North Sea Jazz Festival: Rotterdam, The Netherlands, July 6-8, 2012
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.