If I remember correctly, this year’s festival was probably my 25th time at the North Sea Jazz Festival and as always it was difficult to make sure that I could see and hear all the artists and music I wanted …. But as every year it was worth being there!

We started the Friday with a backstage visit to John Zorn’s Bagatelles Marathon, a 4-hour event of adventurous music, featuring many wonderful artists, including Julian Lage and John Medeski, whom I came to say Hi to. Then off to Rymden, the amazing trio of Bugge Wesseltoft on piano and keyboards, Dan Berglund on bass and Magnus Öström on drums. Their set was modern jazz with rock elements, ambient sounds and groovy moments. Impressive ensemble play as well as outstanding individual performances made this concert one of the highlights of the festival for me. The repertoire was mainly from their first album together but has developed a lot during their extensive tour and is more open for improvisation and collective excursions by now. Top jazz from Europe.

Next on was James Brandon Lewis, the young saxophonist with whom I did 2 albums on Okeh and who came with his new group to present the music of his new album ‘An Unruly Manifesto’. In the group he had the trusted sidemen from his trio, Luke Stewart on bass and Warren ‘Trae’ Crudup III on drums, plus the amazing Jaimie Branch on trumpet and Ava Mendoza on guitar. James Brandon is a very powerful and fiery player, exploring with his group the melodic side of free jazz – always open to improvise and lead the group to new musical territory, but never without a melodic anchor. His sidemen and -women are some of the best young musicians around and are perfect to bring his compositions to life. Powerful next to Lewis were Branch with some incredible soli and Mendoza with a heavy guitar display, fitting perfectly into the overall sound. Challenging, wild and wonderful!!

What I didn’t see and hear on Friday: Diana Krall, Jose James (as he will be coming to Madrid soon), Makaya McCraven, Nik Bärtsch and Melissa Aldana.

Saturday started with beauty in sound: Becca Stevens, Camila Meza and Lizz Wright, together with the Dutch Metropole Orkest, under Miho Hazama performing songs from all three singesr latest recordings. Camila Meza started proceedings with a song from ‘Ambar’ her new album and her vocal delivery and guitar skills were impressive. Then the two other ladies joined to perform ’Old Man’ with Lizz Wright. This song from her album ‘Dreaming Wide Awake’ and ‘Grace’, the title song of her latest recording, were sublime and Wright sang her heart out … Becca performed a few songs from her album ‘Regina’, especially ‘Mercury’ stood out here. Meza did another 2 songs from ‘Ambar’ singing during her performances in English, Portuguese and Spanish and adding some colourful guitar to the rest of the concert. What a great and emotional tribute to the art of song by 3 very different and exceptional vocalists. Sensational!!

Next on was Dee Dee Bridgewater, revisiting her 2005 album ‘J’ai Deux Amours’, with the original band of that album, featuring Marc Berthoumieux on accordion, Louis Winsberg on guitar, Ira Coleman, her musical director on this project, on bass and Minino Garay on drums. Dee Dee is such a force of nature, such an energetic performer, that it really doesn’t matter what she does, as she will always give 100 % … and this show was not different: her singing immaculate, the communication with her musicians perfect and the stories in between excellent – and the audience had a wonderful time .. and so had I hearing this repertoire again after so many years. Songs like ‘La Mer (Beyond The Sea)’ or ‘Mon Homme (My Man)’ sounded fresh and done in 2 languages more interesting and ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ or ‘Avec Le Temps’ were done brilliantly and touching. Top!

This was the night of seeing and hearing good friends, as next on was Michel Camilo with the horns of the Dutch New Cool Collective performing music from Camilo’s new big band album ‘Essence’. NCC is an award-winning ensemble of groove and Latin music and includes saxophonists Benjamin Herman, Efraim Trujillo, Wouter Schueler, David Kweksilber and Miguel Martinez, trumpet-player David Rockefeller, Jan van Duikeren, Joe Rivera, Randell Heye and Wim Both and trombonists Frans Cornelissen, Kees Adolfe, Pablo Martinez and Andre Pet. Camilo’s bass player Ricky Rodriguez, percussionist Eliel Lazo and drummer Ernesto Simpson completed the band. The horns of NCC, under Camilo’s direction, grooved amazingly and got all the Latin rhythms and fireworks going throughout a burning set, that included Camilo classics as well as lesser known compositions like the wonderful ‘Mongo’s Blues’. And hanging with Michel and Sandra afterwards was as much fun as always. Perfect!

What I didn’t see and hear on Saturday: Jamie Cullum (got about 10 minutes of his show and he sounded amazing), Arild Andersen Trio (just had a quick chat with Arild but couldn’t stay for the show), J D Allen Quartet and the Perez, Cohen, Potter Quintet ….

Sunday had a slow, but beautiful start with Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya, performing new music from the recently released album ‘The Balance’. Opening his show with a gorgeous piano solo which had a taste of South Africa in it, the band then got into his new compositions, which seem to be influenced by Duke Ellington’s jazz writing. Beautiful melodies perfectly performed, swinging or grooving or balladeske. He surely got the balance right!

Off to hear a bit of Kamasi Washington then, who performed with Patrice Quinn on vocals, Ricky Washington on flute and soprano saxophone, Ryan Porter on trombone, Brandon Coleman on keyboards, Miles Mosley on bass and Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr. on drums to a capacity crowd in the big Maas hall. Unfortunately, the sound in the venue was so bad, that all one could hear were the two bass drums and the bass, swallowing up the rest of the band. Pity, as the band seemed to really get into their version of ‘Truth’, a multi-layered melodically interesting piece, but the finer side of the music was simply drowned in the bad mix. So, I left ….

Next on was Chick Corea with is Spanish Heart Band featuring Jorge Pardo on saxophone and flute, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, Steve Davis on trombone, Niño Josele on guitar, Carlitos Del Puerto on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums and dancer Nino de los Reyes. ‘Antidote’ is the new album and it provided most of the repertoire for the concert, with Chick and the band in incredible form – Josele with some impressive solo guitar work, Jorge Pardo especially on the sax and dancer de los Reyes with astonishing energy and movements. The band as well paid with the song ‘Zyryab’ a tribute to the great Paco de Lucia, with whom Chick and of course Jorge and Josele had worked for many years. Overall a wonderful concert, with a clear and well-balanced sound and outstanding performances from all musicians. Chick never fails to impress!

The listened a bit to artist in residence Robert Glasper and his tribute to Miles Davis, Everything Is Beautiful, featuring the wonderful singer Ledisi. Music from and in the spirit of Miles – you can’t go wrong with that! But, as I wanted to see Still Dreaming, I rushed to get to the next stage to hear them perform. Joshua Redman’s tribute to the band Old And New Dreams features Ron Miles on trumpet, Scott Colley on bass and now Dave King on drums, replacing Brian Blade. The music is still a great mix of captivating originals and music Old And New Dreams used to play – mainly Ornette Coleman’s compositions. King brings a different rhythm concept to the band, more rooted and so pushing the other guys to new highs. Redman and Miles communicating wonderfully and Colley keeping it all together. A great band, amazing musicianship and the perfect way to end this year’s North Sea Jazz Festival!!!

What I didn’t see or hear on Sunday: Bobby McFerrin, Lauryn Hill, Jacob Collier, Ambrose Akinmusire, Henry Threadgill, Youn Sun Nah …..

A bit THANKS to Michelle, Anne Marleen, Frank and Sander for making this festival and our trip most enjoyable. See you next year!

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