Gent Jazz Festival: Days 1-4: July 5-8, 2012
A pattern developed during this year's festival where an evening would sometimes end with a surprisingly inward-looking performance, avoiding spectacle and instead choosing to cloak the crowds with intimacy, drawing them close to the campfire, as the deluge outside hammered on the marquee roof. So veteran guitarist Jim Hall was joined by bass man Scott Colley, making casualness an art form in front of the rapt thousands. At 81, the dapper Hall is frail and hunched, ambling onstage with his walking stick, which he suddenly hoisted and used as an imaginary rifle, taking aim at the front rows. Once seated, a store of energy was unleashed, both in terms of his fingering articulacy and his verbal wit and enthusiasm. Hall's playing was stronger and more focused than it was the last few times he's played in New York City (guesting with saxophonist Sonny Rollins at the Beacon Theatre and leading his own band at Birdland). Here. Hall was completely in tune with his hushed admirers. His intricate plectrum-picking on the trebly strings was married to a more aggressive strum at the bass end. A fluid grace was coupled with choppy, glancing strikes, his whole output dampened when Colley took a solo, cut back to an almost acoustic stroking. Colley flooded the space with bass presence, providing ample contrast with his fulsome tone. Alongside a Colley original, "Beija Flor" and "My Funny Valentine" floated by, leading towards an impromptu improvisation that was almost avant-garde by comparison, set up as a dialogue between the twosome. It was an introverted showstopper. There was no encore, as Hall was probably too tired, but the pair could easily have played several more tunes if the crowd's demands had been satisfied.
July 7: Wayne Shorter Quartet / Dave Douglas & Joe Lovano Sound Prints Quintet / The Fabrice Alleman New Quartet / Combo 42
Saxophonist Joe Lovano was originally billed as appearing with Combo 42, in this project of the local School Of Arts. Although due later in the day, Lovano's earlier presence didn't materialize, and his place was taken by fellow saxophonist Stefano di Battista. This put the Combo's tenor man Mattias De Craene in a high stress position, now saddled with a much greater solo responsibility. He rose to the challenge admirably, but there was still a sense of disappointment with Lovano's absence. The set was an oddly mixed bag, opening with "Footprints," heralding the soon-coming appearance of its composer, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, set to be the evening's headliner. This was followed by what turned out to be a majority of vocal numbers, fronted by the efficiently straight-ahead singer Annelies Emmerechts. Her precision was notable during the scatting and ensemble theme sections, but this was amongst the most blandly mainstream music of the entire festival. The Italian Battista only joined the band at the beginning and the end of its set, which also featured several strong solos from guitarist Edmund Lauret.
The Mons reed man and flautist Fabrice Alleman led his New Quartet, which featured keyboardist Nathalie Loriers (a bandleader and composer herself); bassist Reggie Washington (an American now resident in Belgium); and drummer Lionel Beuvens. Alleman is a brightly communicative leader, his enthusiasm pouring into a particularly optimistically fuelled suite of pieces. The foursome proceeded to engage in some tight interlocking, with Loriers moving from acoustic to electric piano, particularly exciting on the latter. Alleman's periodic eruption into vocalization had a striking effect, making the hard complexity suddenly more accessible.
Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas revealed their new Sound Prints Quintet, an outfit which is setting out on a surge of activity in the second half of 2012. On the surface, it was an unusual combination, with the two leader/composers normally operating in quite different zones. In this setting, Douglas was at his most straight-ahead, whilst Lovano was pulled towards a more innovative zone than usually expected. Even so, Douglas and Lovano are old comrades, and their dialogue created an atmosphere of assured yet casual virtuosity, a complete confidence in the cutting chase. The resultant pieces perched in just the expected area between the anticipated territories within which the leaders commonly stride. It's an out-there form of post-bop, with Wayne Shorter stated as their primary influence.