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Live Reviews

Gent Jazz Festival 2010: Days 1-5

By Published: August 10, 2010
Another revelation: this was the first time I've caught Stanley Clarke, despite several available opportunities. Perhaps this was due to a lack of enthusiasm for a certain imagined brand of fusion. We'd already had the chance to see all of the band except Clarke himself, at the Chick Corea mega-jam the evening before, even if we didn't realise it at the time. Then, only the Japanese pianist Hiromi (Uehara) was immediately recognisable. The rest of Clarke's combo is Ruslan Sirota (keyboards) and Ronald Bruner Jr (drums). All of them were certainly warming up the night before. Clarke himself started out and finished up on the electric bass, but for much of the set he selected his acoustic upright.

When playing electric, Clarke throws his head right back in a deep-toned ecstatic abandon. When turning to the acoustic he naturally assumes a more traditional, introverted posture. The pieces were rife with structural unpredictability. Soft interludes would break up the aggressive sparring between Hiromi and Bruner. The pianist was almost in debt to Jerry Lee Lewis, standing up, as if she couldn't be contained by the strictures of a mere piano stool. She was shaking her mane, playing with an immense physicality she hammered and riffed at high velocity, complexity unfettered.

Clarke's band formation is unusual, even inspired. He promotes the twin keyboard frontline as a contrasting vanguard, Hiromi's acoustic engaged in an athletic exchange with Sirota's electric keys. Indeed, there could have been even more capitalising on such contrast if Sirota had utilised a greater variety of exaggerated electric distortions. As it was, he kept too close to the sound of a mild Fender Rhodes for most of the set, making a greater mark when he deployed a surging organ sound on "3 Wrong Notes." Bruner had already proven himself as an arch funkateer during the Freedom Band jam, but he went on to expand on a vocabulary of slashing snare hits and cutting cymbal time-keeping. They also charged headlong through "Paradigm Shift," from the same 2009 Jazz In The Garden album.

Clarke is an extroverted groover on electric, but when playing acoustic he's borderline subtle, mulling over thrum and texture, at times the most reserved member of his own combo. Given the thrilling theatrics of the others, this was perhaps a sensibly sensitive stance. The gregarious warmth also extended to Clarke's good-humoured between-tune announcements.

Toots Thielemans is an artist with international stature, but in his native Belgium this near-nonagenarian is not surprisingly revered. He took the headline position above Clarke, and was welcomed by an enraptured audience. The only problem was that Lage and Clarke before him had delivered euphoric blow-outs that forced a rapid re-adjustment to Thieleman's softly ballad-based trio setting. Thielemans provided a reflective end to this Saturday night.

The trio was completed by pianist Kenny Werner and guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, making intimate music with a balanced, considered tread. The potentially hyperactive Werner was at his most gentle, even if his flow was typically swift. With a synthesiser mounted atop the piano, he shook out a silken blanket of string section sounds to near-cheesy effect. The presence of Rio's Castro-Neves encouraged a Brazilian sub-section, with songs by Chico Buarque and Antonio Carlos Jobim, the guitarist taking vocals on the latter's "Waters Of March." They also played Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" and George Gershwin's "Summertime," followed by a complete history of Frank Sinatra, swished through in less than five minutes, as Werner's 'strings' splashed their sugary droplets.

July 11: The Pat Metheny Group/Odean Pope/Jungle Boldie/Radiokukaorkest/The Frederik Leroux Trio

The most adventurous of the indigenous afternoon freebie sets came from the Frederik Leroux Trio. His soloing full of angular tension and pointy geometry, the guitarist leader's record collection doubtless includes discs by David Torn, Wayne Krantz and Marcs Ribot or Ducret.

Radio Kukaorkest concern themselves with chamber jazz colourations, featuring a line-up of clarinet, cello, accordion and bass. Half of the ensemble are members of the wildly creative Flat Earth Society, who are probably Belgium's most striking jazz export. When I saw Radiokukaorkest in Brugge (2009), clarinettist Tom Wouters spent more time at the drumkit, providing a dynamic contrast in the band's music. For this set, he remained mostly on the clarinet, resulting in a more introspective, texture-based group sound. The brief burst of percussing injected some vitality into a performance that was a touch too inward-looking.

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