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IMC’s Kenneth Killeen looks back at 12 Points Plus concert in SKOPJE, Macedonia in October this year

The festival is a major date in Skopje's cultural calendar and was even emblazoned on the local beer, and a special Skopje vintage red wine to boot!
Once the home of Byzantine officials, famous sultans and Communists leaders, today Skopje is positively flourishing with excellent architecture and culture ranging from historic mosques to fashionable bars, quality hotels and remarkable cultural and night life.

Ireland is well known for its warmth and hospitality, but the Macedonians would almost put us to shame. The people from Skopje Jazz Festival couldn't do enough, and we were humbled by their attention to detail and great interaction with the artists.
The setting for the show was the Macedonian Opera and Ballet - a 1970’s era building with solid design quirks, and a large stage in a 600 seater auditorium. Initially I was worried about filling this, but the people of Skopje evidently love their music and more importantly, were more than willing to take a chance, as they came out in droves to hear 3 new acts.
But 12 Points Plus is an attractive proposition - three very different acts all at the forefront of their domestic scene, all ready to share their music, and all packing a serious aural punch.
Before Mari Kvien Brunvoll took to the stage I had a peep out the side curtain. Most of the seats were filled. An auspicious start!
We were delighted to have the company of Georgi Sereski backstage, whose quartet played the 12 Points Festival in Stavanger in 2010, but more importantly, Georgi and the rest of the band flew the flag proudly for Macedonia in Stavanger.
Georgi and Festival Director Oliver Bepoltoa introduced the evening in Macedonian and set the scene for 12 Points Plus, explaining its origins and history and welcoming the first act onstage, Mari Kvien Brunvoll.

Mari Kvien has a unique talent that effortlessly transcends language or cultural barriers. But more than that, she has the ability to command and hold a large audience. Her performance, opening our 12PP stage was flawless, and there were moments throughout where you could have easily heard a pin drop, her looped voice and layered harmonies, at times fragile, then forceful, fleshed out with the occasional percussive jingle of bells, keys, kalimba and auto harp, ebbing and flowing in a set that included traditional Norwegian pieces interspersed with dubstep styled vocal beat boxing, dense vocal layers and vocals laid bare. She is almost impossible to pigeon hole musically, but one thing is sure, the music is pure, the music is true and the music is all Mari Kvien Brunvoll. And the audience loved it.

Next up were Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler and her Acropolis quintet. This is music with great writing, and as an ensemble everyone in the band brings something unique to the sound. Though based in Amsterdam the quintet features musicians from Turkey, Bulgaria and Italy and each brings a strong regional identity to the group. Bridging ethnic and jazz traditions, guitarist George Dimitriu's use of laptop triggered effects on both his instrument and vocalist Saneem Kalfas is both innovative and atmospheric. Kaja Drakslers playing is just sublime; the music is very evocative and textural. All the band contribute to writing and arrangement duties, making for a well rounded set that held the peak attention of it’s audience.

When we heard French trio MeTaL-O-pHoNe at the 2011 Festival in Dublin, vibraphonist Benjamin Flament did not have his full vibe arsenal with him. He plays a modified vibraphone that features individual pickups on each bar.
Even without his proper set up at the Dublin festival, they impressed with their sheer musicality and virtuosity. A band that play hard, play loud and play it their way. It's this uncompromising, confident attitude which lends itself so well to their trio playing, and the sum is greater than its individual parts. It was my first time hearing the trio live, as they intended, and they didn't disappoint. Joachim Flaments aggressive arco playing, sawing furiously at the bass to Elie Duris's regimented drum lines made a solid foil for Benjamin's epic vibraphone playing. No charts here, just great playing, rehearsed to the 'nth degree which cleared the way for an intense set which the local audience were more than happy to get behind.

A great start to the 12 Points Plus roadshow.
Forget the football. Enjoy the people and the music and you'll always be a winner.

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