VILNIUS - In recent years Lithuania has acquired a reputation for being the jazz center of the Baltics - and for very good reason too. Every year the country hosts a number of excellent jazz music festivals, and few are bigger or better than the annual Vilnius Jazz festival.
The seventh Vilnius Jazz festival kicks off on Sept. 16 and, in an almost touchingly naive gesture, is dedicated to Dutch jazz because Holland is currently holding the rotating EU presidency.
But the gesture is also a nod of appreciation to the country's fine tradition of jazz music. Ever since the 1970s, Dutch jazz has actually enjoyed a widespread reputation for its unique-sounding style, which notably drifted away from the overwhelming influence of American jazz.
One of the brightest stars and biggest personalities performing at Vilnius Jazz is multipercussionist Han Bennink. It's popularly said that Bennink's first ever instrument was a kitchen stool, which might help to explain his extraordinary outbursts of on-stage improvisation. At such times he'll reach for whatever's at hand, whether it be a pizza box, a piece of string, a wall or a floor. Not to mention a stool. This year Bennink will be coperforming with Lithuanian and Estonian jazz musicians.
Another intriguing Dutch act will be performing on Sept. 16 in a free concert in Cathedral Square. Combining soul jazz, funk and African rhythms, Monsieur Dubois is a youthful band that always gets the crowd going.
They'll be followed on stage by the enigmatic and sometimes baffling How2BE (How To Be Enlightened in 48 hrs). Critics struggle to define this group's music and to place it squarely in the realm of jazz. Is it jazz funk? Entertaining music with an Indian twang? Or simply Buddha-Bop?
You'll have to decide for yourself. The group's members say they were chiefly inspired by raga music and traveling through India. How2BE Bombay-born vocalist Sandhya Sanjana and instrumentalist Ofra Avni will unleash their bizarre and beautiful sound on a very unsuspecting public.
The festival also has a strong Japanese presence as well. Pianist Ryoji Hojito will perfom on Sept. 16 at the Russian Drama Theater and the group Exias-J will be among those performing at the final concerts on Sept. 19. Exias-J is a multimedia project that involves jazz musicians, filmmakers, dancers and even philosophers. Just expect the unexpected, and you probably get the idea.
The highly acclaimed British jazz outfit, the Matthew Bourne Trio, will also be playing on Sept. 19. Featuring the unbelievably creative "keyboard demon" Matthew Bourne, bassist Dave Kane and drummer Steve Davis, the trio's music is fresh and experimental, and marked by its mixture of energy and sensitivity. It's a British response to the current domination of Scandinavian "new jazz" in Europe.
Finally, no Vilnius Jazz festival would be complete without a little domestic talent on show. Dainius Pulauskas and Band, one of Lithuania's top jazz acts, will be among those performing on Sept. 16 at the Cathedral Square concert. The internationally recognized sextet has been spending more time abroad than at home of late and it's sure to receive a warm welcome form the crowd. Incidentally, Universal Records has recently released the first ever European jazz compilation featuring a Lithuanian band, which just happens to be none other than Dainius Pulauskas and Band.
Vilnius Jazz 2004
Sep. 16 's19
Tickets: 20 litas
(6 euros) - 45 litas
For full program details visit