanevicius und drummer Vladimir Tarasov had a predilection for the big gestures and were freely expressive, whereas the International Jazz Quintett with saxophonists Deniss Pashkevich und Jonas Maksimovicius showed themselves to be more into the virtuoso academic complexity of the noughties.
And there was much more besides. The group Jazz Island, made up of a dozen or more teenagers were reaching a level in their a cappella singing that did Lithuania, the land of voices and choirs, very proud indeed.
The arranger and bandleader Liutauras Janusatis had a large ensemble which was interchanged with an extra octet plus singer, and these substantial forces brought out marvellously a powerful succession of contrasts. There were also young talents to be discovered, such as the singer Rita Jakulyte. Together with her fellow student Marija Grabštaité and a trio with their teacher at the Vilnius Conservatoire Arturas Anusauskas, they gave a thoroughly committed and convincing performance. It was the power of expression of modern jazz at its most joyful.