Beishan International Jazz Festival, China, 19-20 October 2012
There's an inescapable synergy about this beautiful old temple site becoming home to jazz. Both are challenged by the forces of modernity, but as the Xue brothers preserve the architectural and musical tradition, they do so in a thoroughly forward-looking way. Beishan Hall is no museum, but a living, breathing contemporary space that looks to the future, all the while mindful of the need to respect and preserve the traditions of the past. Ancestor worship and an ever-present, energetic creativity are common to Chinese culture and jazz culture alike.
Day one got under way with an afternoon workshop by American beat box artist Butterscotch. Winner of the first World Hip Hop Beat box Women's Championship in 2005, Butterscotch has since performed with Earth Wind & Fire, pianist Chick Corea and singer Patti Austin, as well as recording with bassists Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten on Thunder (Heads Up International, 2008) and with guitarist/singer George Benson on Songs and Stories (Concord, 2009).
A rapt audience was treated to a thoroughly engaging and informative presentation, which started with a brief history of vocal tradition and body percussion from Africa to India. Butterscotch's recreation of snare and bass drums, hi-hat and drum fills, scratching, rap and trumpet-using only her voice and a microphone-was a revelation to those in attendance.
There was a healthy amount of individual and crowd participation in an enjoyable one-hour session. Butterscotch's easy-going manner was as pleasant as her ability to manage an audience was striking. She wrapped up her workshop by imparting some words of wisdom to those present: "Always practice slowly, and practice individual sounds," she advised. No doubt more than one Zhuhai youngster went home thinking, "Hey, I can do this!"
Just four rows of three-meter-long benches in the concert hall suggested that the audiences might be very small indeed, but by the time the Signe Juhl Quartet took to the stage, the benches were lost in the throng, with the crowd packing the theatre from wall to wall. The bare-footed singer Juhl led her Danish quartet through a swinging set of jazz standards dating from the first half of the twentieth century. Turner Layton/Henry Clayton's' "After You're Gone" from 1918 set the ball rolling in gently bluesy fashion. This was followed by the first of two George Gershwin/ Ira Gershwin numbers, "Oh, Lady Be Good," which featured some nice unison lines between Juhl and guitarist Bo Moller-who injected a little of the modern-day in proceedings with a biting solo-and "They All Laughed."
The quartet, rounded out by the impressive rhythm team of drummer Casper Mikkelsen and bassist Niels Kvist, then gave an intimate rendition of pianist Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," with Juhl's powerful vocal at song's end receiving a tremendous ovation from the crowd.
An original feature of the Beishan International Jazz Festival was a screen mounted to the right of the stage which alternated between relaying the concerts in real time and showing Tweets that audience members posted. Over the two evenings, around 1,300 Tweets were posted-the majority in Chinese-the first of which, after "Honeysuckle Rose," read: "I'm very touched. This is very exciting."
A little bossa nova and singer Peggy Lee/Dave Barbour's "It's a Good Day" brought a highly enjoyable, swinging set to a conclusion, with Moller saving his best to last, igniting the crowd with a lively solo. In another feature of the BIJF, after each performance the artists entered the hall to rapturous applause through a side-door, and under the glare of a spotlight walked along a red carpet through a guard of honor provided by the green-shirted volunteers. They then signed CDs, posters and t-shirts like crazy for fifteen or twenty minutes before exiting the way they came, once again to generous applause and general hoopla fanned by the emcees. Show-bizzy perhaps, but the razzmatazz was enjoyed by artists and audience alike, and in general, the treatment of musicians, media and guests was outstanding.
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