Beishan International Jazz Festival, China, 19-20 October 2012
How does such a crowd-pleasing concert affect the following artist? Intimidating? Inspiring? Perhaps a bit of both. Beat boxer/multi-instrumentalist Butterscotch-despite her relative youth-has been around the block a few times, so to speak, and her relaxed, yet commanding stage presence meant that the audience was in the palm of her hand from the beginning. Well, most of the audience, for Butterscotch too, had to contend with the disproportionately loud element around the bar area.
Professional to a tee, she asked for a little quiet for her more intimate music, and rose above the brouhaha for the rest of her set. Her brief hip-hop-cum-scratching intro laid down an impressive marker, rocking the crowd with her vocal and rhythmic virtuosity. Her trumpet impersonation was almost as impressive as English singer/guitarist Earl Okin's, but Okin has been around considerably more blocks than Butterscotch. Nevertheless, her guitar playing and singing, particularly on the jazz standard "The Very Thought of You," was seductive, with more than a hint of singer Billie Holiday's influence.
Butterscotch introduced the Gershwin's "Summertime" as having been sung for the first time by her "great, great cousin," Anne Brown, who indeed created the role of Bess in the Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess in 1935. The singer's trumpet rendition and urbane vocal percussion/rhythms forged a compelling bridge between the past-almost 80 years ago-and the present.
For the Richard Rogers/Lorenzo Hart tune, "My Funny Valentine," Butterscotch sat at the piano-in which she's classically trained-and delivered a hypnotizing interpretation, accompanying herself on bass rhythm and cymbal accents.
Tweet: "So many talented people here. So happy to be here."
A soulful and grooving, jazz-inflected number from her forthcoming album led into "Obsession," previously recorded with bassist Marcus Miller. Butterscotch's concoction of rap, soul, R&B and scratching really lifted the audience. Her encore, a song possibly entitled "Silver Lining," was again evocative of Billie Holiday, though with a more modern groove and a sensational DJ-mixing impersonation that whipped the audience into even greater fervor and closed the set on a considerable high. Volunteers sporting luminous red and green devil's horns provided a cheery guard of honor for Butterscotch, who generously sat for every autograph and photo request.
Tweet: "Can't believe that!"
The honor of closing BIJF 2012 fell to the Luca Ciarla Quartet. All four members hail from south/southeast Italy, and probably for this and no other reason, the quartet's music is sometimes labeled as Mediterranean jazz. This moniker, whilst certainly true, fails to acknowledge the diverse elements in the music. Ciarla is a classically trained violinist; accordionist Vince Abbracciante is a jazz musician; bassist Nicola Di Camillo's background is pop music; percussionist/drummer Francesco Savoretti's myriad colors come from folk music-Italian, Indian, African and Arabic.
The opening track, "Il Vento di Saracene" was a melodic and dramatic synthesis of all these flavors. It took a while for the sound problems to right themselves, but once the festival technicians from Hong Kong had sorted the muddy sound, the quartet's music came through like sunshine piercing a cloudy sky. Abbraciante's first solo of the evening marked him out an unusual accordionist in the sense that his language is not so informed by the accordion great Astor Piazzolla, but by tenor players Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane.
Puerto Rican trombonist and Ellington band member Juan Tizol's "Caravan" was given a new coat of paint, as Ciarla's playing was as informed by Balkan gypsy music as it was by Johann Sebastian Bach. An absorbing exchange took place between bass and percussion, with Savoretti exploring the timbres of cajon, mounted frame drum and tambourine.
Tweet: "Wonderful jazz night! I love it. Something like the old shit!
Introducing "Train," Ciarla explained the band's musical philosophy thus: "Jazz is our home, but music is our God." The minimalist introduction on accordion gave way to a gradually accelerating rhythm. Abbraciante gave a jaw-dropping solo as Tizol's exotic melody was reinvented as a gypsy fling, with Ciarla and accordionist locked in fast unison lines. "Re-Mi Lo-Sol" was a heartfelt dedication to Ciarla's six-month old son, but the tempo picked up once more on a lively version of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia."
The distinct timbres of violin and accordion don't necessarily blend harmoniously, so Ciarla danced in and around Abbraciante on the classic Italian partisan song from WWII, "Bella Ciao." Swept up in the music, Abbraciante's improvisation was exhilarating to behold, and he cut striking poses, with body and extended accordion arched like a scorpion about to pounce.
Tweet: "That was fucking amazing!"