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BRIC JazzFest 2016

Peter Jurew By

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BRIC JazzFest
BRIC House
Brooklyn, NY
October 8-15, 2016

After a successful debut in 2015, the BRIC JazzFest returned to the BRIC House in downtown Brooklyn, New York, this year with two nights of jazz-related films and a music "marathon" of twenty-seven acts spread evenly over three nights. The biggest names included David Murray and his Infinity Quartet; alto saxophonist Terrace Martin; eclectic guitarist Marc Ribot with the bassist Henry Grimes; Eddie Palmieri with his Latin Jazz Septet; and vocalist Lisa Fischer, one of the stars of the Academy Award-winning documentary, "20 Feet From Stardom." The film series featured four acclaimed jazz-related documentaries, including Stephen Kijak and Paul Marchand's, Jaco (2015), Jean Bach's A Great Day In Harlem (1994), Bert Stern's Jazz On A Summer's Day (1959), and Charlotte Zwerin's Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (1994). While the talent at the top of the JazzFest program each night was tremendous, as Nate Chinen reported in the New York Times, the festival "undercard" also featured compelling music—three exciting acts that played Friday night are especially worthy of attention.

The roots of jazz are African-American, but several generations of cross-cultural growth has fueled both the popularity and talent base of this protean art form across the globe. As many different styles have emerged, Brooklyn, the revitalized and highly diverse borough of New York, would seem a perfect place to showcase rising international jazz artists. And so it turned out to be.

British/Nigerian vocalist, bassist and composer Michael Olatuja and his band, Lagos Pepper Soup, create an eclectic blend of jazzy pop rooted in a broad fusion of sounds, from early Return to Forever through the Afro-jazz-funk of Fela Kuti. If that sounds impossible, the set of music Olatuja and company performed at BRIC House would dispel disbelief. Having contributed his talent to albums by the likes of Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan, the virtuoso Olatunja has built up plenty of cred; having musical associates whose resumes include time with Wayne Shorter and Art Blakey, he's had plenty of help. At BRIC, beaming as he sang, Olatunja was all himself: a jaw-dropping, culture-crossing, genre-bending delight.

The exuberant Argentine vocalist and songwriter Sofia Rei came to Brooklyn ready to work hard to entertain, and rock her audience she did. A dynamo of energy backed by a six piece electric band, she sang Argentine and Brazilian tunes that expressed joy and communion. At one point, the decision to treat her strong vocals with electronic echo effects went awry, resulting in feedback—unfortunately, what may have seemed a good idea was unnecessary for such a strong performer. But the glitch did not otherwise deter Ms. Rei and her band from performing a passionate, powerful set, whether singing in Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese.

From Havana, Cuba, the young, super-talented pianist and composer Harold Lopez-Nussa composes and plays thrilling music in a trio that features his equally young and talented brother Ruy A Lopez Nussa on drums and Senegalese vocalist and bassist, Alune Wade. The group's set in the BRIC House acoustic artist studio showcased tunes from their recent CD release, El Viaje—punchy Afro-Cubano rhythms, sensational jazz piano, and sweet West African-style singing coming together in a tasty cross-cultural stew. While the album has been released under Harold Lopez-Nussa's name, this trio is a strong, complementary working band with powerful contributions by Ruy Lopez-Nussa on drums and Wade on vocals and bass that take Harold Lopez-Nussa's compositions to spectacular heights. At BRIC, they presented a thrilling set to a packed room.

The success of the BRIC JazzFest, which is curated by executive producer Jack Walsh, Diane Eber and Brice Rosenbloom, may soon cause it to outgrow its current comfortable home in the BRIC House. With an ambitious program packed with so many different styles of music—from jazz to funk to hip hop to acid house to Latin jazz—by artists from around the country, and the world, eager to play before the smart, sophisticated Brooklyn audience, and with relatively few venues in the borough to showcase the music in a festival setting, the BRIC JazzFest producers may soon discover they have a monster success on their hands that could create a scenario of too much demand and too little space. We'll see; for now, jazz lovers in the community and in the City at large should celebrate this exciting addition to the ongoing Brooklyn cultural renaissance.

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