Dutch Jazz & World Meeting 2012: October 5-6, 2012
Opening the second afternoon series of showcases, pianist Amina Figarovawho, with husband/flautist Bart Platteau, relocated to New York City in 2011made a return to Amsterdam with her longstanding sextet, performing music from her latest release, Twelve (In + Out, 2012). An Azerbaijan expat, Figarova has been slowly building an impressive body of workincluding Come Escape With Me and September Suite (both Munich Records, 2005)built on a solid foundation of the American jazz tradition. Unlike many of the jazz acts showcased at DJ&WM, Figarova and her group know how to swing, and did so in an elegant and refined fashion.
Part of the secret of Figarova's success is the frontline she's chosen: saxophone (Marc Mommaas on Twelve, with Johannes Mueller here) and trumpet (Ernie Hammes)especially on flugelhornblended beautifully with flute to create a distinctive frontline with enough brass to be sharp when needed, but softer, and more rounded when necessary. And Platteau, one of a very few musicians today for whom flute is their primary instrument, is an especially fine player, one who deserves broader recognition and might just get it, should flute ever come into vogue again. With bassist Jeroen Vierdag and drummer Chris "Buckshot" Strik keeping things swinging, grooving and, at times, even pushing with a little light funk, Figarova has a group of strong soloists and empathic ensemble players that's been largely stable since Above the Clouds (Munich Records, 2008).
As a soloist, Figarova's touch is light, her solos combining lithe dexterity with flashes of muscularity; a female player who manages the yin and the yang, not unlike American bassist Marc Johnson. If ever there was a DJ&WM 2012 show that deserved to go on longer than 30 minutes it was this one; still, given that opportunities to catch Figarova and her wonderful sextet live are relatively rare (though the group has played 40 dates this year) , it was certainly a fine and very welcome half hour of mainstream-centric, elegant music from a composer and performer for whom relocation to the United States, based on Twelve, has clearly born tremendous fruit.
Boi Akih is a mutable group that ranges from duo to sextet, but the constants that give it its unique blend of composed song form and freewheeling improvisation are singer Monica Akihary and guitarist Niels Brouwer. For their DJ&WM 2012 performance, Akihary and Brouwer fleshed out to a quartet, with drummer Kim Weemhoff and, most notably, Wolter Wierbosa busy player who truly is one of the most distinctive trombonists alive today. Coming into the set a few minutes late, it took a few moments to recognize the song Boi Akih was singing, though it's one that has been interpreted in a jazz context before: singer/songwriter David Crosby's "Guinnevere," first heard a decade after trumpeter Miles Davis recorded it, on Circle in the Round (Columbia, 1979). With Brouwer on an acoustic, twin-necked harp-guitar, the quartet stayed close to its compositional framework while, at the same time, opening it up for more broad-based interpretation, in a take longer than that on the quartet's recent Circles in Square Society (Bromo, 2012).
The group also covered Jimi Hendrix ("The Wind Cries Mary," rather than Circles in Square Society's "A Merman I Should Turn to Be") and Bob Marley, in a particularly powerful "Redemption Song," that closed the set. In the midst of all this, passages of free play where Akihary proved an intriguing improvisational foilat times touching on scat, but more often than not relying on more unique and unusual vocal approaches. Wierbos, using mutes and just flat-out spontaneous creativity, was never less than perfect, whether he was dropping down into his instrument's lower register, to assume some kind of bass role, or soaring with nearly human-like articulations, turning his interactions with Akihary into some of DJ&WM's most compelling moments of connected chemistry. Brouwer was capable of greater beauty on his acoustic harp-guitar, but when he turned to electric his approach became far more angular and aggressive, while Weemhoff's ears were clearly open throughout the set, pushing hard as needed, but equally appropriate as a textural player.
The final show of the afternoon, before another trade dinnerthis time at Zouthaven, one of Bimhuis' restaurantswas The Nordanians, a trio comprised of violist Oene van Geel (who also performed earlier the same day with the intrepid Zapp 4 string quartet, whose forthcoming recording tackles the music of Radiohead), guitarist Mark Tuinstra and tablaist Niti Ranjan Biswas. Fans of guitarist John McLaughlin's longstanding East-meets-West explorations will be somewhat familiar with The Nordanians overall space, though what this trio does is more like a funky Shakti, blended with occasional electronics and, in contrast to McLaughlin's deeper spirituality, a greater sense of levity...humor, even.
Set up with van Geel stage right, Tuinstra stage left, and Biswas center stage on a riser towards the back, communication was key as the three maintained strong eye contact throughout the showcase set. Tuinstra may not be the legend that McLaughlin is, but neither was he a slouch, playing a more conventional rhythm guitarist role at time, something McLaughlin rarely does with Shakti, where he remains more closely aligned with Indian music's linear nature. That said, when it came to soloing, Tuinstra kept up with the clearly virtuosic van Geel, who has clearly studied Indian music and nailed its microtonal nature. In addition to being a fine tablaist, Biswas also performed Konnakol (Indian vocal percussion). A set highlight came when, with Biswas doing Konnakol, both Tuinstra and van Geel joined him, with something that, at times, approached Konnakol but other times was more akin to scat. The three built to a climactic pitch only to resume on their instruments to tremendous applause. Like Kapok the previous evening, The Nordanians made clear that serious music could also be fun.