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BMW Jazz Festival 2012

Ross Eustis By

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BMW Jazz Festival
Via Funchal
São Paulo, Brazil
June 8-10, 2012

To borrow a word commonly associated with BMW cars, this is a luxury festival. The BMW Jazz Festival debuted one year ago, in 2011, in São Paulo, Brazil. With handsome funding from BMW Financial Services-Bank Group in Brazil, the young festival experienced wild success in its first year—tickets sold out within hours. The demand indicated two things: world-class music and an audience eager to hear it. The 2012 BMW Jazz Festival was largely no different.

The festival boasted a ridiculously talented and eclectic line-up: trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's Quintet; pianist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White; Clayton Brothers; Darcy James Argue's Secret Society; Ninety Miles; and Charles Lloyd. To satisfy the greater public, BMW included funk legend Maceo Parker, budding pop-jazz star Trombone Shorty and Brazilian accordion duo Toninho Ferragutti and Bebê Kramer. For further promotion, the festival included a free outdoor concert in Ibiripuera Park, featuring The Clayton Brothers and Maceo Parker—fortunately, the rain took a day off. Jazz aficionados can tip their hats to the curators: Monique Gardenberg, creator of the (now past) Free Jazz Festival, journalist Zuza Homem de Mello, and producers Zé Nogueira and Pedrinho Albuquerque. The curators clearly know quality, all the while pushing a deeper intention— to both challenge with the modern, and appease with the popular.

The BMW Jazz Festival expanded this year in both scope and size. After three evenings in São Paulo, the festival brought an almost identical lineup to a neighboring Río De Janeiro. In São Paulo, a much bigger audience attended than the previous year. To accommodate more people, the festival changed venues. The move appears business-minded; the festival left the state of the art Ibiripuera Auditorium in favor of Via Funchal, a vacuous space geared better for rock bands (think B.B. King or Flogging Molly) than acoustic jazz. The change had its pros and cons. Via Funchal allowed ample seating. But unless listeners bought up prime real estate, the sound was often spotty. Seeing that the house was never completely full, BMW may reconsider its change in venue.

As its name suggests, the BMW Jazz Festival receives heavy funding from the private sector. In Brazil, private conglomerates such as SESC (Serviço Social do Comércio) give life support for Brazilian instrumental music (and thus jazz). Solid private support ensures quality and subsidizes tickets (SESC concerts are often free or unbelievably cheap). The BMW Jazz Festival operates in similar fashion, but also functions as a trendy, promotional event, attracting politicians, executives and socialites as much as the avid jazz head—something to keep in mind.

Chapter Index
  1. June 8: The Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet
  2. June 8: Toninho Ferragutti, Bebê Kramer and Friends
  3. June 8: Corea, Clarke & White
  4. June 9: The Clayton Brothers Quintet
  5. June 9: Trombone Shorty & New Orleans Avenue
  6. June 9: Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis & Friends
  7. June 10: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
  8. June 10: Ninety Miles
  9. June 10: Charles Lloyd Quartet

June 8: The Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet

Progressing ever forward, Emerging trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire opened the festival with a full set of fresh material. The new resonates with the (now) old from his 2011 release, When The Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note). Only now, Akinmusire's music sounds freer and more unpredictable—a glimpse at what is to come from the promising artist.

Akinmusire stresses the individuality of his sidemen. In São Paulo, the quintet included the usual cast of gifted, young musicians—saxophonist Walter Smith III, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown—only with Sam Harris sitting on the piano bench in place of Gerald Clayton. Harris' eccentric style fit Akinmusire's concept well. The two clicked on duet segments within Akinmusire's expansive writing.

Only a fierce drum solo by Brown enlivened a generally quiet audience, who appeared unsure of Akinmusire's music. This isn't so surprising. Freer music has little presence in Brazil and Akinmusire's music was challenging; those not up for the challenge might find the music flying right over their heads. More importantly, the music never fell into solid groove—the time was there, just disguised. Akinmusire reaches for the head and heart, not the feet, and this can be problematic in Brazil. That said, it's only good that people expose themselves to courageous artists like Akinmusire.

June 8: Toninho Ferragutti, Bebê Kramer and Friends

Two is a lot of accordion. When you get three, even four together on one stage... well, it's really a lot of accordion. Toninho Ferragutti and Bebê Kramer are each masters of accordion, only from different traditions. That's the point. On their 2011 Como Manda o Figurino (Borandá, 2011), the duo skillfully merges an array of Brazilian styles—forró, choro, samba, folk music and more. While artists everywhere reach out across oceans and borders to diversify their music, Ferragutti and Kramer capitalize on the diversity within Brazil.

An immediate forró groove signified a sharp departure from the Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet. The audience responded in full—after all, forró is for all. A small instrumental group backed the Ferragutti and Kramer duo, at first playing a minimal supporting role. The spotlight was fixed on accordion; however, at times, the concert digressed into an accordion chops fest, especially when fellow accordionists Adelson Viana and Gabriel Levy joined in—it was just too much accordion. Though the "friends" factor added a twist, it came at the expense of Ferragutti and Kramer's beautiful duo playing. Finally, the accompaniment rested as Ferragutti and Kramer reanimated "Choro de Madrugada," an expressive song off Como Manda o Figurino. Finally, the music could breath.

"Choro de Madrugada" marked a turning point. The supporting ensemble joined accordion in the spotlight, and the group unified. Compositions sang with a fresh voice as clarinetist Alexandre Ribeiro took on melody lines. Percussionists Beto Angerosa and Amoy Ribas dug deep into their rhythmic palettes; one even unsheathed his didgeridoo as bassist Zé Alexandre Carvalho complemented in timbre by bowing. The finale, "Na Sombra da Asa Branca," fulfilled the potential of such an eclectic group. Unfortunately, as the finale neared its end, the group reconvened the accordion summit for one final tradeoff—a sensational finish, but again, a lot of accordion.


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