North Sea Jazz Festival 2013
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
July 12-14, 2013
The North Sea Jazz Festival is firmly entrenched as one of the best events anywhere for jazz lovers, and also for the music-makers themselves, who relish the atmosphere and the appreciative audiences that typically jam the thirteen venues running simultaneously in the mammoth Ahoy building in Rotterdam. The 2013 edition did nothing but enhance its reputation, presenting a wide variety of jazz styles represented by musicians from a wide array of countries, and music and musicians spanning generations.
It's a festival where people can also see rock stars (Sting, Santana, Stevie Winwood this year), blues artists (Charlie Musslewhite, Ben Harper, Mud Morganfield, Gary Clark Jr.) and R&B musicians (John Legend, Larry Graham, Bobby Womack, Charlie Wilson). There's something for everyone. But mostly it's jazz, from new bands to tried-and-true jazz giants.
The city of Rotterdam is the perfect place: laid back, inviting, attractive. It has chic, funky neighborhoods, nice restaurants, great art and architecture. It's peaceful, and it opens it arms for the musicians and fans who flock to the city for the three-day music extravaganza.
It's impossible to see everything or everyone, so whittling down the list is important in order to get a full appreciation of an artist's offerings. Missing great talent is inevitable, but the talent one gets to see is extraordinary and fulfilling.
On Friday's opening night, the outstanding Medeski, Martin & Wood trio was among the highlights. Each is involved in his own projects on the side, but when these three get together, which is still often, its teamwork at its best. Playing on various vamps, the group is off and running. They know where each person is at, and with that knowledge they can play with the rhythm, take off on a slightly new, off-the-cuff tweaking of a composition, and they can lock into a groove and put the audience into a delightful trance. Medeski continues to show he's one of the finest keyboardists out there, on organ, acoustic and electric pianos and other electronica. He can be a mad scientist, twisting sounds, or swing like mad. Wood locks in on bass and makes the music groove and move, while Martin's rhythms, whether simple or ornate, always enhance and/or push the music.
Terence Blanchard runs one of the finest bands around, thanks in a large part to drummer Kendrick Scott, who makes music with the drum kitsubtle shifts, swirling cymbal sounds, odd meters, rock-steady swing. He always adds color and texture, not just percussion. Blanchard's horn is as strong and majestic as ever, cutting in, around and through the melodies. Most of the music came from the band's release Magnetic (Blue Note, 2013). "No Borders, Just Horizons," by Scott, "Jacob's Ladder," by young bassist Joshua Crumbly, and Blanchard's "Don't Run," were outstanding. Fabian Almazan on piano always cooks and is a bright composer, and saxophonist Brice Winston is sharp and inventive.
The Syndicate, an offshoot of the late Joe Zawinul's band, provided music very much in the mold of what Zawinul was up to in his latter yearsinfectious funk and bright melodies as a backdrop for improvisations. Bassist Alune Wade was funky and strong and guitarist Allegre Correa provided dashes of sizzle, as did Thierry Eliez on electric keyboards.
Reed player Anat Cohen received the Paul Acket Award, named in honor of the festival founder, for a jazz musician who is accomplishing much, yet is somewhat under the radar. Not sure Cohen fills the bill for being underrated, because she has been winning polls for her clarinet playing and is recognized as one of the fine young talents in the art form, but she deserved the award at any rate. And she proved what a fine player she is with her outstanding quartet. One can always feel the joy and genuine love for the art that Cohen has, in addition to being a musician with outstanding chops. She did herself proud again.