Gent Jazz Festival 2008: Days 1-4
The final day of the festival's first phase opens with Melody Gardot, from Philadelphia, whose career was inadvertently encouraged by a road accident that led her to use music as therapy in her recovery. Now, she has to wear dark glasses and walks with a cane, which has the onstage effect of adding to a film noir-ish persona, ideal for the poised jazz balladry of her songs. It's not so much that she's a unique stylist (Gardot's voice is not noticeably outside of the sultry songstress tradition), it's more in the full spread of music and presentation. Her portentously clicking fingers, her delicately tapped tambourine. The way she slinks from guitar to piano, and lets "her boys" in the band have their spotlit moments. It's just like the old, old days, but her songs are freshly minted. The only negative point is that her three standards are extremely common within the jazz universe. R&H's "My Funny Valentine," Arlen's "Over The Rainbow" and Ellington-Tizol's "Caravan" might (just about) sound unusual on the rock-pop circuit, but the combination of all three is way too predictable in a jazz context. At least the latter receives its less-heard with-lyrics treatment. Gardot is slightly too gushing with the crowd, and could maybe preserve more of a taciturn mystery to match her physical image. On the other hand, remember all those gigs where the miserable guys never speak until the very end of the show?
It's back to the mainline jazz, next, with Belgian trumpeter Bert Joris, his quintet featuring two guesting Italians, pianist Enrico Pieranunzi and saxophonist Rosario Giuliani. Initially, they paint a pleasant enough ensemble scene, but there's not much to jar the attention. About half way through the set, something happens between Pieranunzi and the drummer Hans van Oosterhout, setting off a charge that catches under Giuliani. Suddenly, the compositions have gained a volatile, percussive nature, that intangible quality that sets a performance off in a completely different direction. We know it when it happens...
The final stretch is devoted to some of the globe's finest saxophonists. First, Saxophone Summit unites a front-line of Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman and Ravi Coltrane, the latter having the difficult job of replacing a departed Michael Brecker. Some folks might assume that this aggregation is a summer festival dollar- spinner, and I suppose that, realistically, there is some cash involved. Listening to the hornmen's rapport will confirm that this is also a convincing artistic endeavour, particularly with Liebman at the conceptual helm (it's he who appears to be the dominant onstage strategist). This band goes well beyond the saxophone: its tonal spread is widened by various permutations of flutes and bass clarinet, so that the palette is ever- shifting in its emphasis. The soloists are battling with each other, but in the themed sections harmony is paramount. The solos are extended, but filled with development. In the end, all three are nearly equal, but Liebman is off in the heavens, always striving for fleeter and more spiraled lines.
Wayne Shorter is more of an introvert, dedicated to the intuitive closeness of his regular quartet. This doesn't mean that he's any less involved. Shorter's tenor journey is the focus here, with less soprano flight than usual, but he's constantly working, interlacing betwixt his bandmates, with soloing roles never so fixed. Shorter has the blowing stamina of a much younger man, and indeed appears much younger than his seventy-four years. Pianist Danilo Perez is a strong foil, playing with a rabidly humorous hyperactivity. The foursome can wander interminably, never catching on to a groove of abstraction. Their methods sound completely unlike those of any other band. Theirs is a form of improvisation that sounds like it's growing out of a song form, but it also has a quality of an extended suite of complete spontaneity. Shorter, Perez, bassman John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade avoid the particular cliches of the improvising art. They've evolved a completely naturalistic language. It's structured, but its modules are independently shifting, based around percussive repeats and a slowly unwinding momentum, as if each member is dedicated to the whole, without having to relinquish their personality. This was surely one of the quartet's more triumphant gigs. Yes, the festival's headliners have mostly been found at the top of their form.
Lionel Loueke, Stefano Di Battista, Trio Grande/Matthew Bourne by Jos L. Knaepen
Flat Earth Society, Melody Gardot by Bruno Bollaert
Days 1-4 | Days 5-8