ViJazz stands for Vilafranca del Penedes and as well for Vino y Jazz, a truly sensible combination. While you walk around the city, sampling the various local wines, you can as well enjoy some of the free concerts in the square in front of the church … or go to one of the proper and guided wine tastings, obviously promoting the local whites and Cava – for me a tasty surprise the Cosmic by the Pares Balta Winery – a great mix of Sauvignon Blanc and Xarello (the local grape in the region). And of course the music – the beautiful setting on the square helps to create a good atmosphere, but once you got Dee Dee Bridgewater on stage, supported musically by young trumpeter Theo Croker and his gang, the already hot square got to boiling temperatures! Dee Dee is so energetic and the young band is pushing her limits, and she is accepting the challenge with a smile. Whether it is her repertoire or music from the two Theo Croker recordings, which both feature Dee Dee on a song and of course the music of New Orleans, Dee Dee and the band deliver – in musical terms and in terms of entertainment. No wonder she was named Jazz Master by the NEA a few weeks back … for me the greatest jazz singer we have at the moment and by far the best entertainer.
The second day in Vilafranca offered more good wine and music by GoGo Penguin, reminiscent a bit of e.s.t. in the more powerful and driven moments, but still their own and making a few waves around Europe. This UK piano trio is really strong and deserved the great applause it got before making way for Richard Bona and his Mandekan Cubano project – cool rhythms and all that is great about Bona: good songs, great vocals and unreal bass!! The audience loved it and had a great time – what else can you ask for!
Next on the list of summer jazz festivals was North Sea Jazz in Rotterdam – 3 days of an unbelievable menu for jazz lovers – what to pick? I kept it relaxed this year, started the Friday with a bit of Snarky Puppy, which was fine, but didn’t blew me away; tried to listen to Diana Krall, but didn’t have the right wrist band to see her as this was one of the few bonus concerts, where you have to pay extra, but was happy enough to go backstage and say Hi to her; off to see Kamasi Washington with the Metropole Orkest, conducted by Jules Buckley, and the ZO! Gospel Choir. Great music, really powerful stuff, but unfortunately the sound in the venue didn’t transport that power as much as I would have liked – sometimes the orchestra sounded thin, the choir too much in the background and the group with Kamasi too dominant – but one could hear still how good everyone on stage was, how beautiful the band and orchestra fitted together and how the choir gave a different dimension to the compositions. Christian Scott is a great young player, with cool and captivating compositions and a fantastic live band and he proved again that he can capture his audiences and give them a good time. As I wanted to see Ibrahim Maalouf with his Kalthoum band, I left Christian after a while and moved to the next venue to see Maalouf performing with Mark Turner on saxophone, Frank Woeste on piano, Scott Colley on bass and Clarence Penn on drums – what a set! Khartoum is a homage to the Egyptian singer and composer Baligh Hamidi and her work ‘Alf Leila Wa Leila’, which was presented here as a jazz suite – and all players were in the mood to stretch and improvise and give this music something special. Maalouf at his best!
I started the Saturday with a young man whom I had met a few years ago when he was just an internet phenomena and who has developed his musical ideas now into his first record: Jacob Collier. As on the album, the show featured only Jacob, but on all instruments – loops and samples make this happen and it still keeps being spontaneous – he even looped some of the videos he had running in the background, so even visually you could see him playing 3 or 4 instruments at the same time … but let’s take away the gimmicks for a moment and the young man shows a lot of talent – between his own songs and his covers of standards or more modern songs, he not only can play, but he is as well a great singer and got lots of ideas on improvisation and the use of his technical tools. When he performed a song just with acoustic guitar and singing beautifully one got the picture – the ’I do it all’ is part of his story and the new album and the show strengthens that, but there is more to him than that and once he has developed fully and has his own band, this could be an interesting (jazz) singer who doesn’t seem to know borders – what for anyway?
I had looked forward to the next show for a while now and I wasn’t disappointed: young saxophonist James Brandon Lewis and his bass player Luke Stewart and drummer Warren ‘Trae’ Crudup played a free flowing melodic funk jazz set based on JBL’s latest album Days Of FreeMan – and the audience really got into it and screamed and gave standing ovations within the set – the hip hop based grooves and Lewis’ impressive improvisations were simply stunning and local media mentioned the gig as one of the highlights of the festival – absolutely true. This young man needs to be heard! Got to listen a bit of Cyrille Aimee after that – she is a great singer with incredible control – sometimes I am not so sure about the repertoire choices, but the girl can sing!! In all that I missed to see and hear Airelle Besson, the amazing French trumpet player and composer as well as Hiatus Kaiyote, one of the coolest bands around at the moment …. Had to go and see the Branford Marsalis Quartet featuring special guest Kurt Elling now that their record was out … after seeing them last a few days before the recording in New Orleans … and how was that worth it …. They have grown so together as a unit and are able to do almost anything with the songs they performed, mostly from their recently released disc Upward Spiral. A pleasure of interactivity between all musicians, surprising changes and smiles all around – the guys surely had fun and it was reflected in the audience’s enthusiastic response … and at the end Cecile McLorin Salvant came on stage to do a song with them …gorgeous!
Saturday I started with seeing a few old friends – Michael Mantler performed The Jazz Composers Orchestra Update with the Austrian Big Band Nouvelle Cuisine, conducted by Christoph Cech and in the band, as soloist next to Mantler was my friend Wolfgang Puschnig, alto sax player, composer and Harry Sokal, tenor sax player and another of Austria’s greats.
They all performed a captivating show of incredible big band music – doesn’t get much deeper and better than that! And yes, the radio.string.quartet was part of that gig as well. Ran into Christian McBride and Chick Corea, who was celebrating his 75th birthday there in a musical homage to his heroes – with a great band that featured beside McBride Kenny Garrett, Wallace Roney and Marcus Gilmore … Totally amazing the other legends I went to see after that: Charles Lloyd and Pharoah Sanders. Lloyd performing with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland – nothing could go wrong here … these guys played so well together, supporting Lloyds beautiful sax sound and laying the ground for his improvisations … I was just sitting there with a smile on my face …. Which didn’t go away when Pharoah Sanders came on. The trio was completed by William Henderson on piano and the excellent Trilok Gurtu on percussion – they supported a kind of softer Sanders perfectly and with lots of feeling and intuition. And last on Saturday night it was the trio of John Scofield, Brad Mehldau and Mark Giuiana – really funky grooves and the usual great guitar work by Scofield. The perfect show to let the weekend finish – as usual: great music and too many choices to make, but a fantastic place to meet musicians, hear the new and old and have a good time.
The jazz festival in Vitoria-Gasteiz in the north of Spain, was celebrating this year their 40. anniversary and they put a very good program together, which we only visited for 2 days – the Friday and Saturday, July 15 and 16. We have a lot of friends there and it is always great to come back to this festival and so it was this year – and the music was pretty impressive too! Friday started with the Kenny Barron / Dave Holland duo, which I didn’t see in Rotterdam, as I knew I would have a chance to see them in Vitoria – and they were simply incredible …. The Art Of Conversation is the album most of the music came from and the title makes truly sense when these two world class musicians are talking to each other via their instruments – as if one mind speaks and improvises, together searching for new ideas or melodies within a song .. constantly challenging each other without showing off. One of the highlights of the jazz summer this year! Then Jamie Cullum – a great performer, who every time I see him becomes a better pianist … his just piano and voice version of Blackbird was absolutely outstanding! And he still can make every song he touches his own …Love For Sale was cool and modern and still the same great song, but that night it was Jamie’s and so it was with the rest and especially his And The Wind Cries May .. I guess Hendrix would have been proud. The audience was having the best of times and so had I … love the guy!
Saturday was the end of the festival and started with the Pat Metheny & Ron Carter duo, which I did enjoy, but in comparison to the day before with Barron/Holland, this was a less connected affair – great soli by both, but less communication and deeper understanding. Great their version of Sonny Rollins St. Thomas, surely one of the outstanding tunes of the show. Cecile McLorin Salvant closed the festival – once again showcasing her undeniable talent and control – she is a star in the making, but as I have said before, there is still too much technique and not enough emotions for me … she tries too hard to show what she can do and doesn’t let the song decide what it needs … except when she sang at the end of the show Alfonsia Y El Mar in Spanish.. then the audience was touched, as she concentrated on the beauty of the song (and most likely the Spanish pronunciation) instead of unleashing a technical firework … absolutely beautiful. Incredible as well Aaron Diehl on the piano, who really made her sound even better and got the loudest screams and applause of the show for one amazing solo – breath-taking. A great festival came to an end and we wish the Festival all the best for the coming years – looking already forward to go there next year again.
What better way to end our jazz festival summer than going to see Melody Gardot in the Noches Del Botanico in Madrid: an open air show on a hot summer night and amazing music from one of my favourite singers. Melody is a natural performer, reaching to her audience with her songs and little stories once in a while and with her outstanding band (featuring young sax player Irwin Hall), she can do whatever she wants … slow and quiet as in the beautiful and touching Baby I’m A Fool or powerful and engaging as in Preacher Man or She Don’t Know from her latest CD Currency Of Man. She is an artist who can touch me deeply, as she did with her incredible rendition of Morning Sun from the same album and a simple, but extremely powerful See-Line Woman, the iconic song by Nina Simone, which she made completely her own in a version full of respect for the original, but still being able to add something special to it. The Madrid audience was fully behind her and sang with her creating some extremely beautiful moments. Melody Gardot and her band were in great form last night and delivered what easily could be the concert of the year for me. Sensational!!!