Gent Jazz Festival 2010: Days 1-5
One of the most direct combos of the entire festival were Jungle Boldie from the Netherlands. If we can call a love of classic 1970s free music 'direct.' It wasn't quite as simple as that, once the trio bounded into their rendition of "St. James Infirmary Blues." Forceful blowing from reedsman Maarten Orstein didn't lessen the opportunities for solo action from bassist Tony Overwater and drummer Wim Kegel. This was an energising throwback. Extremity as near-nostalgia from a threesome that's been playing together for over two decades.
Very much unlike the primed-for-action Freedom Band, saxophonist Odean Pope's group gave the appearance of being harried when making their stage entrance, as if they'd arrived at the airport two hours earlier and hadn't quite collected themselves for coordinated action. That might not have been the case, but Pope initially looked like he was struggling to marshal his forces. Solos were tentative and themes uncertainly engaged. Fortunately, it didn't take the all-star assemblage long to settle themselves. With Jeff 'Tain' Watts (drums) driving a front-line that included the hot trumpet spearhead of Eddie Henderson and David Weiss, this was almost inevitable. Pope was soloing far more frequently and powerfully than is the case when he's directing his Saxophone Choir. A particular high point arrived with "To The Roach," which pays tribute to Pope's old bandleader, sticksman Max Roach.
The hardcore jazz part of the festival came to a close with the Pat Metheny Group. When the guitarist played in Gent two years ago, he delivered an impressive set, but this showing with his regular combo lost control and descended into the bad-fusion morass. Unlike good-fusion, this is a form of the music where the listener is bludgeoned by distinctly non-organic pyrotechnics that refuse to connect in any emotional, visceral or sonically interesting way. It's obviously a personal thing, as the hordes of Metheny acolytes in the crowd were applauding their favourite greatest hits within seconds of these leviathan tunes striking up their synth-loaded fanfares.
Rarely do I witness such tedious blandness. I admire Metheny's attitude, and believe that he's genuinely questing for new relationships and musical experiences. He sounds like a very articulate interviewee, whose intentions are to be applauded. But, his guitar sound, in this setting, was cranked up to a meaningless stadium-scale howl that drowned out the efforts of longtime keyboardist Lyle Mays, bassman Steve Rodby and drummer Antonio Sanchez. These cohorts were relatively sensitive, and it was almost a relief when Metheny's baying complexity ceased for a small stretch. It's just a shower of virtuosity. It didn't mean anything. It's out of touch with the earth. The best part of the set was when Metheny brought out his elaborate multi-headed, many-stringed harp-guitar, to play an unaccompanied solo. This was the point where the ears pricked up and the sonic stage was inhabited by unfamiliar gestures.