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Barcelona Voll-Damm Internacional Jazz Festival 2014

Bruce Lindsay By

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Barcelona Voll-Damm Internacional Jazz Festival
Barcelona
October 31-November 6, 2014

The 46th Barcelona Voll-Damm Internacional Jazz Festival proved once again that jazz is a crucial contemporary art form—one that encourages us to think; one that engages with many, many cultures around the world; one that can create surprise; one that can still be cool and stylish; one that can make us get up and dance and to hell with being cool and stylish. In the expert hands of Artistic Director Joan Anton Cararach and newly-appointed Festival Patron Chucho Valdes the 2014 Festival, running from mid-October to mid-December, brought up-and-coming acts and jazz legends to this beautiful city and its array of venues.

Early information about the festival line-up meant that expectations were high: it was with great pleasure that I accepted an invitation from the festival organisers to attend for seven days. Jazz, classical and contemporary R&B gigs, music masterclasses, open rehearsals, discussions and a wine-tasting-plus-improvisation made this one of the festival's busiest weeks—the quality was consistently high and this was possibly the most enjoyable of my four visits to date.

Valdés was once again a key figure at the festival. Indeed, his creative output during this week made James Brown, the "Hardest Working Man In Showbusiness," seem like JD Salinger. Improvised solo piano, Before And After discussions, open rehearsals and, of course, an appearance at one of Barcelona's most prestigious venues—all part of Valdés' week.

Rudresh Mahanthappa

The week opened strongly, with a performance by alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa's quartet at Luz De Gas. This is a well-established festival venue, a club that combines a funky atmosphere with a degree of comfort and good-quality sound. Mahanthappa's concert focussed on music from Gamak (ACT Music, 2013), on which he fused an array of influences including jazz, ambient, folk, Indian, Chinese and Indonesian musics.

None of Mahanthappa's bandmates had played on the album, but they soon locked in together and gave little hint of hesitation or lack of familiarity with the tunes. In the early part of the set the band alternated between hard-edged, percussive numbers ("Waiting Is Forbidden," "Stay I") and more fluid pieces such as "Abhogi" and "Wrathful Wisdom." As things progressed the players loosened up, the controlled tension of the music becoming freer and wilder.

The lead players could stretch out with confidence over the rhythms crafted by Rich Brown on 6-string electric bass and 23-year-old drummer Paolo Cantarella, who was playing his first ever gig in Europe and his first ever gig with this band. Mahanthappa was at his most impassioned on his opening solo on "Ballad For Troubled Times," which he dedicated to the people of Sri Lanka and Burkina Faso. Guitarist Rez Abbasi flavoured his solos with judicious use of an array of effects pedals, expanding his range of sounds and adding spikiness to "Wrathful Wisdom."

Arto Lindsay

Bespectacled, balding, wearing a sensible gray cardigan over a white t-shirt, Arto Lindsay (perhaps a relation of this reviewer in the distant Scottish past) has every appearance of a friendly if slightly eccentric janitor. But at Luz De Gas on Saturday night this friendly janitor slammed loud, angry chords from his well-worn 12-string Danelectro student model guitar (only 11 strings were present during the performance), blasting waves of noise out across the room and into the ears of a packed house of fans. No surprise, really, as Lindsay's history incorporates many years of work with New York combos such as the Lounge Lizards and DNA as well as joint ventures with John Zorn and others. It wasn't just noise, of course—Lindsay can draw on the influence of Brazilian styles too (although these weren't so apparent at this gig).

Lindsay's musical foundation was rooted in long-time collaborator Melvin Gibbs' electric bass guitar—sometimes low and dark, others fluid and upbeat, Gibbs vied with keyboard player Paul Wilson for the title of the evening's most melodic player. As a vocalist, Lindsay sounded surprisingly youthful and light—somewhat incongruously, like a "Year Of The Cat" period Al Stewart. When he eased back from high volume distortion, playing softly on just two or thee strings, he revealed songs that often paired sweet, pretty, melodies with equally pretty lyrics, (one song about the more physical aspects of love making, to put it mildly, bucked that trend but still bore a certain charm). The band members were all more than a match for Lindsay's attacking playing style. They were also capable of subtlety and control, much to the benefit of the songs and the dynamics of the performance.

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