Barcelona Voll-Damm Internacional Jazz Festival: Barcelona, Spain, November 21-26, 2011
November 21-26, 2011
The Barcelona Voll-Damm Internacional Jazz Festival is an established part of the cultural life of this vibrant Spanish city. The 2011 festival was the 43rd, and once again it brought some exceptionally fine jazz to a host of equally fine venues, attracting stars of the stature of Maria Schneider, Eliane Elias, Randy Weston and Brad Mehldau.
Barcelona is Spain's second biggest city and the capital of Catalonia, a region with its own language and rich cultural tradition. It's a bustling, busy, but friendly place, with plenty of attractions. Add a major jazz festival to the city's list of attractions, and the chance to visit becomes irresistible. So when the organizers of the 2011 Festival offered that chance there was only one response to the invitationan excited "Yes, please." The program for the week of 21 to 26 November proved especially interesting in its mix of artists, venues and eventsand the week also delivered some unseasonably warm and bright weather, making it even more of a pleasure to walk around the city's broad, tree-lined avenues.
City-based jazz festivals come in many shapes and sizes: intensive three- or four-day festivals in single venues that cram as much music as possible into each day; jazz strands within more general arts festivals; one- or two-week festivals with many events running concurrently, leaving fans to make major decisions about what to see (and what not to see). The Barcelona Voll-Damm Internacional Jazz Festival takes a more relaxed approach, stretching from mid-October to early December and with just one, or occasionally two or three, concerts each evening. For the jazz-loving Barcelona resident it's an embarrassment of riches. For a visitor spending a few days in this beautiful city it guarantees some big names and offers the chance to experience some potential surprises. In just one week, the Festival combined music, wine, portrait photography, talks and master classes and served them up in a varied host of venues.
Monday, November 21: The Omar Sosa Monvínic Experience
Cuban pianist Omar Sosa's solo concert was one of the most original events of the Festival. The program promised a unique lineup for a jazz event: a pianist; a prose writer; and six sommeliers. The experience did not disappoint. Monvínic, a Barcelona restaurant of striking contemporary design, was the venue and the premise was simple. The sommeliers selected eight Spanish wines. Sosa and Barcelona writer Empar Moliner created music or narratives inspired by each wine. The audience shared long dining tables that afforded the opportunity for good conversation, the tasting of all of these excellent wines, and the experience of Sosa's creative and engaging music.
The Monvínic Experience that resulted was a heady mix of music, storytelling and wine. The appearance, and tasting, of each wine was preceded by a short description, read by its maker; Moliner's own reading of her response to the winebest described, perhaps, as a fantasy narrativeand Sosa's musical response.
Sosa is a delightful musician who seemed to be immersed in every note he played. His eight short pieces were considered, thoughtful, compositions that showed his mastery not only of the piano keyboard but also of the use of prerecorded sounds of wine being poured or bottles being opened, which he incorporated sympathetically into some of the pieces. At times he also added short phrases of wordless vocals: whether these were parts of the compositions or improvised expressions of Sosa's pleasure in performing isn't clear, but they were certainly joyous.
Unsurprisingly, given the nature of this unique event, many audience members were engaged in excited conversation as Sosa began each piece, but the music soon hushed the talk as the pianist gained his audience's attention within a few bars. While the overall feel of Sosa's tunes was gentle and reflective, each one had its own character, as did the wines. Hence his music for "Casa Castillo Pie Franco 2006" was a bluesy, upbeat tune with hints of stride piano, while the tune that accompanied "Pardas Aspriu 2009" was a lovely, flowing ballad, and his delicately mournful response to "HMR Advent Sumoll 2008," the final wine of the evening, brought just a hint of valedictory sadness.
Tuesday, November 22: The Tigran Hamasyan Trio
Luz de Gas, the venue for the Tigran Hamasyan Trio's Barcelona debut, presented a stark contrast to the modernist chic of Monvínic. The club has a warm, lived-in appeal, with its rich, dark colors and slightly faded glamouran Art Nouveau feel. The Trio offered a more contemporary take on jazz, but still seemed at home on the Luz de Gas' stage.
The young Armenian pianist has been attracting plenty of press since the release of his solo album A Fable (Verve International, 2011) and much has been made of his energetic live performances. As a result, expectations were high for this event, but his concert was a relatively muted affair, with little of this energy apparent in Hamasyan's performance. Occasionally the pianist jumped up and down, or played standing up for short periods, but he was generally content to remain seated as he played.
The band presented tunes from A Fable, rearranged for the trio lineup. Hamasyan's version of "Some Day My Prince Will Come"centered on drummer Nate Wood's solid, rock-inflected, percussionwas original and impressive. His own compositions, such as "The Legend Of The Moon," gained some extra dynamic from the added bass and drums but despite some powerful and inventive percussion from Wood the trio never really caught fire and Hamasyan's brief beatboxing performance was rather repetitive.