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