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Gent Jazz Festival 2010: Days 1-5

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Days 1-5 | Days 6-9
The Gent Jazz Festival
Bijloke
Gent, Belgium

July 7-11, 2010

It's now customary to expect the biggest players in the jazz universe to alight each night at the Gent Jazzfest. This massively historic Belgian city provides a beautiful setting for the music, with its Bijloke site situated just outside the main centre, in a universe of its own making. The large marquee set-up is now an established success, oscillating between seated rows for the first week's hardcore jazz sequence, and then converting to a standing dancefloor scenario for the second week's concentration on the peripheries of jazz. This year, that meant Brazilian music, Portuguese fado, jazztronica, soul-poetics and blues-rock bombast. Each night, the area surrounding the main marquee sprawls outwards with bars and food stalls, the imbibers and grazers entertained by a series of mood-enhancing DJs. Humid heat pervaded, with a downpour descending on only one night. Better to be damp with sweat secretions than chemical rain, surely?

July 7: Norah Jones/DjanGo!/De Beren Gieren

Is Norah Jones a producer of jazz music? Well, not really. Maybe in the beginning, her output could be deemed soul-pop-jazz, but her current repertoire is more descended from American country music, as if she's modelling herself on Rosanne Cash. She's now playing more guitar than piano. The only way in which Jones broke any rules was to ditch the seating set-up on the first night of the festival. Traditionally, the first weekend is devoted to sitting-down, ear-cocking sounds. Musically, Jones absolutely does not transgress, on any level. This is a reasonable enough state-of-affairs if transgression is not a required activity. Perhaps the word is too strong, but I'm using it to underline the complete lack of jarring events during her set. Jones and her band are perfectly skilled practitioners, but everything runs much too smoothly, to the point of total inertia. It didn't help that, admittedly due to his lack of listening history with the Jones output, this reviewer was situated way back in the rear, the stage only visible as a tiny rectangle. Unless the viewer was seduced into watching the large screens flanking each of its sides. Your reviewer threw his television set out of the window long ago, and therefore seeks to watch 'reality' rather than digitised images. Nevertheless, the marquee was jammed with Jones supporters, and on a certain level this popularity cannot be challenged. For the majority, it was a fulfilling show, even though there's virtually zero audience communication from Jones.

Earlier in the evening, there was the usual opportunity to catch some indigenous Belgian jazz. With one or two headliners each day who are alighting from other countries (mostly the USA), the opening slots are customarily dedicated to local talent. De Beren Gieren are a trio comprising Fulco Ottervanger (piano), Lieven Van Pee (bass) and Simon Segers (drums). They were the winners of last year's Young Jazz Talent Competition, at this very festival. They make a carefully studied placement of notes, one moment coolly concentrated, the next flashing with angular motion. A micro-number stated its case, then the following piece gradually inhabited the space, growing from a soft padding, as periodic emphases were made, creeping up to a cluster of pointedness. There would be sudden percussive blows, then softness once more. The following tune was more direct, even climaxing with trade-offs between the piano and drums. Thelonious Monk might be mentioned as Ottervanger's greatest influence, but we suspect that he secretes many more pianistic crushes, and not only from within the jazz sphere.

The rest of the world has been celebrating the centenary of Django Reinhardt's birth, so it's no surprise that this is happening in the country of the great guitarist's birth. Called simply DjanGo!, this project involves a teeming ensemble who were also celebrating the release of their second album. Besides the three guitarists (one of whom is Fapy Lafertin), there's a three-piece horn section that contributes a flash of modernisation to the old gypsy foundation. The presence of bandleader Koen De Cauter's soprano saxophone is particularly unusual in its melding with the chugging guitar parts. The complete combination reeks of Reinhardt, but also sounds like a modern day conception, with its parade of jauntily speeding solos. De Cauter is also the head of the family, with the band rejoicing in the presence of his three sons, on clarinet, guitar and bass. Koen De Cauter and Fapy Lafertin have been playing together since 1975.

July 8: Ornette Coleman/Pierre Vaiana/The Kurt Elling Quartet/The Greg Houben Trio/Raw Kandinsky

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