Interview by Iulian Fruntașu

Iulian Fruntașu: This year marks the 30th anniversary of the band Trigon, a band that became one of the phenomena of jazz in Central and Eastern Europe. How was it created?

Anatol Ştefăneț: It was founded in 1992, in difficult political and social circumstances, with a war on the Dniester and an economy in free fall. At the beginning, we took the simple name of Jazz Trio and only after we went to our first major festival, in Grenoble– masters such as Michel Petrucciani, Louis Sclavis, Michel Portal were there– and a friend of ours, Victoria Mustache, suggested to us the name of Trigon which has esoteric origin because it signifies the three zodiac forces of the members of the group at that time. Grigore Bosenco, the president of the designers’ union of that period, contributed to the construction of our identity, by elaborating a memorable logo of the band.

Iulian Fruntașu: What is the fundamental approach of Trigon?

Anatol Ștefăneț: Our entire journey is marked by a philosophy that highlights folklore, tradition and other mental structures characteristic of Romanians in particular, but also of the region as a whole. We treat this substance in the free form of jazz. Broadly speaking, this would be Trigon’s ideology. Let’s take the form of the Doina: most of the time it is considered as a song of mourning, let’s give this type of song another interpretation, let’s go beyond the lamentation and reach a certain depth, creatively using imagination and filtering it through different emotional states. In this way, new meanings can be at least outlined, even though not achieved. Another example is Șchiopătata – our opening piece. Let’s imagine the dance organized in the countryside at celebrations. A limping boy comes to watch the festivity. He leans against a tree, and at some point, a girl approaches him and invites him to dance. Insecure and humble at first, he gradually forgets about his disability and dances, he gradually becomes free and  captured; metaphor that represents the state of slow but fundamental transformation, from physical and emotional isolation, to freedom and to the affirmation of the power music and love can have over deficiencies of any kind.

Anatol Ștefăneț

Iulian Fruntașu: The 21st Ethno Jazz Festival takes place between September 30 and October 2, How did you come to the idea of organizing a festival of this kind?

Anatol Ștefăneț: In 2002, 10 years after Trigon was created, we decided to invite to our anniversary concerts bands we had met and befriended at festivals, even devised projects together with. It was the idea of my wife, Natalia, who, unfortunately, is no longer with us. She was also in charge of organizing the festivals. We also found sponsors: today’s Moldcell. They liked the idea, they financed the first edition, after which they showed their willingness to continue supporting the event.

In any case, a country cannot exist without a jazz festival, or a theater or film festival.

Iulian Fruntașu: I listened to  Garbarek a few years ago, at the London Jazz Festival. I really like his way of playing Norwegian folklore, but also his other projects, with other artists from region further away. I like, for example, the ‘Ragas and Sagas’ project with Pakistani Ustad Fatih Ali Khan. Would Trigon have embarqued in adventures like this?

Anatol Ștefăneț: But we really had projects like this, and I think they were successful: Autumn Visit, for example, together with Enver Izmailov from Crimea, an extraordinary master; is is very easily recognizable thanks to the musical stylistics of the Tatars. Enver is of incredible virtuosity, one of the few who plays guitar using the more complicated tapping technique. But I found tangents with him in the joint project. We also collaborated with The Shin, a Georgian jazz fusion band created in Germany in 1998. After all, there are 7 notes around the world, the important thing is to be curious to find the tangents existing between cultures.

Iulian Fruntașu: True! For example, Dhafer Youssef, whom I am sure you met at festivals, was educated at a religious school in Tunisia. And the influence of that on his playing jazz is extremely interesting.

Anatol Stefanets: Yes, I also liked Garbarek’s approach to religious music, the way in which he conceives the free form of jazz melted together with folk tradition. In our region, a major influence was represented by Mikhail Alperin, including his projects with the folk music of the Yakuts and the Bulgarian choir of women.

Iulian Fruntașu: Trigon has become an institution through which several people have passed and it is interesting that you managed to keep them under the umbrella of the band, even if the former colleagues have their own projects. How did you manage this balance, including their pride, creating that environment necessary for collective creation?

Anatol Ștefăneț: We have constantly tested the degree of compatibility to see if we have the potential for collaboration. But the fundamental element was the ability to have a certain flexibility required by the band’s ideology tested over time. For example, Dorel Burlacu came up with the tradition of international jazz and was tempted towards that direction; after the discussions I knew how to explain the philosophy that I have developed over the years and that my colleagues always understood. Another aspect, more trivial, but important at the same time, is the daily behavior. A degree of personal compatibility has also been necessary over these long years of touring.

Iulian Fruntașu: You had concerts with 4 spectators, but also with 2000. What would be the most memorable concerts and festivals you’ve attended?

Anatol Ştefăneț: The most memorable was the first concert at the National Philharmonic. When they announced my name — I waited for about 30 seconds, but it seemed like 100 years— I knew then that I was stepping into a new world. It was an extraordinary moment that I will never forget. After that we performed often and in the most unusual places; we wanted to accumulate stage experience. For example, we had a concert at the Rusca women’s penitentiary, and it was extremely interesting to see the detainees, some of them serving their sentence for serious crimes: from the initial bustle and booing, they became silent, they started listening attentively to us. Music, indeed, has a major impact on everyone, regardless of the level of education. Later we played on bigger stages, obviously. And I realized, at some point, that wherever we are invited, we come with an open heart, we are novel, we have something to say, using our own means of expression. And our message cannot be confused with those of others. A musician must be honest in relation to his audiences, that’s when the connection will occur.

Iulian Fruntașu: But isn’t jazz elitist, by definition?

Anatol Ştefăneț: Could be. But music either captures you or it doesn’t, classical music, folklore, same thing. For example, I was listening to Iurie Bashmet, the famous violinist; I was left indifferent for some time. But since I found his recording with the concert no. 2 by Alfred Shnitke, I understood that he is so sincere and dedicated that his interpretation marked me for a long time. Of course, Shnitke is more difficult and doesn’t let you deviate too much, as in jazz, but Bashmet reached unsuspected peaks through his deep way of playing.

Otherwise, however, I make no distinction with regard to the public. It’s true that I adjust certain approaches, there are nuances, depending on the preparation of the audience, but not at the expense of sincerity. That’s the most important thing,  you  can only establish contact with the public when you are credible.

Iulian Fruntașu: I think education and culture are a public good. Wouldn’t state institutions have a role to play in promoting them?

Anatol Ştefăneţ: Absolutely. We all have our roles on the chessboard, institutions too, we need them if we are to produce results. But the primary thing is to take on an individual responsibility for what we do. Society must evolve in this direction, of cultivating a sense for everything good, true and beautiful. We are slowly evolving in this direction, but we could have moved faster.

* The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the position of the Romanian Cultural Institute, but exclusively the opinions of the author.