North Sea Jazz Festival: Rotterdam, The Netherlands, July 6-8, 2012
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
July 6-8, 2012
The city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands seems ideal for a jazz festival. It's a large enough metropolis to hold things of interest for any touristarts, culture, architecture, fine eateries, interesting activitieswhile at the same time being friendly, laidback and manageable. Toss the mammoth North Sea Jazz Festival into the mix and you really have something.
It's also an easy hop to Amsterdam via train for vacationers. So what's to stop jazz fans from getting there, even if they have to cross the Atlantic? Thirteen venues within the awesome Ahoy venuemost of them indoorsand performers in 2012 that included saxophonist Joshua Redman as artist in residence; saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas's new Sound Prints group; saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Archie Shepp; pianists Ahmad Jamal, Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper and Hiromi; the Metropole Jazz Orchestra; guitarists Pat Metheny and Jim Hall; trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire; bassists Esperanza Spalding and Ron Carter; and many more. Also pop and rock stars like Van Morrison, Lenny Kravitz and D'Angelo, as well as fine European jazz musicians and pop stars on that continent, like Janelle Monae and Rumer.
And, of course, these days it seems you have to toss in the new "hardest working man in show business," Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and his Orleans Avenue band.
The answer to the question posed earlier is: nothing really should stop jazz fans who can combine vacation with one of the world's best jazz festivals. No venue-hopping. One ticket gets access to all the stages inside Ahoy. It's impossible to see everything a person would want to see, but attendees can still grab a plentiful taste of some of the best musicians on the planet, and discover many new performers to boot.
Running down the proceedings at North Sea Jazz is a task. Friday and Saturday each featured 49 sets of music, and that didn't count a DJ stage and a room where artists were either interviewed before a live crowd or gave clinic sessions. Sunday, which ended earlier, "trimmed" down to 47 sets.
But with all the running around, sets by James Farm, trumpeter Christian Scott, Wayne Shorter, and a tribute to the later electric music of Miles Davis dubbed Miles Smiles, stood above a tremendous amount of fine music.
James Farm is one of the great bands on the circuit and was absolutely on fire. Joshua Redman was a man possessed, lighting up fiery, inventive and soulful solos on tunes like "Coax," written by the band's fine bassist Matt Penman, and Redman's own "Polliwog," which was played with a verve and intensity that could raise the hairs on the back of one's neck. Penman was always in step at every turn, and drummer Eric Harland was a whirling dervish, rhythms spewing out from everywhere. And always tasty. PianistAaron Parks was fantastic in his agility and ideas. His own "Bijou" slowed the pace down, but not the aesthetic, as Redman's tenor moaned sublimely.
Redman, as artist in residence, also appeared with The Bad Plus piano trio, and did a spot with the Metropole Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Vince Mendoza, where he could be heard crooning a soft, sensual tenor sax that suited Mendoza's Latin-inspired arrangements, with vocals from Luciana Souza and Lillian Vieira. Another interesting offering was Redman's Axis Quartetfour saxophonists, also including Chris Potter, Chris Speed and Mark Turnerplaying delicate arrangements during which one of them would solo. The entire lot showed that Redman is truly one of the finest saxophonists out there, as well as a noted composer, and deserves even more credit than he already gets.
Christian Scott's group has been working a long time and shows that kind of familiarity where they know how to take chances together. The music was intense, with the extremely underrated Kristopher Funn playing bass like it was his last day on earth, and drummer Jamire Williams providing thunder and passion. Pianist John Escreet, an adventurous soul from Great Britain, is relatively new to the group, but not the exciting jazz scene in New York City. His sizzling style was a great fit. Guitarist Matt Stevens was so steady and fit so well; he made his stirring solos seem easy.
And Scott knocked it out of the park, with his bold playing and great sound. He was always motivated and reaching. His compositions, often inspired by unpleasant events in the U.S., were strong foundations for these young players to build inspired moments.
Wayne Shorter was in fine form on soprano and tenorsupported, of course, by great talents like John Patitucci on bass, Danilo Perez on piano and Jorge Rossy on drums. The communication in this group was uncanny, and each member knew when to pull back and when to push. Shorter splashed in his statements in the cracks and around corners, it seemed, as he always appeared to be trying to do something a little different. Maybe playfully challenging his mates. They were always up to the task.
The Miles Davis tribute was music from the 1980s, with Omar Hakim silky smooth and also polyrhythmic on drums, Joey DeFrancesco on keyboards, Darryl Jones on bass, Robben Ford on guitar and Rick Margitza on sax. Trumpeter Wallace Roney was stuck in traffic for the start of the show, but his appearance not long afterwards immediately elevated things. He played exciting, moving horn over the funk backgrounds, while Ford was blistering, adding that edge that Davis liked to get from his guitarists.
Altoist Kenny Garrett was originally scheduled as the saxophonist, and it was disappointing to miss the fire he and Roney could have started. Margitza, for his part, was good. Melodic and creative. But Garrett's link to the last period of Davis' career is indelible and it would have been cool to see him carve the music up. Ford did his part when it came to shredding it.
Ron Carter's trio, with guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Donald Vega, was a treat. Malone was always attention-grabbing, and Vega had everything needed to support the group and provide his own stories. Carter's sound and force have lost nothing, and his solo statements were regal. His work never let his stature as jazz legend sag. He was always investigating, with "Laverne Walk" a particularly good rendition. Carter said the group hopes to record in October.
Another jazz stalwart, guitarist Jim Hall, played an enchanting duet set with bassist Scott Colley, one of the outstanding bassists of today. Seated in a chair, the octogenarian coaxed gentle but spirited sounds from his axe with a beautiful sense of time and space. His playing was timeless and his phrasing gorgeous. Colley provided not only great support, but fine solos. And Hall's comping behind Colley was perfect. They covered chestnuts like "My Funny Valentine" and composers like Nelson Cavaquinho.
Gregory Porter is a singer who's been on the rise in the jazz world, with a rich tone and soulful flavoring. He can swing, and he can tell a story. Here at North Sea, he did songs from his first two recordings, including "Be Good," from the 2012 Motéma album of the same name. The lyric was hip and he put his heart and soul into the rendition, as his exceptional band dug in. Yosuke Sato wailed on sax throughout the set, creating a fire the North Sea crowd appreciated. Porter's growing reputation is warranted.
Another singer of note was Lianne la Havas, from London. She has a voice that's direct, yet supple, singing in a plaintiff style, not trying to break the windows like so many new singers today who all sound the same. She demonstrated a deft way with a melody and got the emotion of the lyric across, like "He Loves Me," a Jill Scott tune, on which she sweetly accompanied herself on guitar. (Scott was also one of the performers over the weekend). "Gone" was a soul/pop tune where she showed good range on her vocal instrument without losing any delicacy. Not jazz, but a charming, fulfilling set.
Jazz fans are now quite familiar with Gretchen Parlato, who used her spare, emotional voice to weave in and out of the wonderful tunes she put together, whether standards like "Blue in Green" or staples in her arsenal like "Butterfly" and "Holding Back the Years." She has a style that works and is an expression of herself as an artist. And she always carries first rate musicians, this time including Taylor Eigsti on piano and the ever-tasteful Kendrick Scott on drums.
Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa's quintet was intriguing, offering up fine Latin jazz propelled by the leader's percussive and quicksilver playing. Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa on drums and percussion kept things moving along in a lively fashion, and had toes tapping. Tenor saxophonist Irving Acao injected soul into the slower tempos. He had a gripping, big, fat sound. Meanwhile, trumpeter Michael George Gonzalez was sweltering, running through and around the intense rhythms with a joyous fervor, igniting the quartet at times.
As far as some of the local bands, saxophonist Bart Wirtz played edgy, post-bop jazz with a fine band that included guest trumpeter Sean Jones. Jones, a player with monster chops, was a good foil for the exploratory style of Wirtz and the two had good interplay throughout. Yuri Honing, a popular Dutch saxophonist, played mostly slow, ethereal, ECM-style music in his 2010 set at North Sea. This year, his band was electric. The name Wired Paradise indicated maybe a little more fireworks. But the music was still laidback and his approach overly moody and serene. What was sampled of his set bore no excitement. In contrast, the Toon Roos group also played some slow, delicate pieces, but there was more of a sense of exploring, searching and improvising to a theme with this group. Saxophonist Roos would, at times, play sparely, but was also probing. Guest drummer Peter Erskine, a monster drummer with many major American bands over the years, was adept at providing fire or shifting into quiet, thoughtful musings.
An absolute delight was singer Rita Reys, known as Europe's First Lady of Jazz. She's in her 80s, and has been doing it a long time. It shows in all the good ways. She ran through many diamonds in the Great American Songbook and did so with fine style, accompanied by Pianist Peter Beets' Trio. Reys' voice was obviously stronger when she was younger. But it doesn't matter. She has a sense of swing and knows how to use her voice to negotiate around what otherwise might be difficult passages. She has nice phrasing, a great feel for the music that only experience can bring and had wonderful stage charisma. Beets had considerable chops, reminiscent of Oscar Peterson in approach and sense of swing. The trio was first-rate for that kind of music and was hand-in-glove with Reys.
Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa sat in for a couple numbers with the Codarts & Royal Conservatory Big Band from Holland, conducted by Ilja Reijngoud. They played two of his charts, and did so to perfection, as Mahanthappa's alto sax jumped in for screaming, scintillating solos. The music was invigorating. Before Mahanthappa's appearance, the band cooked through some other charts with enthusiasm and precision. There was a noteworthy soprano sax solo by Stephanie Francke.
Of course, with so many concert stages and so many bands, it was impossible to check everything out. Fun to try. Many superb bands were missed in favor of others. But at times, one can catch a few moments of music from this artist, and some of that, while moving about and moving on in this spectacular setting.
Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire continued to push the exploratory nature of jazz. His group is always improvising and trying to achieve something different and unique each night, and he and saxophonist Walter Smith III sounded great together, as they always seem to. Sound Prints, the quintet fronted by Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas, went at its music with the same spirit. The leaders saxophone and trumpet sparred back and forth, always with an edge, tossing daggers, prodded on by the free-flowing drumming of Joey Baron.
McCoy Tyner's band featured Ravi Coltrane on sax. It was rich music, including the always-captivating "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit." Van Morrison, a renowned rocker from the United Kingdom who has lit up audiences for years, came on with a horn section and even played some alto sax himself. His voice still has the bluesy trademark and comes off well. Jazz fans remember his "Moondance," which is a jazzy tune from the 1970s. The arrangement was different but hip, featuring a lot of horn work.
Spectrum Roadbassist Jack Bruce, keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Cindy Blackman Santana and guitarist Vernon Reidspit out rock tinged with blues, but with some hot improvisations. Reid wailed on guitar and Bruce's voice was no worse for the wear over the years. Strong music.
Kurt Elling sang in a pared-down situation, with just guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer Derrek Phillips. This project shows a different side of the man with the colossal vocal instrument. They covered a country and western tune, Steve Miller's "The Joker," and the standard "Save Your Love for Me." All were rendered dramatically and effectively, with Elling bending notes, delivering elongating phrases, and improvising with the phrasing. Hunter's guitar functioned well as the chording instrument and as a sharp, searing solo voice.
And, of course, Trombone Shorty raised the electricity level, wailing through his act that's part Las Vegas, part New Orleans and part no-holds barred party. There were a lot of fine solos in that package and people were sure to be smiling and dancing.
North Sea 2012 had music for all tastes, including some of the finest jazz artists out there. It might be expected that pop or rock acts might draw the bigger section of the fans. But fear not. People jammed the pure jazz concert halls and even the most eclectic music got spirited receptions from the interested and eager audiences that came from all over the world for the event. It was an atmosphere of fun, and acceptance of all kinds of music was part of the deal.
All Photos: R.J. DeLuke