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Live Reviews

Third Annual Chivas Jazz Festival

By Published: March 8, 2004
São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro

From May 22nd. to 25th. (2002) the 3rd. Edition of the Chivas Jazz Festival took place in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). Reputed for privileging jazz musicians stricto senso, leaving out of its schedule pop artists, this year's edition brought the French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, the North-American saxophonist Chico Freeman, the South-African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, the Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen, the Belgian pianist Nathalie Loriers, the Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, the North-American saxophonist Dewey Redman, the North-American pianist Fred Hersch, the Brazilian singer Luciana Souza and the North-American saxophonist Dave Liebman.
People who came from abroad just to attend to the festival in Rio de Janeiro may have found queer the weather (rainy) and the temperature (pleasant 20C/68F, considerably cold for this city). The place where the event was held, the Marina da Glória, is close to the Modern Art Museum, where the other Brazilian annual jazz festival (the Free Jazz Festival) has been realized in the latest years. The spot is really charming, standing by the sea and with a great sight over downtown framing moments of very special music, and it represents an evolution in comparison to the aseptic Garden Hall, where took place the second edition of the festival in Rio, last year. It won't take too much for the fest's organizers to solve small problems with eventual noises, since just two occasions brought unexpected sounds mixed to the music (a tractor operator was determined to take a solo and a percussive ensemble dedicated to some excavation in the premises also made an appearance). This not to mention the Carioca's affective tenderness towards his/her cell phones that apparently prevent him/her of turning them off during the performances.
Unfortunately unable to attend to the first night (Pilc/Freeman), I was nevertheless prompted by the noted jazz critic José Domingos Raffaelli that Pilc, accompanied by Thomas Bramerie (bass) and Ari Hoenig (drums) realized one of the best concerts happened in Rio in the latest years, interpreting with extreme inventiveness classics like "So What", the blues "Freddie Freeloader" and the standards "Autumn Leaves" and "In A Sentimental Mood" topped by a tribute to Tom Jobim with "Wave" and "Corcovado" ("Quiet Nights") in which imagination would have surpassed the diplomatic intentions.
But in the second night I was at my post when Abdullah Ibrahim began the musical banquet with his refined piano accompanied by Beldon Bullock (bass) and George Gray (drums). Making of subtlety the general tone of his presentation, Ibrahim explored the whole gamut within the chosen resources, leaving aside effect and privileging ideas and expression. His harmony, apparently simple to unaware ears, contains hidden complexities, of which one of the most intriguing aspects is a certain tonal/modal ambiguity. By the way, ambiguity seems to be an important category for the musician, in whose hands a ballad is unnoticeably, gradually transformed in a spiritual, with beautiful coral harmonizations with closed chords occulting also a major/minor indefinition in the tonality. After the hearer is comfortably settled within a consciously triadic sonority, he/she begins to be disturbed by a slightly afflicting sensation brought by certain harsh harmonic shocks disguised by the calid and pacifying execution. Another memorable aspect of his musical promenade was when Ibrahim walked hand to hand with stride piano and ragtime in the space of one composition. Playing 15 originals in suite form, the pianist put difficulties to the audience, eager to demonstrate its appreciation. By their turn, Gray and Bullock, melodical and expressive, performed in a completely adequate way to Ibrahim's intentions, supplying a myriad of colouristic inflections which propitiated a delicious counterpoint to the composer's ideas.

Avishai Cohen and his International Vamp Band (Diego Urcola, trumpet/flügelhorn, Avi Lebovish, trombone/flute, Yosvany Terry, tenor/alto saxophones/chekeré, Yagil Baras, bass, and Eric McPerson, drums) presented a completely different set, in which extroversion and movement touched sometimes the frantic. Starting with "Yagla", in which the beautiful arrangement for trombone, trumpet and tenor sax paid its dues to the Jazz Messengers, Cohen left the piano, instrument that he uses merely as a support, and taking the electric bass, he did a basically rockish solo which foreseeably brought the Carioca audience (traditionally given to exteriorizations) to delirium. But the strategy may eventually fail in Brazilian places of different mental conformation such as São Paulo, for instance. "Bass Suite # 1" featured Cohen in an unaccompanied performance at the acoustic bass, in which he demonstrated, besides the evident technical mastery, a musically comprehensive approach, exploring the instrument's possibilities in the diverse fields of melody, harmony, rhythm and timbre. His execution, including percussive attacks on the body of the instrument, presented his conception of the presence of the so-called "world music" in jazz. The other highlights of a set in which the solos didn't bring nothing really new, notwithstanding their expressive beauty, were the beautiful harmony of the ballad "Float" and the complex rhythms of the Latin theme "I.V.B.", all built on unexpected accentuations making it hard to perceive the simple 3/4 time signature.

The night of the Friday 24 was opened by Nathalie Loriers with her "Recurring Dreams" in a solo piano intro. Adequately described by the title, the composition consists in a sound collage evocative of an abandoned oneiricism (represented by successive modulations to distant keys) interspersed by "returns to reality" when, joined by Sal La Rocca (bass) and Franck Agulhon (drums), Loriers shared with them phrases agreed upon of strong rhythm attack, which soon afterwards would give room to new retreat towards her individual universe. "The Last Thought of the Day", with its conspicuous evocation to Bill Evans, was opened again with a solo piano intro in ad libitum tempo until the rhythm section attacked a 6/8 of soft intensity, crescendo during the solo but always keeping itself in a level of delicacy that betrayed the conservatory formation of the interpreter, which put at her disposal a more ample set of possibilities of dynamics. Following with "Dinner With Ornette and Thelonious", Lorriers evidenced that along with the classical education she also knew how to appropriate of the popular expression, swinging excitingly with her rhythmic section throughout the piece, which presented Monk elements in the harmony and reminiscences of Coleman in its melody; in his improv at this tune, La Rocca, even if having a consistent performance through the presentation as a whole, found moments of rare inspiration. Immediately after the delicate interplay of soft dynamics of "Silent Spring" (owing to "Blue in Green", by Evans/Davis), where a rhythmic puzzle and a solo by La Rocca over Eastern motives supplied a plus to the pianist's introspection, came "Continuum", without solution of continuity; once more a highly kinetic swinging, this time based on an ostinato that served as a frame to a chromatic chord solo.

The next to perform was Paolo Fresu and his Italian Quintet (Tino Tracanna, tenor/soprano saxophones, Roberto Cipelli, piano, Attilio Zanchi, bass and Ettore Fioravanti, drums), starting already in full charge with "On Second Line" (Zanchi). The song, with its impacting swing, proved to be an excellent vehicle for a highly energetic solo by Fresu, defying the physiologic possibilities of human breath. "Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours" (Chauilac/Trenet) was Cipelli's turn to shine with a fascinating solo, full of surprises and the postponing of resolutions, while Fresu and Tracanna changed imaginative fours interspersed by interjectional unisons by the combo. After the lyric exposition of the beautiful tunes "What Are You Doing For The Rest Of Your Life" (Legrand) and "Ammazzare Il Tempo" (Rava), Fresu presented less interesting elements of his appreciation for Miles, here represented by the use of a harmonizer for his simple funk groove. Following suit he proposed just the theme of "Luíza" (Jobim), in a sensible duo with Cipelli, soon giving its place to a tango in which the pianist shone in his best solo of the evening. The performance of the group, revealing for the Brazilians Fresu as a trumpeter of the highest inventive quality in the world landscape, was finished with another groove a la Davis.

But the evening was still far from finished, with Dewey Redman taking his position seconded by Rita Marcotulli (piano), John Menegon (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums). Redman's eclectic presentation, which can be read as an attempt of telling through music a synchronic history of jazz, started with "Second Balcony Jump", classic by Jerry Valentine interpreted in the manner of Dexter Gordon. "Wall Bridges", with its energetic unaccompanied sax solo followed by the piano, reinforced a dichotomy between the tonal and the atonal, while the ballad "Joie de Vivre" featured very lyric solos, with the piano oscillating between the sentimental and the polytonal. "Unknown Tongue" was the ritual moment when Redman made use of the exotic timbre of the musette (Arab instrument with an oboe-like mouthpiece) to introduce also the communal and African roots of the music through his tribal dance over ostinato and his conclamation to the audience, that acquiesced repeating his phrases/vocalises with enthusiasm, forming a polyphony under his conduction. In "Turn Over Baby", Redman built up with the tenor a crescent tension which took the audience to an euphoria when he flowed into the exciting blues. The outline of his particular vision of jazz was finished at the encore, when swing did its entrance under the auspices of "Take The 'A' Train". The ecstatic ovation paid tribute, certainly, not only to the high technical/expressive quality of Redman's execution but also to the excellent and creative musicians of his band, of which Wilson deserves a highlight having explored successfully timbres and resources extremely unusual of his instrument.

The last night of the festival was opened by Fred Hersch who performed without extra support. Transforming in strength this challenging condition, Hersch saw himself free to interpret "Whisper Not" (Benny Golson) in a chamber music setting, introducing a polyphonic treatment indebted to Bach that really fit tastefully in the delicate melody. "So In Love" (Porter) and "The Nearness of You" (Boogie Carmichael) put in evidence his mature inventiveness with firmness even if under the sensitivity of his poetics, while in "Mood Indigo" (Ellington) Hersch explored other resources of his ample palette, this time through the locked-hand; then in "In Walked Bud" (Monk) Hersch preferred to understand the bridge in staccato, using in his solo virtuosic scales sustained by a walking-bass line. The introspective atmosphere of his creation was emblematically represented by the original "Endless Stars", with its arpeggios at the superhigh region translating efficiently his intention. His presentation was finished with "O Grande Amor" (Jobim), in a beautiful polyphonic arrangement.

With the entrance of Luciana Souza, though, Hersch, who has been developing a work with the Brazilian singer, remained in the stage as a sideman, with Márcio Bahia (drums, for over 20 years performing with Hermeto Pascoal) and the young Alberto Continentino (bass), both Brazilians - a strategic choice. Luciana performed "officially" in Brazil for the first time, for she has been developing her career in the U.S. since several years, and the introduction granted her the favour both of the press and of consecrated artists present who were more than emphatic in praising her, as Leny Andrade and Wanda Sá. Apart from nationalistic prides, Luciana, an extremely competent singer, owner of a perfect intonation and gifted with a beautiful timbre, nevertheless, brought almost nothing of jazz to her presentation, which was a delightful performance built around a certain well-known ideological conception of a Brazil in interface with the First World. This conception is structured around: an image of Brazil already familiar abroad, where "folkloric" elements are intertwined to "modernizing" ones represented by the original "Daze" (where the Flora Purim style was consciously evocated in the composition/execution), "Pra Que Discutir com Madame" (by Janet de Almeida/Haroldo Barbosa, João Gilberto's classic known worldwide, interpreted here as a "typical" samba with pandeiro and the bass emulating the surdo, in which Luciana produced a virtuosic rehearsed scat in unison with the bass), "Corcovado" (by Jobim, in a sophisticated interpretation in duo with Hersch), "Azul Contente" (a 1962 classic penned by her parents Walter Santos/Teresa Souza interpreted "typically" with pandeiro and percussion, and after the joining by piano/bass, as a swinging samba), and the purely demagogic/exotic "Vem Morena" (Luís Gonzaga/Humberto Teixeira), interpreted in the encore by Luciana accompanied only by zabumba (a percussive instrument of Northeastern origin associated to an image of Brazilian "purity").

a contemporary, "post-modern" idea of Brazil as an indefinable and confuse "Third World" country (without an identity of its own, even if dynamic), represented by a collage of elements associated to "world music" associated both with sophistication and spontaneity/sensuality/exoticism: use of the elegance of the poetry by the Chilean Pablo Neruda in versions/music by herself ("Yo Volveré"/ "I'll Come Back" and "Soneto XLIX", from the "100 Sonnets of Love "), and solo performances in which the only accompaniment was Sousa's herself playing the gourd or the kalimba - adding therefore an African zest to her world cuisine.

Having this landscape configurated a quite clear intention of introducing herself somewhat humbly through the association to a certain not realistic image of Brazil, some pieces executed by her stayed out of these stereotypes and may indicate possible directions towards the finding of a persona capable of disputing space in the main arena without the resort to the exotic: the beautiful ballad "When Your Lover Has Gone" (Swan), "Docemente" (another composition by her parents Walter Santos/Teresa Souza, here rendered as a ballad transformed in a beautiful modinha, the sensual and delicate Brazilian genre form the 18th century that is still alive), the melodically complex composition of her musical godfather Hermeto Pascoal, "Ginga Doida", the translation of the samba-canção "Suas Mãos" (Antônio Maria/Pernambuco) in a delightful ballad, and "Doce de Coco" (a choro by Jacob do Bandolim/Hermínio Bello de Carvalho).

Next, the energetic Dave Liebman (saxophones/flute), accompanied by his quartet (Vic Juris, electric/acoustic guitars, Tony Marino, bass and Marko Marcinko, drums) closed the festival on a high note. Evidencing his preference for the free style, and supported by the unusual harmonization by Juris, in which triads almost never showed, just the superior extensions, Liebman had excellent vehicles to communicate his personal view of modern jazz, with highlights to the tribute to Coltrane's quartet of the 60's with "My Favorite Things" (over 20 minutes of full-blown sound!), and by the renovating version of the standard "On A Clear Day", in which a simple harmony built over a suspensive atmosphere in 7/4 time signature served as support for completely free extemporizations. While Liebman made of ebullient and ecstatic solos the core of his presentation, Juris' oscillated between the most complete evasion of the melodic-harmonic structures and the adhesion to a quite primal bluesy phrasing. Joined by the Brazilian pianist Antônio Adolfo in "Luíza" (Jobim), the quartet moved itself within a tonal dimension of marked romantic scent, with Adolfo bringing to the mix Belle Époque Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth's overtones with room for an excellent solo by Marino. Having also interpreted "O Morro Não Tem Vez" (Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes), this time on a Chinese flute, Liebman brought another Jobim tune for the encore, "Por Toda Minha Vida", also more traditional harmonically but equally lyric, in which Liebman shone at the soprano, leaving the bandstand under the enthusiastic applause of the audience. By its turn, the organizing team of the Chivas Jazz Festival also deserves the critic approval of the audience, confirming itself as a festival in which the attention is turned to quality jazz.

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