Among other directions in jazz evolution Vilnius Jazz traditionally investigates fusion of jazz and academic music. In the past its diverse examples were presented on the festival’s stage by Ex Tempore, Vladimir Tarasov’s LAO, Arūnas Šlaustas’ and Skirmantas Sasnauskas’ project Ciaccona, Arkady Gotesman, Linas Liandzbergis and Artūras Valiauga with the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra, and Dainius Pulauskas jazz group with the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra (cond. Gintaras Rinkevičius). At the jubilee Vilnius Jazz, Arūnas Šlaustas, an ardent advocate of this trend, will present a venture in this direction.
Pianist, keyboardist and composer Arūnas Šlaustas has already explored the possibilities of fusion of jazz and academic music in a number of projects – with ensemble Ex Tempore, Skirmantas Sasnauskas, Arnoldas Gurinavičius and Danielius Praspaliauskis. With the latter he has recorded a CD Kita Teritorija (Another Territory). Arūnas Šlaustas draws his creative impulses from early music, which also generates his original approach.
Pianist is known not only as a jazzman, but also as a performer of academic music. He studied piano at the Lithuanian Academy of Music; was a prize winner at the M.K.Čiurlionis International Piano Competition; gave a number of recitals, as a soloist performed with the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra and the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra; performed contemporary works as a soloist and with the ensemble Ex Tempore, whose member and one the founders he is.
He started his career on jazz scene twenty years ago when in 1987 he joined Vladimir Chekasin’s Big Band of the Lithuanian Academy of Music. Later he worked with Arnoldas Gurinavičius’ Quartet, ensembles The New Lithuanian Trio, Ex Tempore, Danielius Praspaliauskis’ Quartet and Dixieland. In 1991, together with Danielius Praspaliauskis he formed Quintet, later ensemble Contra Jazz, which recorded Arūnas Šlaustas’ first album Kita Teritorija (Another Territory). Pianist also appears as a soloist, collaborates with folk music groups. In addition, he teaches at the Vilnius Conservatoire and the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre.
In Arūnas Šlaustas’ new project the jazz and academic music tête-à-tête will be conducted by perfectly balanced orchestra – 5 jazzmen and 5 musicians, representing academic music, will join the leader.
Trumpeter Valerijus Ramoška is one of the most active Lithuanian jazzmen, widely known as a member of Dainius Pulauskas Group. Virtuoso trumpeter, skilful and versatile musician, versed in modern jazz styles and equipped with a wide range of expression modes, he easily adapts to diverse leaders and styles.
Valerijus Ramoška has been active on jazz scene since 1990; he is an initial member of Dainius Pulauskas Group (1994). He also appears in various formations – from duos and chamber jazz groups to big bands; he is a soloist with the LRT Big Band, as a guest soloist regularly appears with Kaunas Big Band. The trumpeter is on a faculty at the Vilnius Conservatoire and the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre.
Arūnas Šlaustas regularly collaborates with a versatile saxophonist and composer Danielius Praspaliauskis. At home in various styles from Dixieland to acid jazz, the saxophonist explores fusion of jazz and academic music, experiments with Bulgarian and other unorthodox rhythms. His saxophone often partners pop musicians in concerts and recordings. The saxophonist also has academic music experience, has recorded and inspired a number of works by contemporary Lithuanian composers, regularly participates in contemporary music projects and contemporary music festivals.
Danielius Praspaliauskis has been active on Lithuanian jazz scene since 1991, since 1994 composes for and appears as a leader and co-leader with quartet, quintet, Dixieland, ensemble Contra Jazz. He is a soloist with the LRT Big Band.
This project features one more musician, known for his projects fusing jazz and academic music. Regularly appearing in various formations on the Vilnius Jazz stage, trombonist Skirmantas Sasnauskas has stood at the cradle of this festival – his Quintet appeared in the very first festival Vilniaus Džiazas’87, which gave the impulse for Vilnius Jazz, celebrating 20th anniversary this year.
Trombonist, bagpipe player, multi-instrumentalist, composer and vocalist, Skirmantas Sasnauskas is an extraordinary figure on Lithuanian jazz scene. The range of his expression means is as wide as are his creative horizons embracing traditional jazz, free, fusion, synthesis of both jazz and folk music, and jazz and academic music, as well as avant-garde experiments. Seasoned performer in a variety of styles, he is especially famed for original style, imaginatively exploiting elements and timbres of Lithuanian folk music. For the project of this type he garnered Grand Prix at the Birštonas Jazz Festival.
Skirmantas Sasnauskas has been playing jazz since 1986. He has collaborated with majority of Lithuanian jazz luminaries; many a today’s celebrated Lithuanian jazz musicians have gained professional experience playing in his groups. Skirmantas Sasnauskas is a soloist with the LRT Big Band, and is on a faculty at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre.
The bass line in Arūnas Šlaustas’ project is delegated to double bassist Vytis Nivinskas, one of the leading Lithuanian jazzmen, praised for mature musical thinking, rich and expressive sound, active and bold articulation as well as flexible melodic cantilenas. In the past, Vilnius Jazz has presented his impressive projects: in 2000, he made his festival debut as a leader of the project Coltrane Impressions; in 2004, introduced himself as a composer with an international group Baltic Asteroids; in 2005, performed with a group of young rebels Riot; and a year ago he performed at the pre-festival concert – the presentation of SAGA group’s new CD.
Vytis came to music comparatively late. Fascinated with jazz, he traded philosophy studies at the Vilnius University for double bass. As a double bassist he honed his skills at the Vilnius Conservatoire, the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, Carl Nielsen Music Academy in Denmark and DePaul University in Chicago, where he earned a Master degree.
He made his jazz debut in 1994. Soon after he started gathering experience playing with leading Lithuanian jazzmen, and taking part in jazz, rock, academic and contemporary music projects. In 2001, he went to study in Chicago, the USA, where in 2002 he formed Baltic Asteroids. He also composed, worked with various groups and musicians.
Vytis Nivinskas’ return to Lithuania brought some fresh air into Lithuania’s jazz world. His creative, aesthetic and humanistic principles made him the most sought after jazz double bassists in Lithuania. Collaborating with the Lithuanian jazz luminaries, performing solo and in duos, he gave a memorable recital this year. In addition to his artistic career, he teaches at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre.
Young and promising drummer Darius Rudis is entrusted with the pulse in this project. Skilful and flexible jazzman, sensitive accompanist and versatile musician he is at home in various styles from flamenco and Latin to modern jazz and fusion. Having made his jazz debut in 1999, today Darius Rudis is ranked among the best Lithuanian drummers. He works with ensembles led by Dainius Pulauskas, Leonid Šinkarenko, Vytautas Labutis, Arūnas Šlaustas, Janas Maksimovičius, Artūras Anusauskas, Egidijus Buožis and Artūras Chalikovas, as well as with Eugenijus Kanevičius, Eduardas Armonas and Baiba Skurstene; he has appeared in international projects together with Alexi Tuomarila, Anatoly Vapirov and Phillip Hamilton. In addition to performing, he teaches at the Vilnius College.
In this project jazz musicians join forces with 5 performers of academic music – a string quintet, formed around the renowned Chordos Quartet, a team of masters, keen experimenters, contemporary music experts and regular participants of contemporary music festivals.
Vytautas Mikeliūnas, who has joined Chordos Quartet this year, is equally known on academic music and jazz scene. His jazz projects display academic music influence. A winner of various competitions, he has been the principal violin with the St Christopher Chamber Orchestra for many years.
Since his jazz debut with Kęstutis Lušas’ ensemble in 1981, Vytautas Mikeliūnas has collaborated with diverse Lithuanian jazz musicians. Constantly balancing between classical music and jazz, the violinist has made a number of jazz arrangements for his Beduin String Quartet. While working at the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra, he initiated the Orchestra’s projects with jazz musicians, arranged jazz compositions for the Orchestra. In addition to performing Vytautas Mikeliūnas also teaches.
Violinist Dainius Puodžiukas, substituting for Ieva Sipaitytė(Chordos’ first violin) in this project, has made his name not only in Lithuania but also on the other side of the Atlantic. Winner of numerous competitions, he has studied in Boston and Cambridge (USA), performed with the celebrated Boston Symphony. Presently, on a faculty at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, Dainius Puodžiukas often performs with his brother Aidas. Critics compare Dainius with Paganini.
Two more members of Chordos – Robertas Bliškevičius and Mindaugas Bačkus – are not beginners in the field of contemporary jazz. They both are featured on Liudas Mockūnas–Stefan Pasborg album Toxikum.
Violist Robertas Bliškevičius is well known in academic music circles. In 1989 – 2004, he was a member of the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, and was one of the founders of Chordos Quartet as well as Vilnius Chamber Orchestra, with which he actively performed, recorded, participated in various projects, and performed as a soloist. Currently, beside Chordos he also plays in Disobedient Ensemble and viola quartet Viola Regnum.
In addition to intensive performing career, Robertas Bliškevičius has written articles on interpretation of early music. He is the artistic director of the travelling festival Musical Autumn, a program manager with the Domus Artis concert agency, and one of the organisers of the early music festival Banchetto Musicale.
Cellist Mindaugas Bačkus is experienced performer of contemporary music. Having joined Chordos five years ago, the enthusiastic and creative cellist is distinguished by his wide artistic horizons. His solo repertoire ranges from Bach to contemporary music as well as various experiments.
Violist Ramūnas Zakaras, the member of the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra and its Quartet, will join Chordos in Arūnas Šlaustas’ project.
© Jūratė Kučinskaitė