Jazzkaar Journal: Dianne Reeves, George Duke and Tallinn Shine
April 28-30, 2010
A pair of cousins from the USA, Dianne Reeves and George Duke, provided the biggest fireworks during an inspired festival that included many highlights from many regions.
Tallinn is a charming city of approximately 400,000 of whom each seemed to show some beautiful soul during the final week of a jazz appreciation month in which the twenty-one year old Jazzkaar Festival has remained a catalyst for countless positive rhythms. While the namesake "Jaskar" was a traditional Estonian folk party, the present day scene is a 21st century gala with medieval trappings. In 2011 Tallinn will be a designated European "Culture Capital" and if days at Jazzkaar are any indication of Tallinn's ability to provide hospitality and entertainment on a major scale, the Estonian capital is more than ready to impress a global audience.
Most of the shows took place in either the large or small hall of the stately, ornate Russian Cultural Center which borders Tallinn's wonderful Old Town area. On the other end of town, Rock Cafe hosted a couple of major spots and with additional jazz venues like Clazz and Theatre NO99 there was a nice balance between classic and current.
Settled from around 8,000 to 3,000 BC, Tallinn has been kicked around or occupied by it's larger and more aggressive neighbors for most of its history. People are engagingly modest but justifiably proud of their homeland. Estonians weathered many cruel regimes, but never lost their sense of artistic priorities. Observing either the wonderfully time-warped Old Town, fresh new premises, or all grounds in between, Tallinn shows craftsmanship and creativity.
As a result there are widely ranging examples of many cultural styles and philosophies. "We don't take a side on all of the past," reflects Jaak Sooaar, Board Chairman of the Estonian Jazz Union and a local musician, teacher and historian. "We just try to tell the whole story."
In a nutshell, that is also an appropriate summary of what played this year at Jazzkaar. As in music as in life, the quality of the people involved made Tallinn a uniquely varied blast.
For the ultimate week leading to May Day, jazz music was everywhere. Augmenting the distinctly diverse program were streets of horns and harmony. Above busy trolley lines, trumpet trios were visible through the shaded opaques of elevated, executive style jazz terraces. Around the bend, sax and folk guitar mixed in one of the many subterranean "baars." Amidst village cobblestones a slick jacketed student played very decent clarinet in front of his partner who juggled large, flaming firesticks.
Meanwhile, in temporary temples of tonal treats, Jaazkaar audiences bellowed like Baltic bears for classic and progressive trends alike.
Queen Dianne and her Cousin the Duke
For her part the festival, impeccable headlining singer Reeves brought along an all-star quartet of familiar friends who hit a level rarely matched by any other performers outside Duke's outfit. Peter Martin on piano and guitarist Romero led the way through Reeve's latest repertoire while bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Terreon Gully paved a foundation that was as solid as the Old Town pavement. A few registers in a few ballads sounded too thick, but mostly the bottom lines thumped like precision metric machines during 45 minute halves of their show on Wednesday the 28th at the Russian Cultural Center.
After each band member got to warm up with a brief solo during introductory jams, Reeves waltzed out and gave the 900 or so fans in attendance the standards they came for, opening with "Old Soul" and "Twelfth of Never." At first it felt as if the band might just be going through the motions, but the fancy crowd loved them anyway.
The soul train got on track. Lubambo added Spanish stylings to a duet version of "I'm in Love Again" and Reeves started to look vibrant as the band locked in. The whole express was rolling for "Do I Move You?" and the whole yelling crowd jumped on board.
"When I'm up here with these guys I feel like I'm in heaven," beamed Reeves, looking like she meant it. When Reeves offered anecdotes about her mother before the upbeat tribute "Today Will Be a Good Day," there was insight to how an artist can get into their rehearsed and repeated material sincerely, night after night.
During intermission the Elion Jazz Awards were presented, with Raivo Tafenau (musician), Boris Paršin (jazz educator) and Peedu Kass (young talent) garnishing the hardware.