North Sea Jazz 2018

I was really looking forward to this year’s edition of North Sea Jazz, as the program really looked promising in its annual mix of established acts and new ones to discover. Arriving Friday afternoon in Rotterdam to get ready for the first show on my individual program, which was the blind fold test Kurt Elling did for Downbeat before his Quintet show with special guest Marquis Hill. Dan Quellette did play Kurt some cool tracks … but wait and read about this when it is published. Elling’s gig, with John Mclean on guitar, Stuart Mindeman on piano and organ, Clark Summers on bass and Adonis Rose on drums, was simply incredible – the band is now so tight and has the new repertoire mastered fully and gives Elling the security to deliver his vocal artistry, following each turn the masters voice is taking. Hill fits in perfectly in terms of sound and imagination and is a perfect partner for Elling. What a great start to the festival – all you want from a gig: great artists performances, improvisation of the highest level and tons of emotions expressed via music!!!

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After that it was a bit running to a gig that wasn’t actually planned: Carla Bley unfortunately had to cancel her tour for health reasons and the festival decided to put on stage Bill Frisell (who already had played the night with Charles Lloyd) together with John Surman. A duo both artists were talking about doing for a while .. and now it happened – with half an hour to prepare! The result was simply stunning: explorations on themes by Surman or Frisell, improvisations and a music dialogue of rare quality! Surman on either bass clarinet or soprano and Frisell exchanged ideas, showed mutual respect and listened, so they could ‘answer’ each other in the best musical way! This is surely something they should follow up on!!!

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Off then to catch a bit of Roy Hargrove, whose band included Justin Robinson on alto saxophone, Tadataka Unno on piano, Ameen Saleem on bass and Quincy Philips on drums. Roy sounded strong and powerful and all the guys seemed to have a great time playing most songs from Roy’s extensive catalogue. He still got it!

Last on my list for Friday was the great NuSoul band from Norway ROHEY, about which I already have written a bit, especially about their stunning US debut in January during Winter Jazz Fest in New York. Rohey are: Rohey Talaah on vocals, Ivan Blomqvist on keys, Kristian Jacobsen on bass and Henrik Lodoen on drums and as in New York they got their (this time much bigger) audience going after a few bars …. Powerful songs and an incredible voice make this something special! Rohey is a singer of amazing talent and always shows her emotions and puts her soul into each song … a dancing and enthusiastic audience appreciated it!!!!

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Saturday, July 14, 2018: Day 2 I started with the wonderful singer Deva Mahal. Just a few songs were enough to confirm what a great singer she is – the record is good, but live: she nails it!! Quickly running over to see and say Hi to Nubya Garcia and listen a bit to her powerful show. Her improvisational skills and her sense for melody were outstanding and she proved, with her grooving band, why she is one of the most exciting new acts in the current UK scene.

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Next was David Sanborn, who brought his new acoustic band for the first time to North Sea Jazz – performing with him were Michael Dease on trombone, Andy Ezrin on piano, Ben Williams on bass and Billy Kilson on drums and they got the audience going right from the start, which was a powerful reading of Michael Brecker’s Tumbleweed. The rest of the amazing show was a mixed bag of Sanborn originals, standards and covers and the audience loved the way Sanborn and the band treated these compositions and Sanborn’s sound and emotional way of playing. We sat for a while back stage chatting and photographer John Gundlach / De Beeldunie took this great picture of us. Thanks!

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I had missed most of the Pat Metheny concert, but gladly heard a few bits and really enjoyed that new band he got with Gwilym Simcock on piano, Linda Oh on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums and was lucky enough to have a chat with Pat after his show, refreshing memories of when we worked together with Charlie Haden and Michael Brecker and a bit about some new and exciting acts of today.

I checked about half of the Jazz Loves Disney show, which I truly enjoyed. The four voices used for the concert were really well picked and, in their diversity, made the program work extremely well. Hugh Coltman, Sarah McKenzie, China Moses and Myles Sanko gave the show the emotions and class which it needed to take it beyond a collection of songs.

To finish off the second night at North Sea I went to hear and see the Sons Of Kemet – maybe not the best idea if you want to sleep after that: this was full power music – with Theon Cross on tuba, drummers Eddie Hick and Tom Skinner, as well as sax player Shabaka Hutchings. Improvisations over grooves that push Hutchings forward in his soli and melodic excursions. Fascinating.

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Sunday I started with the Maciej Obara quartet – I wanted to see this group for a while now and I really enjoyed their music. Dominik Wania on piano, Ole Morton Vagan on bass and Gard Nilssen on drums have such a great understanding with alto player Obara, that the music is flowing like a chat between friends … moving to different places quickly and always being responsive while listening what the other musicians had to ‘say’. Profound and challenging.

Just heard a bit of trumpet player Mathias Eick’s concert before getting ready for HUDSON – Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, John Medeski and Scott Colley performed the music of the first album of this group and took the songs to a different level. Outstanding their version of Hendrix’s Castle Made Of Sand – Scofield playing sensationally and the rest of the gang just kicking in … wow!!! These guys are really something else!! Next was Keyon Harrold, whose album I like and the live show was even more exciting, pushing borders and him and guitarist Nir Felder played some deep and interesting soli. A truly great band, a charismatic leader and some great tunes – can’t ask for much more!!! After that is was Avishai Cohen (the bass player) who presented his latest album 1970 live. Next to Avishai there were Karen Malka on vocals, Marc Kakon on guitar, Shai Bacher on keys and Noam David on drums and together they created Avishai’s signature sound of various influences from around the globe and performed his new, more vocal oriented material, to perfection. An enthusiastic and thankful audience showed their appreciation with load applause.

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I wanted to check out Ramon Valle a bit as well, but there were so many people queuing, that it was unfortunately impossible to get into the venue .. pity, as I like his playing, especially with the trio.

Therefore, I decided to end the Sunday and the festival with another super group in jazz – the Billy Hart quartet featuring special guest Joshua Redman, Ethan Iverson and Ben Street. Drummer Hart has excellent taste in his sidemen and this band in no exception – Iverson and Redman delivered blistering and thoughtful improvisations, based on Street’s and Hart’s rhythms, laid out for them to walk upon. Stunning interplay and communication and 4 musicians who obviously had a lot of fun playing together. The perfect ending for an exhausting, but wonderful festival.

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