The 18th Tallinn International JazzKaar Festival
Against the backdrop of rising unrest in the city, Friday's shows continued in the same eclectic vein. Leading things off was a set by the expert Estonian reedist Raivo Tafenau's quintet, featuring the Polish vibraphonist Dominik Bukowski and fine San Francisco drummer Brian Melvin. (Married to an Estonian, Melvin splits his time between countries and has helped to energize the burgeoning Tallinn jazz scene.) The venue, a plain, low-ceilinged banquet hall in the Soviet-era Hotel Viru, was less than inspiring, but the acoustics were surprisingly good and the group played well, slipping through lyrical post-bop originals with fluid ease before finishing with an energetic reading of the Joe Henderson classic "Recorda Me . Then it was back to the Russian Cultural Center, where the festival's "Jazz Ambassador , the legendary '60s avant-garde tenor firebrand Archie Shepp, brought the house down with a full-throttle program that encompassed everything from swing to spoken word to barroom blues to bop to free and back. On the cusp of 70, Shepp performed throughout his long set with convincing power, employing the full range of the horn and punctuating his vocal numbers with James Brown-like shrieks and growls. Joining him was the young French singer Mina Agossi, who handled a number of Monk tunes with arresting warmth. Afterwards, the British soul-acid jazz group Incognito followed in the footsteps of Ojo de Brujos, presiding over another sold-out late night show across town in the Rock Café.
On Saturday, JazzKaar's final day, with the civil unrest appearing to subside, the bigger names moved to the pristine acoustics of the 1913 neo-classical Estonia Concert Hall. There, in the afternoon, Brazilian songwriting giant Marcos Valle received perhaps the most wildly enthusiastic response of the festival. Though his soft sambas only lightly touched upon jazz, the end of his set brought the crowd to its feet, demanding encore after encore from the obligingly good-natured pop icon. Then, in the evening, the remarkable Japanese-born, Berlin-based pianist Aki Takase closed out the headliner's portion of the festival with a quartet tribute to Fats Waller, pounding out a blizzard of notes with her fingers, palms and forearms, moving with blinding speed from serious avant-garde dissonance to playful pumping stride. Both exhilarating and exhausting, it seemed to bring the festival to a fitting close. For those with the energy, however, there was still more music to be had: In Tallinn's sole jazz club, the small Theatre No. 99, the young Estonian trio Aimla-Akulin-Vaigla painted miniature soundscapes with a delicate mix of reeds, brass and electric bass, while in the Pirita Flower Pavillion the Finnish neo-Brazillian groove band Dalindeo and France's four-DJ Birdy Nam Nam were scheduled to take listeners late into the night.