Umbria Jazz: Days 1-3, July 10-12, 2009
"You know," said one American tourist to his friend as he walked past the tents on the first day of Umbria Jazz, "Ever since we got here last week this is all we've heard anyone talk about."
Small wonder. The 10-day, citywide festival is more than just the biggest thing that Perugia, the capital of the small Italian region of Umbria, sees every year. The dozens of artists and hundreds of music fans who swarm in from all over the world make it one of the most important jazz festivals in the Europe, featuring prime practitioners of every conceivable style. Where else can one see Wynton Marsalis and Cecil Taylor on the same bill? How many other places can boast six consecutive performances by the AACM's Great Black Music Ensemble on the same evenings that Freddy Cole, Maceo Parker, and Burt Bacharach can be heard just a few minutes away?
And those acts are just the icing on the cake. Umbria Jazz is also a major showcase for the formidable Italian jazz scene, featuring most of the brightest stars in that universe, as well as daily doses of free roots music in a program that bills itself as "Non Stop Music"only a slight exaggeration. For the jazz fan, then, this medieval city of 160,000 residents is, in mid-July, a veritable playground. As you may gather, this gigantic festival has few equals.
- July 10Non Stop Music at Giardini Carducci
- July 10Jazz Aperitif with the Freddy Cole Quartet
- July 10Enrico Rava New Quartet featuring Gianluca Petrella
- July 11Enrico Pieranunzi Quintet
- July 11Tuck & Patti at the Caffe HAG Stage
- July 11Steely Dan
- July 12Renato Sellani and Massimo Moriconi at Bottega del Vino
- July 12Ashley Kahn and the Making of Kind of Blue
Key to the international popularity of Umbria Jazz is its daily schedule of free concerts. The bands, each of which performs a one-hour set daily at the Giardini Carducci, comprise mostly roots-music that's related to, but isn't, jazzpar for the course at 21st century jazz festivals, but an undeniable crowd pleaser (and, surprisingly, a moneymaker, since snacks and beer are sold alongside the stage). Besides, complaining about the lack of purity seems a little petty: The music is not only free, but also very good, and a lot of fun to boot.
For proof, look no further than the first band of the afternoon, Guido Pistocchi's Dixieland Band. Pistocchi, a trumpeter from the Italian state of Romagna, does a pretty credible impression of Louis Armstrong on his horn, and leads a sextet with a sound like Satchmo's later, New Orleans revivalist groups: trombone, clarinet, piano, bass, and drums. The ensemble is spit-and-polish, even in their boisterous takes on trad polyphony. But they're not quite "authentic"---certainly not in the selection of material, which included a slow but indeed, decidedly Dixieland, rendition of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo": right era, wrong style. Yet it was beautifully played and as moving as ever. Pistocchi's heart clearly lies with Armstrong, however; for the band's closer, they played his arrangement of "Mack the Knife," with the leader this time imitating Armstrong on vocal; he had the voice itself right, but couldn't completely disguise his Italian accent, which made the performance enjoyable but weird.
Likewise, the following King Pleasure & the Biscuit Boys band were excellent and fun musicians...but with the emphasis heavily on the "fun" part. A jump blues/R&B quintet from Britain, these guys acted out the part of 1950s bands like Louie Prima's and Bill Haley's) with gusto, down to the slicked-back hair and matching royal blue suits. Pleasure, the band's stout singer and baritone saxophonist, even adopted a foghorn voice with a gleeful Southern (U.S.) drawl. "This is a SHUUH-ffle fer yer dancin' pleasure," he boomed at the start of the band's original "Don't Remember Me Baby"; later, when he asked "Are y'all ready to rock & roll?" and received a lukewarm response, he shouted, "THE KING CAYN'T HEEEEAR YOU!"