OCT-LOFT Jazz Festival: Shenzhen, China, October 8-23, 2012
It is hoped that a Shenzhen Youth Jazz orchestra will indeed get off the ground, but the promotion of Chinese jazz musicians is already an integral part of OLJF. In the festival's first edition, 17-year-old tenor saxophonist Li Gao Yang played the main stage. This year, two Chinese big bands performed on the main stage, the WeDo Big Band from Guangzhou province, and the Xinghai Modern Music Grand Orchestra.
The WeDo Big Band-who also played at the Beishan international Jazz Festival the following weekgave a polished performance, largely echoing the classic big-band era, and a few fine soloists within the ranks suggested that the ensemble contains the seeds of tomorrow's small jazz groups in Southern China.
The Xinghai Modern Music Grand Orchestra is a slightly different kettle of fish. Established in 2007, the XMMGO was the first group formed in the Xinghai Conservatory of Music and has been led by French expat Benoit Stasiaczyk from its inception. Stasiaczyk is a passionate teacher, encouraging both the study of the classic big-band repertoire as well as original composition. At present, the XMMGO boasts some 30 original compositions, and there was a refreshingly personal stamp on the orchestra's performance.
After the concert Stasiaczyk spoke of the challenges of establishing a jazz big band in China, and of encouraging originality and improvisation, but he can be justly proud of his young charges after their impressive, crowd-pleasing performance.
A couple of days earlier, Stasiaczyk appeared on the same stage, providing one of the highlights of OLJF 2012. Pianist, percussionist and vibraphonist, Stasiaczyk led his quartet of guitarist Federico Casagrande, bassist Wanh Xibu and drummer Deng Boyu through a stirring set notable for its contrasting dynamics. Minimalism and dramatic group interplay were constant partners as the tide shifted this way and that. Stasiaczyk's touch on the vibraphones was exquisite, and whether caressing the keys or blurring his mallets in adrenalin-charged attack, his language-inhabiting a space between Milt Jackson and Stefon Harris-was never less than absorbing.
OLJF provided vocal jazz of greatly contrasting styles; New-York based singer/guitarist Eliane Amherd, Croatian Ines Trickovic, Dutch singer Wouter Hamel, French songstress Rosane Russel and Slovenian Vasko Atanasovski showed that in the realm of vocal jazz-based music, there is an enormously wide range of influences, rhythms and textures. Swedish pianist Jacob Karlzon-voted Musician of the Year in 2010 in Swedish Radio's annual jazz poll-showed that Norway holds no Scandinavian monopoly on progressive, modern jazz. There was space too for avant-garde, with improvising duo Youlan-featuring Xu Fengshia on sanxian and guzheng, and Gunda Gottschalk on violin-exploring Western and Eastern classical roots with an exhilarating freedom.
The least jazz-inspired group of the festival, Argentinean seven-piece Captian Tifus-purveyors of hugely enjoyable chaos-mixed up Balkan bravura, ska, rock and Latin rhythms in a pulsating cocktail that had the audience on its feet. A few excited fans, inhibitions well and truly out the window, clambered onto the stage to strut their stuff before festival volunteer staff restored something approaching order.
Three solo performances stood out. Firstly, beat box artist Butterscotch, who specializes in songs colored by jazz/hip-hop-inflected vocal percussion. A fine vocalist, guitarist and classically-trained pianist to boot, Butterscotch exhibited an embarrassment of musical talent that captivated the crowd. Secondly, guitarist Federico Casagrande-filling in at short notice for a late, unfortunate cancellation-gave an absorbing performance, that-largely improvised-was impressionistic, dramatic and lyrical in turn. Finally, Australian drummer Will Guthrie's improvised rhythms using kit, found objects and electronics provided yet further evidence of OLJF's preference for artists who think outside of the box.
The success of the OLJF 2012 can be measured, not only in terms of a packed hall night after night, or in the enthusiastic response of the audiences to every performance, but in the vision of the festival to present music that might not automatically have met with approval. Like jazz music itself, risk should be part of any serious festival, for whilst the odd failure is soon forgotten-and there were none at OLJF 2012-innovative music that excites the passions is a spectacular success whatever way you look at it.