Gent Jazz Festival 2010: Days 1-5
The Greg Houben Trio have an unusual line-up, with their leader trumpeting (well actually concentrating on flügelhorn for most of the duration), joined by guitarist Quentin Liégeois and bassman Sam Gerstmans. They craft a mellow, intimate chamber sound, savouring a nimble relationship between each other. Houben also sings here and there, his selections very much influenced by his time in Brazil. The Portuguese language suits the dappled delicacy of the music.
A revelation: I'd heard recordings of Kurt Elling, and even live radio broadcasts, but this was our first meeting in a concert marquee. Such is the singer's communicative capacity. One of his shows, even in front of thousands, seems strangely like a fireside recital. Given the day's tropical conditions, the stage was probably much hotter than his fireplace. Elling was at ease in the heat. He's so old school that he actually donned his jacket before beginning the set, as it was hanging on a microphone stand next to Laurence Hobgood's piano. Elling is a formalist, but he's also cool and coasting. Whilst the other band members were taking their solos, he was wafting himself with a bona fide, real-deal, unfolding fan. Elling's technique is made clearer once he's seen in action. He uses his lips and entire mouth cavity to alter the sound of his voice, and control precisely the shaping of his phrases. It's almost like a resonant throat-singing technique. The voice is married to the action, whether it's mouth action, or the wider platform of his hand gestures, facial expressions and general body language. It's like a theatrical display, where sound and vision are equally important. The guitarist John McLean was guesting, but he didn't make much of an impression beside Elling and Hobgood's dash. The songbook was centred around the recent Dedicated To You album, which revisited the old John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman saxophone'n'singing collaboration.
Pierre Vaiana is a Belgian soprano saxophonist who is steeped in the folk music of Sicily. Who better to join him for this mission than pianist Salvatore Bonafede, who actually hails from that island. The trio was completed by another islander, the Sardinian bassist Manolo Cabras. Vaiana's playing is akin to the garrulous babbling of a small stream, although Bonafede is locked in the cloister by comparison, a much sterner, more reserved presence. He seemed more open at the end of the performance, as he relaxed his concentration. This was playfully darting, though intense, music. A refined blend.
Nowadays, Ornette Coleman makes a shuffling progress onto the stage, and tentatively perches himself on his stool. There is absolutely no problem with his lung power, though. The characteristically staccato themes of his music are navigated with fleet accuracy and unstoppable momentum, always with a joyously singing tone. Ornette's music has an involved complexity, but it's also dancing folksong, sleazy blues and heartfelt courtship twittering, often during the same number. His sound on violin is more serrated and radical, whilst his trumpeting involves a fragile dusting of silvery clouds. There seems to be a very natural intuition in place to dictate just where in a song he'll pick up each instrument to make what might be a very brief illustrative statement.