North Sea Jazz Festival 2004
Four sets on a "Let Freedom Ring" theme referred to the message works of Coltrane and Mingus, the legacy continued by four bands including L.A.-based Build An Ark with a salute to the life work of SoCal activist-musician Horace Tapscott.
By 11 p.m., I had visited Zap Mama (Afro-beat) and heard Michel Camilo's crisp melody lines and crashing chords abetted by fiery drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez. But I missed Stanley Clarke, Miroslav Vitous, Tuck and Patti, Uri Caine and Danilo Perez in order to get to highly touted The Bad Plus (innovative, if not pure jazz) and Pat Metheny (always fresh and exciting).
'Round midnight brought me to a pair of headliners. Captivating Al Jarreau turned his set into sing-along, and Patti LaBelle was generous with dazzling retrospects from her 40-year-career. Again, big screens offered the best views in these huge halls.
Then it was back to serious jazz with Branford Marsalis exploring neo-classical turf before a sharp shift into jazz-as-entertainment by 24-year-old pianist-vocalist Jamie Cullum (feet on keys, fingers on strings, drumming the underbelly while lying on his back). Again, it was jam time at the hotel in a town where no one sleeps during this happily exhausting jazz weekend.
Sunday, July 11
Today's selected agenda of nine sessions began with Alicia Keys, a regrettable choice. Beauteous and talented, she was totally unrecognizable from her Grammy-winning work of a few years ago, having morphed into a pop diva with the strut and choreography of Michael Jackson (hat tipped over the eyes) and Britney Spears (but more clothing).
My jazz soul was quickly revived by the Danish Radio Big Band, directed by Maria Schneider and featuring gifted Ivan Lins on keys-vocals and the legendary Dutchman "Toots" Thielemans on harmonica. Soon after, Charlie Haden's New Liberation Music Orchestra featuring pianist Carla Bley delivered power-plus, the leader's resonant post-bop bass soaring above horn sections.
Festival favorite Dee Dee Bridgewater further replenished my jazz spirit with a commanding set that featured eloquent Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sanchez, whose "Prayer for Peace" was so gracefully beautiful and moving it should be added to standard repertoires.
A memorable Franco-American merger teamed Pete Christlieb (described in the bio-book as "the most famous anonymous tenor player in the world") and Ferdinand Povel, the stylish sax-masters burning with bop-classics interplay. I boogied by a big-screen James Brown en route to the sizzling alto summit of Bud Shank and Phil Woods, then heard altoist Jackie McLean exchange fissionized improvisation with his son Rene on multiple reeds.
Making it to those performances meant missing sets by many others: Eddie Palmieri, Hugh Masekela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ben Allison and Medicine Wheel, Bill Frisell, Bill Mays, Brad Meldau-Joshua Redman with Kurt Rosenwinkel. That's just the way it had to be at this gigantic festival.
Then it was time for the big finale, the brilliant quartet of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Brian Blade. When I heard them earlier at the Playboy festival in Hollywood, their set was uneven and disjointed. This time, the interplay was more cohesive, especially on Shorter's renowned "Footprints"; this quartet is becoming as memorable as those of Miles and Blakey.
The festival's three-day admission was 145 euros (approximately $175), including performances by Jarreau, Carlton, Guy, Brown, Clarke, LaBelle, Gray and Santana in a huge hall fitted with three big screens plus another in an outdoor food court.
Ten additional concerts cost 15 euros each ($20), including those by Brubeck, Costello, Bridgewater, Hancock-Shorter, Metheny, Marsalis, Keys. There also were daily performances by student bands, clinics and workshops, photo exhibits, blindfold tests, live radio interviews, instrument displays and merchandise booths.
Food and drink coolers were permitted, although refreshment stands were in abundance indoors and outside, the longest lines at the popular "lekkerbek" whole fried-fish counter.
Visit the North Sea Jazz Festival on the web at www.northseajazz.com .