Gent Jazz Festival 2009: Days 6-9
Day 7 (July 17): Rodrigo y Gabriela/Jose James & Jef Neve
Rodrigo y Gabriela
New York singer Jose James could be described as a descendant of both Mel Torme and Mos Def, using a smooth supper club croon as a bed for frequent turntable scratching impersonations. This is a very peculiar fusion, although highly attractive in its bending of the jazz form. Here, he's joined by the Belgian pianist Jef Neve, in an apparently impromptu liaison which produces a seamlessly slick result. The songs sound spontaneous and under-rehearsed, but don't suffer from this situation. James is a smooth operator, but not without a gleaming sense of humour, particularly in the way he'll stutter, slur and jerk in reverse time, just like manipulated vinyl. This set appears to be more jazz-orientated than his usual club-like performance, although this reviewer is hypothesising as it's a virgin exposure to the live James.
Rodrigo y Gabriela have become a gigantic-scale version of their previous selves. A few years back, it was possible to catch them at close quarters, playing their acoustic club set with a lusty sense of intimacy. Now, hardened by frequent festival experiences, they remain acoustic, but those properties are amplified into a monstrous sound, where Gabriela's fleet guitar-body rapping becomes as powerful as a fully booming drumkit, and the pair's ferocious strumming arrives at the volume level of the metal bands that were always such a strong background influence. This used to be an attitudinal thing, but now they have pomp to match. It's always possible to discern when a combo lives the exaggerated life of the rock festival audience engagement. Gestures bloat into dinosaur size, and this seems particularly strange when the Rod'n'Gab style is so theoretically descended from acoustic flamenco and general Spanish classical picking. Even so, they put on a spirited show, and the intricacy of their perpetual soloing (particularly Rodrigo's) never feels like gratuitous flash. They remain a band of the people. It's just that more people want to catch them now...
Day 8 (July 18): Marianne Faithfull
Often, in recent times, the English singer Marianne Faithfull will draw from jazz or cabaret standards, aging gracefully into being a purveyor of pre-rock'n'roll seediness. Now, she's decided to re-visit her late-1970s post-punk incarnation, touring with a fully riffing band and playing songs from her classic Broken English album. This period provides the current band's house style. She's also pushing last year's Easy Come, Easy Go collection of cover songs (produced by Hal Willner), most of them emanating from various periods of rock history. The new band features Roger Eno (brother of Brian) on keyboards, but is otherwise heavy on the youthfulness of its members, particularly on the raging guitar front. Faithfull's not exactly jogging around the stage like her old pal Mick Jagger, but rather adopting the sedate posture favoured by George Melly, and sharing a similar passion for decadent tales. Some folks are overheard suggesting that her voice is wasted, but that's surely our attraction, even three decades back: the voice of experience, husky, raddled and generally lived-in. This is what gives Faithfull her distinctive edge. It's a substantial set that comes across as a complete career retrospective, performed with vigour, humour, humility and braggadocio, all on one stage, and sometimes simultaneously.
Earlier in the evening, the riverside Pole Pole stage was cramming the crowds along the river, with Belgian combo Cafe Con Leche sounding much better than their extremely unimaginative name would suggest. Their core style is Eastern European gypsy booting, but with strong infusions of Jamaican ska and French chanson. They're followed by Choc Quib Town, a forceful hip hop posse from Colombia, who are equally adept at hyping up their audience, their vocal cavortings matched by 1970s-style acid-funk guitar soloing.
Much later, the 10 Days Off Festival is on its second night at Vooruit, with Germany's Jazzanova featuring guesting US singer Paul Randolph in an incrementally energetic feast of retro-funking. This is a much harder sound than that usually favoured on their records, but it appears that only one core member of this performing DJ collective is actually present. UK DJ Gilles Peterson is up next, opening with a run of deeply alternative Latin platters, then bringing on vocalist/MC Earl Zinger as he swerves into a minimalist house corner, still Latin-smeared, but stripped of all cowbells, hurtling into a tough electro single-mindedness. And then, as the sun threatens its rise, DJ Merdan Taplak takes over, a Belgian resident with Turkish roots. He mixes gypsy jumping with speedy drum'n'bass mash-ups, and actually prompts even more frenetic dancing, just as the evening threatens to deflate.
Day 9 (July 19): Melody Gardot/Lady Linn & Her Magnificent Seven