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Live Reviews

Gent Jazz Festival 2010: Days 1-5

By Published: August 10, 2010
Ornette is completely in touch with the cat's cradle twin-bass set-up of Tony Falanga (acoustic) and Al MacDowell (electric). Falanga prefers to bow sonorously, whilst MacDowell picks like a bluesman, using fingers and thumb to trace cascading note-clouds. They began with "Tomorrow Is The Question" and climaxed with "Lonely Woman," with an abundance of part-acoustic Prime Time in-between. Denardo is something else entirely. He often appears to be going his own way, though he always arrives exactly at each cue-point with the other three. He works in short-time tectonic templates, jacking from spidery blurring to 4/4 rock clumping. He's a speed freak, although always highly sensitised. Like a freshly uncaged beast. The music seems untethered at the same time as being formulated into exact gushes of pattern. It's a disembodied, aerated funk. Ornette has a serious gaze, but there are frequent fleeting smiles of pleasure when the audience displays its enthusiasm. There's a genuine gratitude evident all around when the crowd gives its endlessly rapturous applause at the end. Yes, this was a response to a great performance, but it was also a recognition of a complete life achievement. This was the first gig they'd played in almost a year, and the band were already cookin,' no doubt keenly anticipating their summer tour.

July 9: The Chick Corea Freedom Band/The Vijay Iyer Trio/The Christian Mendoza Group/The Timescape Project

The most immediately noticeable factor in the driving nature of the Timescape Project was their drummer Xavier Rogé, who was constantly maintaining a lightly propulsive touch, polyrhythms abounding as he danced around the drumheads. The remaining line-up involved guitar, bass (both electric) and saxophone.

Also living in Gent (though born in Peru) is pianist Christian Mendoza. His pieces are compositionally sturdy, but contain a frisson of freedom. The horns strive towards periodic chaos, but also observe a painterly restraint. Alto saxophonist Ben Sluijs was joined by reedsman (mainly clarinet) Joachim Badenhorst, the latter spending most of his time in New York City of late. The globe is obviously shrinking.

A naturally cautious resistance mechanism springs into gear following the almost too universal acclaim (and resultant awards) for the Vijay Iyer Trio. The world is already over-populated by the piano/bass/drums set-up. This means that artists working in this format have to strive harder. At least as far as this listener is concerned. The set was understandably still focused on the recent Historicity album, so the bitter medicine of Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson covers was sweetened by the inclusion of Julius Hemphill's "Dogon AD." This is certainly a deliberate stance on the part of Iyer, a levelling of the standards plain. The pianist might market himself as a hardcore improviser, but this doesn't mean that he follows the path of instant abstraction. Iyer is concerned with melodic development as his core activity, so there is always a logical pathway created, even if it winds towards getting lost. The trio will always find their home in the end. Drummer Marcus Gilmore's predilection for various puffball drumsticks added an evocative sustained rumble to much of the exploratory soundscaping. Like Kurt Elling, Iyer is an old-fashioned formalist, but he's an even younger example of such subversive rebellion. Indeed, he's almost like the new Dave Brubeck on the block...

The line-up for Chick Corea's Freedom Band acts as an inspired multi-generational all-star power-summit. Drummer Roy Haynes springs still sprightly from the bebop source, whilst bassman Christian McBride and alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett are equally fluent in the languages of jazz, fusion, funk and soul. Meanwhile, Corea has always split his mind between the electric and the acoustic, though in this combo he leaves his synths at home.

Corea will frequently gush out extended lines of mercurial abandon, but he also knows about the art of dramatic spacing, asymmetrical phrasing, pausing for micro-silences, then weighing in with a sudden gabble of notes. The length of his statements are constantly varying. The band looked very relaxed, like they'd had ample time to inhabit the city and gird their loins for the gig. They quickly territorialised the stage, and indeed the whole festival, in a completely confident manner which is rarely witnessed.

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