Mário Laginha e Convidados Jazz no Parque Fundação Serralves July 16, 2011 An invite to Porto, Portugal in the middle of the summer, to catch a single performancea world premiere, at thatand spend some time soaking up the landscape and culture? Hard enough to resist under any circumstances, but when the local temperature in Ottawa, Canada, is 38 Celsius (a whopping 43 with the Humidex factored in), and sunny Porto hovering in the 20-25 range? A slam dunk. Of course, great weather, and a tremendous change of scenery can't be the primary reasons to travel to Porto. For 20 years, Jazz no Parque (Jazz in the Park) has been bringing top-notch, international jazz to Portothe second-largest city in Portugal, situated along the Atlantic Ocean and divided into two halves by the Duoro River (Porto and Gaia, forming the Greater Porto Area). Curated for most of those years by Antońio Curvelo, a retired writer who spends most his time in Lisbon, Jazz no Parque isn't exactly a festival; instead, on four consecutive Saturday evenings, during the month of July, concerts are held on the tennis court at the Fundação Serralves (Serralves Foundation), an arts foundation with an emphasis on the contemporary side of things. With only four shows to program each year, it might seem like a light job for Curvelo but, if anything, it's the opposite, as he has striven to create a balance between a broader collection of international artists, high profile American musicians, and players from Portugal deserving greater recognition. That it's possible for a foreign journalist to only attend one show is the real shame: how do you choose between four weekends that feature saxophonist Charles Lloyd
; and the return of a trio that last worked together a decade ago, but is back with a new repertoire, courtesy of Portuguese pianist/leader Mário Laginha?
Well, if one goal in traveling to foreign countries like Norway, Estonia, Germany, Finland and The Netherlands is to focus a spotlight on the music of those countries, then the choice becomes simple: Laginha, and his multinational trio, featuring British saxophonist Julian Arguelles
and Norwegian percussionist Helge Norbakken. But before hitting the show on Saturday night, there were two days to spend exploring Porto, its stunning geography and culture, take a guided tour of Casa da Música, and check out the opening of an exhibit of art most modern at Fundação Serralves.
Arriving in Porto by plane, the first striking characteristic was the red roofs that define much of the city, and in particular, its older section. These red ceramic tiles that look, from a distance, like corrugated metal, are as much a part of the city's overall architecture as the stone structures that date back centuries. That some of these ancient buildings have fallen into disrepair is no matter; taking a cable car from the top of the cliff, on the Gaia side of the Duoro River, down to the port for a boat tour of the city's six remarkable bridges, it was possible to see workmen, inside these roofless old buildings, bringing the interiors up to 21st century stability and technology while retaining the antiquated beauty of their exteriors. There are new buildings to be found in Portoeven a few relatively low skyscrapers in the newer part of the citybut, like so many European locations, there's a fervent desire to retain the beauty of the city's historic architecture.
Walking through Old Porto, it was undeniably a hustling, bustling metropolis; and, yet, there's something relaxed about the overall vibe, even though it's clear that pedestrians can be considered an endangered species: be in the middle of the road when the light turns green for oncoming cars, and they start moving towards you...and fast. Still, the people were tremendously friendlyeven as unilingual Portuguese and Anglais tried to communicate with plenty of hand signalsand the cost of living seemed very reasonable, by European standards.
With six bridges spanning the Duoro River, there are a number of scenic ways to get a panoramic view of this unusual city and its relatively low skyline, where land is not at a premium and building designers have been able to spread out, instead of building up. Cross over the top level of a two-level bridgeone at the top of the two cliffs that, separating Gaia and Porto, leads down to the Duoro River; the other at water level, where the ruins of three bridges which, over the centuries, have fallen, including one that collapsed under the weight of natives fleeing Napoleon Bonaparte's army in 1809there it was almost possible to see where the Duoro River feeds into the Atlantic Ocean, but it was still a few kilometers away. On the hour-long boat trip the guide navigated us farther along the river, where it was easy to see how, during bad weather, the winds could be quite severe, but not quite far enough to actually see the Atlantic.
Still, the Duoro River itself was quite spectacular, with a wealth of port manufacturers occupying the Gaia side, and a long walkway along the Porto side that was filled with outdoor cafés, restaurants and shops. With steps winding their way up the cliff back to the town center of Old Porto, it was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon, soaking in the warm sun (but dry heat) and checking out both the more populated tourist areas and places where residents live. Porto clearly has no laws about hanging laundry outside your building.