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Barcelona Voll-Damm Jazz Festival 2013

Barcelona Voll-Damm Jazz Festival 2013
Bruce Lindsay By

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Barcelona Voll-Damm Jazz Festival
Various Venues
Barcelona
October 29-November 3, 2013

A short quote, repeated to me more than once over the course of a few days in Barcelona, proved to be at the heart and soul of the 45th Barcelona Voll-Damm Internacional Jazz Festival. It goes something like this—"On the day that I die, shed no tears. Play my music, eat chocolate, drink rum and dance." So declared Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes, who died at the age of 94 in March 2013.

Rumba Para Bebo

The Festival's Artistic Director, Joan Anton Cararach—an old friend of Bebo's—and Valdés' son and fellow pianist, Chucho Valdes brought this heart and soul to life with Rumba Para Bebo. This was a most ambitious production—a dizzying mix of jazz, dance, classical music and all-round good vibes that gave Bebo's friends, family and collaborators the chance to celebrate his life and which sent the sell-out crowd into raptures.

Rumba Para Bebo took place on the Tuesday night of the festival's second week at a new festival venue known as BARTS. True to Bebo's wishes, free chocolates and shots of rum were handed out to audience members as they arrived. Dancing was much in evidence as well—on and off stage. Tears were shed, too. The emotional impact of the night was so great that a few tears were only to be expected, a reflection of the love so many in the theatre had for this star of Cuban music.

Chucho Valdés was at the center of the concert, with his band the Afro-Cuban Messengers, playing solo or joining other musicians. His duo performance of "Bebo's Blues" with bassist Javier Colina was one of the highlights of the concert, but there were many others. Jerry Gonzalez' performance of "Bésame Mucho" on flugelhorn; the singing of Bebo's daughter Mayra Caridad Valdes; the pianists Lázara Cachao, Javier Massó "Caramelo" and, from the classical world, Mauricio Vallina (who performed pieces by Cuban composers Ernesto Lecuona and Ignacio Cervantes), all stood out. Another pianist, Omar Sosa, performed with Malongo, a vocal and percussion group. Clad in white, the troupe's striking visual image matched the intensity of the performance.

The finale was powerful, a stage full of the musicians and dancers (and a few extra participants who managed to make their way onto the stage as well) clapping, dancing and singing their hearts out. The audience did much the same, creating a wave of energy throughout the hall. This energy was almost palpable: as Cararach revealed a few days later, it was so strong that the venue manager feared for the structural safety of the stage. The song was "Rumba para Bebo," written by Chucho after he dreamed that his father was singing him the song.

Chucho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers took to the stage for the second time the following night, this time selling out the beautiful Palau De La Música. The Messengers proved to be a tight, strongly rhythmical, unit. The line-up—Valdés on piano, Gastón Joya on bass, Rodney Barreto on drums, Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé on batas and vocals and Yaroldy Abreu on percussion—ensured that the emphasis on rhythm was given primacy, but these virtuoso players also displayed a talent for melody and an ability to produce gentler, more romantic, music. This aspect of the Afro-Cuban Messengers was at its finest in a trio performance by Valdés, Joya and Barreto, when Joya's arco bass playing exceeded Valdés' piano in its emotional impact.

Valdés also took obvious pleasure in referencing Dave Brubeck, inserting lengthy sections of Brubeck's "Blue Rondo A La Turk" and Paul Desmond's "Take 5" into one of his solos. Three encores closed the evening, following a standing ovation from the crowd. The second, a funky jam band number, featured Joya on electric bass guitar. The third featured the dance stylings of vocalist and bata player Bombalé—dancing to the rear of the auditorium, then returning to the stage for a few somersaults, with an impressive level of energy that belied the fact that he'd already been on stage for over two hours.

Clubs, Bars and Masterclasses

Away from the major venues and the big name international stars, the Barcelona Jazz Festival has always offered a series of small-scale events that have their own particular charms. These events might showcase local bands, give students a chance to learn from their heroes in masterclasses, or blend wine tasting with the chance to hear musicians talking about musicians. They're always worth seeking out: the best things can come in the smallest packages.

Monvínic, a stylish restaurant on the Carrer de Disputacio, has played host to some intriguing events at previous festivals. The 2013 program featured the venue once again and the Monvínic Experience—a wine tasting plus improvisations combination this year featuring Ravi Coltrane—had already taken place before my visit. On Wednesday evening Monvínic played host to a unique version of the Downbeat Blindfold Test. Presented by Ted Panken, with pianist Omar Sosa as his guest, the test followed the time-honored format: Panken presenting Sosa with a series of nine unidentified tunes which the pianist then commented on. The added attraction, as is always the case with Monvínic, was the chance to taste a range of excellent wines chosen by award-winning Head Sommelier Cèsar Cànovas to match the music being played.

Sosa was a passionate, articulate and knowledgeable guest, giving clear explanations for his opinions and criticising, on occasions, without being destructive. He correctly identified five of the pianists, as well as a couple of the accompanying percussionists. His comments were instructive, both about his own approach to the piano and the styles of the musicians we listened to.

Another favorite performance space, the club known as Luz De Gas, took its place once again as one of the festival's most popular venues. The concerts which took place there during this week ably demonstrated the range of styles and approaches which Catalan musicians are engaging with. First up was a showcase concert for Eva Fernández, a young singer and saxophonist from Barcelona. Fernández is one of the fresh young talents to emerge from the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. The band's director, bassist and saxophonist Joan Chamorro, accompanied Fernández. So, too, did singer and trumpet player Andrea Motis, the band's best known member who already enjoys star status in Catalonia.

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