2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise Day 5: Sounding Off In Oslo

Mark Sabbatini By

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The soundboard and MMW's sound engineer arrived the day of the show, flying a multi-segment flight between the United States and Norway, Baldassari said. Such flights compress the ears and make effective sound engineering impossible, but contractual obligations made it impossible for the Jazz Cruises crew to intervene.

"I said 'You've got to use one of our guys,'" he said. "But he was like, "No, I've got to do it.'"

Still, sound engineering wasn't entirely at fault for the audience's lack of enthusiasm. The theater was less than half full at the start of the 6 p.m. performance (delayed until 7 p.m. by technical difficulties and some late arriving musicians), by far the lightest of the trip. And the performance can only be described as lackluster, what I call a "pro gig" when I'm trying to be diplomatic. That's when there's a high foundation of talent, ensuring songs are adequately constructed, but without heart or sense of creativity. Medeski's keys were startlingly grey instead of his usual broad pallet of atonal sounds, as was Scofield's guitar. Maybe they were rushed, or maybe it had something to do with some rumored sound issue causing yelling backstage beforehand, but there wasn't a single song that hit on any level with me—until the finale just before the encore.

"Now I'd like to bring out—and this is the first time this group has gotten to play with him—David Sanborn," said Marcus Miller, the saxman's longtime collaborator and host of the cruise.

The five played a slamming version of "Little Walter Rides Again," and Sanborn's surprising and unbilled appearance seemed to loosen the stage as solos rediscovered their color and there were several exchanges of interconnecting dialect. It went long, loud and in all kinds of subgroups before the final group free jam, and got a raucous level of standing applause despite the diminished audience.

It's amazing how much crud can be redeemed by a single great moment—I was energized enough to risk eviction from the encore by breaking their very strict photography ban and snapping another world-exclusive Blurry Bootleg Of The Day.

If the sound arrangements ultimately didn't work out for the audience, at least the efforts of the tech crew weren't wasted on the musicians they were trying hardest to please.

"I didn't notice anything—I just played," Medeski said. "There's always something with these, but that's everywhere."

One late show was a trio playing again the next day, so I headed back to the Crow's Nest to hear the Texas Tenors playing with Miller and members of his band. It was one of those tasty blues gigs where the solos are complex enough to be more straight-ahead than blues, with a lot of fun tricks like an electric guitar solo which somehow rattled off a machine-gun paced rolling barrage of notes with inexplicable clips that sounded like the D or G string was absent.

Whether or not the day was considered a success by the tech crew, Baldassari was upbeat about their overall efforts when I spoke to him on the final night of ship concerts (as you may have noticed, these posts are a couple of days behind real time). Wearing one of those overly colorful print shirts and looking notably more relaxed, he said their main goal of keeping performers and listeners oblivious to the maelstrom of challenges was a success, hearing no complaints from the musicians about setups.

"We burned up a lot of gear, but we got through it," he said, adding "Stuff like that happens all the time. We bring spares, we expect it and we plan for it."

Coming on Day 6: Hearing It All At Sea From Hancock


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