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Buenos Aires International Jazz Festival 2017

Mark Holston By

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Buenos Aires International Jazz Festival
Buenos Aires, Argentina
November 15-20, 2017

Mid November in Buenos Aires is a special time of the year. True to the meaning of the city's name, the air is crisp and fresh and blossoming jacaranda trees bathe the greater metropolitan area in a dazzling shower of purple hues. And, for lovers of jazz in all its forms, the annual Buenos Aires International Jazz Festival stages an extravagant six-day program of concerts, workshops and solo recitals that features 400 musicians at 18 far-flung venues. From ornate concert halls to unadorned neighborhood cultural centers and chic jazz clubs, aficionados are faced with a bewildering number of performance options.

Celebrating its 10th year, the festival serves as a showcase for native Argentine jazz talent while presenting an eclectic mix of top drawer artists from abroad. Adrián Iaies, the noted Buenos Aires-based jazz pianist and composer, is also the festival's artistic director. He stresses the collaborative nature of the event, taking every opportunity to present foreign and local artists on the same stage. He also challenges musicians to step outside of their comfort zones. For instance, to observe the 25th anniversary of the death of Astor Piazzolla, the country's revered tango nuevo composer and bandoneonista, Iaies commissioned Brazilian pianist André Mehmari to bring an outsider's point of view to Piazzolla's well known repertoire. A similar approach was employed for a Thelonious Monk tribute, which featured three Argentine pianists interpreting the composer from three disparate stylistic perspectives. The festival is, as accurately described in a headline in Clarin, one of the country's major daily newspapers, "A celebration of jazz in all styles."

Given that I'd attended the festival for the past several years, focusing on the event's showcase concerts and more celebrated artists, I decided to experience five nights of concerts in the same manner as the average Porteño (resident of Buenos Aires) by attending tightly scheduled 45-minute performances of domestic groups at an outdoor venue— the Parque Centenario amphitheater in the middle class suburb of Caballito. As close as I got to the centerpiece concerts, which were headlined by bassist Gary Peacock with drummer Joey Baron and pianist Marc Copland, was sharing a hotel elevator ride with pianist Matthew Shipp and attending a Sunday afternoon solo piano recital by Jacky Terrasson. More on that later.

In a city renowned for its parks and public spaces, Parque Centenario is special. The 25-acre expanse, surrounded by apartment buildings and restaurants and ringed by flea market-type commercial stalls, is a mecca for neighborhood residents. The centerpiece is a lagoon, home to a large colony of swans and ducks. On weekends, the park is filled with picnickers, joggers, young lovers, and families on an outing. One of the most important facilities is the 1700 seat Anfiteatro Eva Perón—an amphitheater originally constructed in 1951 and named in honor of Argentina's iconic first lady. Destroyed by a fire in 1959, it was rebuilt in 2009 and has since become one of the city's most important outdoor concert venues. Located far from the center of the city, where most visitors to Buenos Aires will stay, arriving in time to get a good seat for the opening set required a 45-minute cab ride—fortunately, not prohibitively expensive (and the concerts are free of cost).

Virtually all of the Parque Centenario concerts this season featured native talent; in some cases, groups from distant provinces who were appearing in Buenos Aires for the first time. The Tito Oliva Jazz Cordillerano (a reference to the country's Andean region), led by pianist and composer Oliva, hailed from the small city of San Juan. Featuring a bandoneon player, the unit explored the grandiose and passionate sentiments of the tango on some arrangements, rock fusion and "New Age" influences on others.

The Sergio Petravich Quartet, fronted by the renowned hard bop tenor saxophonist, provided a high voltage take on modern jazz styles, including "The Ultimate Samurai," the leader's searing tribute to the country's greatest tenor hero, Leandro "Gato" Barbieri.

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