“It’s an exploration. I love exploring my roots and I love learning about other music,” says Kuljanic. “You can take inspiration from all sorts of places and over time, it becomes part of you.”
Renowned for her complex musical sensibility and supple sound, Croatian vocalist Astrid Kuljanic has immersed herself in an eclectic variety of musical traditions from around the world. Her journey from the Balkans to New York has allowed her to absorb Jazz, Brazilian, and acquire an advanced knowledge of performing with electronics using Ableton Live. Astrid is equally skilled in faithful interpretations of these styles as she is inventive in her own arrangements – employing mixed meters and folk harmonies personally and authentically.
With her New York quartet Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company, she celebrated the debut album Riva released for OneTrickDog* Records with a sold-out concert at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. With her Croatian-Slovenian band Mildreds, she recorded two albums for Aquarius Records. The band is the subject of a 2021 documentary film produced by Hommage Productions.
In addition to her work as a bandleader, Astrid is a frequent collaborator on various projects. In 2020 she was a part of Thana Alexa’s album ONA, which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Vocal Jazz Album.
In 2020, Astrid was recognized by Brooklyn Arts Council with a grant to support her project Why Are You Gone?, a concert program centered on themes of migration pertaining to various communities in Brooklyn, NY. This music will be featured on her next recording, a duo with bassist Mat Muntz.
Astrid has performed in venues such as Jazz Standard and Gramercy Theatre in NYC, The Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Teatro O’Nariz in Portugal, JZ Hangzhou, China, as well as festivals like Refugee Day at Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, Earshot Jazz in Seattle, Mendocino in California, GoldenFest in Brooklyn, Lent in Slovenia and Ordokatlan in Hungary.
Ms. Kuljanic’s mission is to engage audiences across cultural boundaries. To that end she founded Crescendo Music Festival (Croatia) which has helped local audiences connect with a diverse array artists for more than a decade.
Astrid holds degrees from the University of Zagreb, Croatia in chemical engineering, a Bachelor of Music from the Conservatory G. Tartini, Trieste, Italy, and a Master of Music in Jazz Performance from Manhattan School of Music.
Chemical engineering’s loss is music’s gain… enticing exploration of songs…(Kuljanic) deploys this inspiration sensitively, using instrumentation to great effect.
(Songlines UK, 4/5 Star Review by Tom Newell)
…Creating moods you won’t quickly forget. Well worth repeated listenings!
Astrid and her players sound like they’re having a blast and the music is again hard to classify, but the whole thing is head-spinning good.
(World Music Central)
A concomitant substantive force… Kuljanic has a transcendent way of connecting with her audience.
(The Jazz Word)
Kuljanic enjoys an impressive wide vocal range, as well as a seminal talent for coherent improvisation, and above all, the absolute control and refinement of intonation.
Behemoth personality with matching voice and talent!
…Flowing between Caribbean and Brazilian beats and racy Croatian ditties, between heartfelt ballads and upbeat romps.
(Republic of Jazz, Spain)
Astrid leads us through the musical labyrinth of this world, her music is direct, full of emotion, diverse to dissolve the soul of every honest and open minded listener.
Incredibly exotic… Fun stuff that hits all the right notes, this is solid proof that music is the universal language. Well done.
…Impressive and broad range and color of vocal jazz palette as well as a seminal talent for coherent improvisation, and above all, the absolute control.
(Novi List, Croatia)
Soul-baring vocals… she breathes life, meaning, and emotion into the lyrics.
It’s no accident that Kuljanic wound up making music in an island city of multitudinous influences. She grew up in Rijeka, Croatia, in what was then Yugoslavia, listening to her family sing and play music. Her older sister prodded her to sing, as the girls heard music from Italian pop to American rock to Yugoslav hits pouring through the radio. Her native region had switched empires and then countries several times, though its seafaring folk remained staunchly committed to their mixed identity and dialect. As an adult, Kuljanic expanded her connection to her family’s home island, Cres. She founded a jazz festival there, meeting local artists and artisans like Vesna Jakic who created the felt dress Kuljanic wears on the album cover, made from island wool.
Trained as a chemical engineer, Kuljanic decided after college she had to pursue her first passion, music and song. She started bands with friends on the Zagreb scene, including Mildreds, a gentle and folky acoustic group that cut two albums together. But Kuljanic longed for a more formal education in music, which took her first to the Trieste Conservatory, and eventually to New York, to the Manhattan School of Music.
Jazz is only part of Kuljanic’s creative foundations. “One of the things that brought me into jazz is the freedom, the improvisation,” she reflects. “Beyond that, it’s hard for me to figure out what my favorite style of music is. I’ve always loved rock and pop. I fell for folk. I love beautiful ballads and crazy fast pieces. You can hear it on this album, which has different energy from song to song.”
Kuljanic’s band does find a common sonic thread to tie the variety together, built on close musical friendships.They play together frequently, in this and other permutations, and Kuljanic loves that energy. She wanted to keep it alive in the studio. Many of the tracks on the album were recorded in the heat of a single day, with all their organic vigor and rough edges. “I didn’t want things too polished,” she muses. “These are song we play all the time,” and she wanted to keep the immediacy.
Kuljanic has harnessed this immediacy to speak across boundaries difficult to cross back home, but more permeable in New York, while bringing Croatian tradition to a non-Croatian audience. “Everything about this band and album represents the symbolic path I’ve taken from Croatia to New York, to explore the music of the world while staying connected to the place from which I embarked,” Kuljanic reflects. “I know every stone, tree, and shell in that bay. That the destination of this journey will be Carnegie Hall is something I never dreamed possible when I was leaving Croatia. It’s such an honor to get to share Cres’ treasures, Croatian culture, and the many other sounds I’ve made my own along the way.”
ASTRID KULJANIC TRANSATLANTIC EXPLORATION COMPANY
Hailing from Croatia, Brazil, Seattle and New York City, USA, the Astrid Kuljanic Transatlantic Exploration Company unites four musical worlds, bound by a shared dedication and curiosity for music. Astrid’s instinct for exploration brought her to New York, where she quickly became immersed in musical communities from India and Brazil, Klezmer music, avant-garde improvisation, and electronic experimentation. She carefully drew from these circles her new band members: accordionist Benjamin Rosenblum, bassist Mat Muntz and percussionist Rogerio Boccato. The band developed a strong connection through regular performances of Astrid’s original music, arrangements of jazz and Brazilian standards, and traditional and popular songs from Eastern Europe. Performance highlights include The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Gramercy Theatre and Waldorf Astoria in New York City, and each performance is charged with interactive improvisation and rhythmic intensity. The band celebrated their first album – an energetic set of music with rolling momentum – with a sold out concert release party at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.
LIVE ELECTRONICS DUO AND SOLO
Astrid’s duo project with bassist Mat Muntz seeks to create a new kind of concert experience within the jazz idiom. Through their careful curation of standard repertoire and the implementation of live electronic performance, Muntz and Kuljanic transform conventional jazz sets into immersive soundscapes. Kuljanic’s command of musical software allows the duo to manipulate sounds made in the moment – with no prerecorded samples – into arrangements and improvisations.
Mat MuntzKnown in New York for his intense, energetic stage presence and a personal expressiveness on the bass, Mat Muntz is proving a promising presence in the city’s creative music communities. He has performed at some of New York’s most prestigious venues, including the Jazz Gallery, Avery Fisher Hall, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. In addition, Mat has toured in Asia and Europe, playing at Blue Note Beijing, JZ Shanghai, JZ Hangzhou, Umbria Jazz Festival, Liburnia Jazz Festival, and Beijing Nine Gates Jazz Festival. Both as a leader and a sideman, Mat brings to the music a diverse range of influences, a willingness to experiment and explore, and above all a sense of joy and playfulness.
Mildreds are, as you all know, stuck up ladies dressed in tweed, drinking their 5 o’clock tea: Astrid Mildred Kuljanic – voice, Uros Mildred Rakovec – guitars and mandolin, Ziga Mildred Golob – double bass and bass guitar, Blaz Mildred Celarec – percussion and clarinet, and Kruno Mildred Levacic – drums. After they successfully wiped the dust off their favorite old songs (CD «Brisaci prasine», Aquairus Records, 2007.) they have decided to put their home made cookies on the shelves. Again, with no mainstream glitter, only melodies and words, tea and biscuits, the performance is outstanding, ingredients above all natural. The concert of Mildreds, the Croatian – Slovenian group, is also recommended by the Department of the Institute for Division of Association for Individuals and Congregations.