Stockholm Jazz Fest 2009
Stockholm Jazz Festival
July 15-19, 2009
After financial problems and last year's peculiar bookings, (Patti Smith on a jazz festival program?) The Stockholm Jazz Fest seems to be back on its feet. Held for the 26th time, this year's program could be the strongest since the festival's heyday in the 1980s and early1990s. The first day saw one of the nicest guys in jazz return to Stockholm. Lee Ritenour is a bit like the musical equivalent of Billy Crystal always trustworthy and very middle-class. His appearance at the Stockholm Jazz Fest did little to change that image. It started out in a familiar place, with Brazilian rhythms powered by the hard-hitting Will Kennedy (ex-Yellowjackets) on drums. Changing guitars to a nylon-electric paid off as "Captain Fingers" took off with long fluid lines. Returning to his signature Gibson L5, he paid tribute to Wes Montgomery with a smooth octave-solo. To much acclaim Ritenour closed his set with the old hit "Rio Funk".
If Ritenour left us satisfied but not overly excited, French accordion virtuoso Richard Galliano, turned up the heat with his all-star quartet. With material ranging from French musette and folky jazz to classical, 58-year old Galliano interplayed magically with the Jaco Pastorius-inspired and incredibly gifted bassist Richard Bona. Galliano may look like a professor but plays with the passion of a bankrobber.
The evening's most arty outing came from American trumpeter Jon Hassel and his group. Basically the music is Hassel and his violinist and guitarist, playing over a prerecorded groove provided by their sample-guy. Visually, the most exciting thing going on is the sample guy's minimalistic dance behind his gear. The orientally inspired, effect-heavy music has an obvious movie soundtrack-quality, but is a bit static and low on energy.
When Jan Johanssonvisionary composer, explorer of Swedish folk music and jazz pianist with an intriguingly characteristic soundwas killed in a car accident 41 years ago, it was a shock that the Swedish jazz scene may still be recovering from. Saxophone veteran Lennart Aberg, who played with Johansson in the 60s, paid tribute to his former bandleader on the third day of the Stockholm Jazz Fest. Aberg's 12-piece band called Hot Summer featured Bobo Stenson, perhaps the greatest Swedish jazz pianist to emerge after Johansson. Hot Summer's performance was very relaxed, at times it felt more like a rehearsal than an actual concert. But then again few Swedish jazz musicians have been famous for their showmanship. Nevertheless, the band delivered a heartfelt display of their dedication to the late master's music.
Also from Sweden comes funky quintet Oddjob, led by trumpeter Goran Kajfes and tenorist Per "Rusktrask" Johansson. It's not easy to pinpoint the components of Oddjob's sound because they draw influences from many different places. Kajfes and Johansson were part of the acid jazz-movement of the early 90s, but Oddjob's edgy elegance comes closer to 70s-era Miles Davis. Their performance at the Jazz Fest showcased a group of hungry yet mature musicians. Bassist Peter Forss plays his Fender Precision with a pick and gets funky in a refreshingly punky way. Even though bandleaders Kajfes and Johansson are very solid players you can't help wondering what the group could do with a more colorful front figure.
The Nina Simone tributefeaturing Lizz Wright, Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo and Nina Simone's daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, proved a pleasant surprise. Backed by Nina's old touring band led by Al Schackmannone of the singers gave the impression of wanting to sound like Nina Simone. Can you even try to sound like Nina Simone? Dianne Reeves' combination of raw power and sophistication seemed particularly well-suited for Simone's hardcore feminism. Angelique Kidjo fired up the pretty sober show with some trademark dance moves and a playful version of "My Baby Just Cares For Me." Bandleader Al Schackman, who joined Simone as early as 1957, switched between vibraphone, guitar and harmonica. His work on an old Telecaster gave the otherwise straightforward jazz quartet a nice Steve Cropper-James Burton touch.
Next up was SMV, featuring what you might call the Three Tenors of the electric bass: Stanley Clarke (Pavarotti), Marcus Miller (Domingo) and Victor Wooten (Carreras). If you survived the D-day-like attack of slap bass during the first couple of numbers, you were rewarded with some nice musical moments a bit later in the show. Marcus Miller followed up an extremely funky solo section by switching to bass clarinet and paying tribute to Michael Jackson with a version of "Human Nature." Stanley Clarke had his moments, especially when he played upright bass and got rocking enough to do the old Pete Townsend windmill- routine. Wooten was a distant third, in both sound and size.
As the beautiful Stockholm summer night had grown pitch black, we were all waiting for Sonny Rollins. He came out in a red shirt, energetic, seemingly eager to play. His appearance: an odd combination of down to earth and larger than life. His playing: a bit low on fuel but full of spirit, inviting you to share his great love for music. When it was time to bid farewell, he repeatedly waved his fist in the air and said: "see you next time."