Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival: Curacao, August 31-September 1, 2012
The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band is a powerful group and was in good form. At first, it covered some of the great bebop compositions associated with trumpeter Gillespie, who was one of its main architects. The great Jimmy Heath directed, when he wasn't playing his tenor sax. On "Thing to Come," several soloistsincluding the entire trumpet sectionscreamed out solos of which Gillespie would have been proud. Following the brazen brass, alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity stepped up to the mic, blowing choruses that didn't take a back seat to the men for a seconddiving in, around and through the arrangement.
When guest leader D'Rivera came to the stage things changed somewhat, as the music was dominated by his compositions and had a more distinct Latin feel. Pernell Saturnino, a percussionist and native of Curacao, helped provide that emphasis. D'Rivera showed he's still a great technician on clarinet and sax, always playing with vigorous spirit. "I Remember Dizzy" was his tribute to the trumpet master, while"To Brenda With Love" was a bright, energetic number and perfect for the power of the band.
D'Rivera played with his septet the following night. The music included things from classical composers like Mozart and Chopin, arranged in a Latin jazz vein. The result was highly charged music, incorporating the telltale rhythms, supplied by Saturnino. It was heavily arranged and executed to perfection. The improvisations came from the soloists, like D'Rivera and Diego Urcola, who was blazing on both trumpet and valve trombone. Urcola also played the night before with the big band, but getting to hear him take off more on both of his instruments was a joy. Urcola is relatively unheralded, but a great player.
James Farm has been playing for a few years now, developing, tweaking and changing the tunes somewhat over time. Its self-titled 2011 Nonesuch debut is superb, but hearing the quartet live is a great journey. Its members know each other so well, they are in tune with every nuance and can follow one another if things extend or a direction changes. Redman is one of the true modern greats on his instrument, his sound so strong and his ideas so creative. Penman is solid as a rock and plays patterns that both augment and push the music. Harland has the ability to be incredibly intense or as soft as a floating butterfly. He's always musical and in touch with what's going on around him. Parks always digs in and provides a cascade of interesting lines and stories. Hard to say what he might come up with next in terms of color and texture, but it's always something good that sometimes even raises the brows of his mates.
They do all-original music, and blazed their way through Redman's "If By Air and "Polliwog," Parks' "Unravel" and "Chronos," Harland's "I-10" and Penman's "1981."
Joe Sample still plays fine piano, whether it's jazz or dipping into the pop stream that he occupies some of his time. The pianist and his group played jazz to warm up for the appearance of Randy Crawford, a singer who drew a huge crowd for the indoor stage (the other two are outdoors in the warm island air). She possessed a voice that was kind of soft and gentle, with a bright style and good timing. She got across a certain joy to her listeners, clearly knew how to negotiate the twists of a tune, and worked totally in synch with Sample. Swing, soul and pop, they handled it all with good taste.
"Happiness is a Thing Called Joe" was swinging, "Tell Me More" a sultry blues and "A Rainy Night in Georgia" a warm recollection. "One Day I'll Fly Away" was a crowd pleaser. Crawford is a good listen.
India.Arie invests herself into each and every song. She uses her strong, lush voice as an instrument of emotion. She writes some great songs that usually have a lesson or explain an experience. This woman isn't in it just to be on stage. As a result, her songs are touching. There's also a sense of power.
With only a quartet of musicians behind her, and two backup singers, she closed the festival with a convincing set of music. One gem was "Blackbird," a popular The Beatles ballad which she performed alone, accompanying herself on guitar. Luscious. Her well-known "Video," was brief, but still right to the heart. The woman has one hell of a soulful voice and a great look on life.