Jazz Middelheim: Antwerp, Belgium, August 16-19, 2012
It was impossible not to notice the empty chair to stage-left, guitar propped against amplifier. Were Ribot or even Reed in town? Surely, Coryell wouldn't be joining the trio? Well, yes, it was indeed Coryell as the set-climaxing guest star: a most unusual combination. All the guitarist had to do was invoke his old electric behemoth Power Trio persona, razoring out circular ascendant figures in Sonny Sharrock fashion. As a visitor, he had to be prompted by Zorn before unleashing a fully aroused solo, but once started, Coryell's rugged outpourings mingled easily with the torrid miasma of the core threesome. Zorn also gave subtle prompts to the other two members, but that was part of his own improvising strategy, and surely allowed in a style-bounding set that sounded equally divided between themes and spontaneity.
The following afternoon, Coleman was still being considered as sometime sideman, bassist Greg Cohen name-checked the absent alto man. He also played a Zorn Masada tune, along with three of his students from the local Artesis Conservatorium. Cohen mostly gave them his own pieces to play, but also slipped in Nelson Riddle's "Route 66" (his television series theme, not the more familiar Bobby Troup ditty). Cohen gave his able pupils plenty of room to roam, but his own bass was perpetually and meatily in the middle. There were even a few more abstract stretches, with exchanges between piano and drums, bow and chains on the latter.
It's always advisable to keep the portals open at jazz festivals, but when dapper Dutch trumpeter Eric Vloeimans presented his project with the Holland Baroque Society, it was hard to discern the intention. Not that a gratuitous Early Music session with refined trumpet solos and embellishments was a totally evil concept, but the end result was exceedingly polite for a jazz fest. Bach and Telemann preceded the leader's own "Wet Feet," which appropriately featured tiptoeing organ and pixie bandoneon. This wasn't so much a fusion as the authentic article, with a faint dusting of jazz technique. Two-thirds in, there was a welcome turn towards Moorish and Gypsy stylings, and the latter-angled piece roused the audience from its concentrated trance (or slumber). Marc Constandse was an asset to the band, showing off his skills as a singer, bandoneon player and frame drum percussionist. One of the three violinists switched to harmonium, sitting on the stage floor and singing along with Constandse. Vloeimans' tone was reminiscent of that found in the playing of the Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, lightly dusted with Arabic filaments, dancing nimbly around the formalized arrangements.
Next, there was a rapid switch to duo intimacy, although the scale of the actual music was grander, more forcefully winding the audience in its guts with its playful exuberance. Italian pianist Stefano Bollani continually surprises with whichever fresh setting he elects to present, from density to spaciousness, from dramatic to mischievous. Partnered with Brazilian Hamilton De Holanda, matters turned to a fun-filled manifestation of folkloric-flavored tunes from that land, combining effervescent, speeding virtuosity with winkingly humorous antics. De Holanda plays the 10-string bandolim (the Brazilian version of the mandolin).
The pair flirted with tunes penned by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal and Egberto Gismonti, rattling organic notes off at hyper-speed, in a seemingly effortless fashion, playing closely together, but not so close that they rendered each other superfluous. Bollani frequently sought refuge inside his piano, or sang along with his own rivulet phrases, coming across as the Chico Marx of Italian jazz improvisation. Without rejecting the cerebral thrust of advanced technique, the extremely empathic duo managed to concoct a lively romper room environment, their joyous, celebratory approach both entertaining and challenging. It was a wondrous thing, mostly full-tilt (and fully tilted), sustaining passion, enthusiasm and energy, matched with a tinkering invention.