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Back Roads Beat

2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise Days 9-12: Land-ho! Causing Waves At The Festival

By Published: July 30, 2007
Ron says he's a fan of jazz—something with Miller and David Sanborn was playing on the radio—"but if you are a cab driver you don't have time for anything" related to the festival. Shifts are typically 12 hours, although he said volume doesn't increase during festival weekend since weekdays are when locals keep drivers busiest. He said he understands why cruise passengers are all too glad avoiding marathon commutes, but drivers are the ones stuck repeatedly in the slow-moving parking lot queues to pick up emerging festival-goers and the increased likelihood of a "bum" fare.

"I will drop you off and I will go back and hope the next ride that I get goes out of town," he said.

Plenty of people made day trips out of town before the festival opened its doors each evening, since more culturally interesting diversions from Anne Frank's hideout to hash houses are an hour away in Amsterdam (getting there by train is cheap, easy and comfortable—unless it's after midnight and several thousand people are trying to catch a scaled-back number of runs). But Rotterdam has enough charms, most notably its post-war architecture, for a long weekend (alas, my masochistic desire to visit the Tax Museum went fulfilled).

Rotterdam's name roughly translates as "muddy water dam," with a large collection of dikes protecting a city below sea level in many areas. It is the largest port in Europe and has one of its most acclaimed university business school programs. Like many cities in the region, a significant portion was leveled during World War II (in 1940 at the hands of the Germans in this case, leading to the surrender of the Dutch). The Wikipedia entry on the reconstruction notes "from the 1950s through the 1970s, the city was rebuilt. It remained quite windy and open until the city councils from the 1980s on began developing an active architectural policy. Daring and new styles of apartments, office buildings and recreation facilities resulted in a more 'livable' city center with a new skyline."

One of my favorite statistics has to do with having the Netherlands' highest percentage of non-industrialized foreigners: more than 50,000 of its 590,000 residents are Surinamese, coming from a tiny country along the northern coast of South America that is unmentioned in virtually every travel guide in print (I was there as part of my quest to seek jazz in the world's truly unusual places—look a report on it and two equally obscure neighbors that comprise a trio known as the Guianas in the near future).

The North Sea festival relocated here in 2006 after 30 years in The Hague because a large portion of the Congress Centre they used was torn down to make room for a new Europol criminal intelligence agency facility. While I'll give the Ahoy center in Rotterdam a slight overall preference for handling large crowds, I miss the small lounge-like rooms the relatively obscure acts I prefer performed at in The Hague; they're in larger, less comfortable outside tents in Rotterdam. Also, the apparent ventilation problems on the final day left sweaty impressions for many returning home, not to mention what a few strangers in adjacent seats on trans-Atlantic flights probably thought.

Most of the ship was vacant by the time the doors opened at 5 p.m. on Day 1. However, I notice I've started approaching North Sea like a Vegas heavyweight fight over the years—skipping the early undercards and showing up for the main event(s)—starting at 9 p.m. on Day 1—with the main difference being I focus mostly on the "unknowns" upon arriving.

The two "names" dominating my interest on Day 1, and for the entire festival for that matter, were two trumpeter masters at opposite ends of what I'll call modern minimalism: Poland's Tomasz Stanko (think old- school Miles with a cool accent) and Norway's Nils Petter Molvaer (one of maybe three people on Earth I consider a true artist with a sampler and beat box). Beyond that, I planned to spend most of the night in the tent featuring Eastern European bands I'd never heard of, just to hear what emerged.

Stanko and Moelvaer both delivered what I wanted to hear, but neither was so distinct from what I have on about a zillion albums and videos that it dragged my attention from composing these posts on my laptop for long stretches. That said, I have scattered notes about the wizardry of each that read more like fan mail than serious critiques and, since I'm focusing on the cruise, are best skipped. Worse, I basically shirked my duties in the Euro tent altogether, typing away while keeping the music blissfully in the background. It's a lot like jazz in Norway—it's all good.

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