Staying Straight: The Third Anguilla Tranquility Jazz Festival
“ Set amidst aqua waters, powder beaches, and myriad luxurious preoccupations, the Anguilla Tranquility Jazz Festival is becoming a contender in the Caribbean music festival arena. ”
From Reykjavik, Iceland to Vilnius, Lithuania, jazz events have become de rigueur throughout the world of international tourism and the jazz festival concept has blossomed into big business. Established festivals like St. Lucia's draw thousands of visitors, encouraging new gatherings to pop up on seemingly every strip of sand along the Caribbean chain. Though billed as jazz festivals, the majority of these eventsparticularly the newer oneshave taken to packing their schedules with everything from pop to R&B in order to attract younger, broader audiences. In sharp contrast, the Tranquility Jazz Festival, hosted by the tiny island of Anguilla for the past three years, has opted to distinguish itself by maintaining a strict jazz-only line-up of top musical quality.
Just 35 square miles, Anguilla boasts some of the finest beaches and clear, pristine waters in the world, and has long been one of the best kept secret destinations of the glitterati. In recent years, however, the island has taken pains to broaden its public image and establish itself as a premier getaway for all those seeking privacy, elevated standards, and peaceful quietude. Inevitably, Anguilla still caters to the platinum card set and everything from its plethora of secluded, one-of-a-kind villas to its fine dining comes at prices that could make the average traveler blanche.
In keeping with this atmosphere of lavish escapism and consistent with the high musical standards evident at the festival's 2004 incarnation, the third annual Anguilla jazz festival this November consisted of a roster of artists spanning a range of genres and featured some of the most renowned names in the business. Performers included Kenny Garret, Marlene Shaw, Trio Da Paz, Stephon Harris, Poncho Sanchez, and Ravi Coltrane, as well as a sampling of younger, emerging talent.
Spanning four days, the festival opened with a combined dinner and performance at the monstrous and sumptuous Cuisinart resort. Guests were treated first to a multi-course dinner, followed by an intimate concert by the legendary Marlene Shaw. Setting a high bar for the ensuing nights of entertainment, Shaw powered through a scintillating set that had the crowd eating out of her hand. Always a stellar performer, Shaw offered the crowd what it was looking for, blasting out a series of classic songs including a crafty take on her timeless hit "Go Away Little Boy. But in a surprise twist, Shaw finished the show with a devastatingly-delivered tableau of tunes linking together "Hope in a Hopeless World, "In the Ghetto, and "Keep on Trusting in God, leading listeners through heartfelt social critique and pointed political commentary, concluding with a resolute call for faith and continuance.
Taking maximum advantage of Anguilla's ideal temperatures and crystalline night skies, the festival shifted outdoor for nights two and three. While the second evening suffered from logistical difficulties and a crowd that dwindled as time passed, those patient enough to wait through the long set changes, sound-check difficulties, and delayed arrival of Poncho Sanchez experienced a night of diverse and masterfully-executed music. Taking the stage first, Ravi Coltrane opened the proceedings with a set of tunes ranging from an intricate rendition of Wayne Shorter's "United and a foray into the abstract with "For Zoe, to a hyperactive take on "Giant Steps, and finally ended with a deeply-felt, almost religious interpretation of one of his mother Alice Coltrane's compositions.
Building from the energy of Coltrane's finale, the evening's next group, Brazilian jazz artists Trio Da Paz, began with a fluid and elegant version of the Jobim classic "Wave, and proceeded to deliverwith the assistance of guest artists Claudia Acuna, Craig Handy, and Stephon Harristhe most memorable musical moments of the festival. Proving flexible masters of the form, the Trio Da Paz musicians each seamlessly blended their distinct voices together with Craig Handy's muscular saxophone, Acuna's poignant vocals, and Harris's elaborate vibraphone lines, equally enthralling the audience whether in trio, duet, or quartet mode. The highlight of the set came as the trio, joined by Harris, raced through a joyful rendition of "Keep the Spirit Singing. All four musicians played brilliantly, enjoying the chance to challenge each other as they traded solos, and offering a vibrant example of the appeal of the unique musical pairings engendered at international festivals. The evening ended with a late-night set by Poncho Sanchez, whose exuberant Latin-jazz rhythms and James Brown-inspired vocals kept the remaining audience awake and even brought a few brave souls to their feet for some fleet-footed dancing.