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Buenos Aires International Jazz Festival 2017

Mark Holston By

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Another visiting ensemble, the Córdoba Jazz Orchestra from Argentina's second largest city, has been in existence for a little over a decade. It was established to provide Córdoba-based jazz musicians, composers and arrangers an opportunity to exercise their talents. A traditional big band format with added percussion, guitar and vibraphone, the group featured highly technical ensemble playing and dramatic chords. Its arrangement of Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" spotlighted cascading brass lines and dancing flutes. Of note: The entire five-person trombone section was all female. The band concluded its set with a composition and arrangement by bassist Pedro Giraudo, a Córdoba native noted for his success in New York with his big band and several critically-acclaimed recordings on the Zoho label.

Nolew, a collaborative featuring well known Buenos Aires guitarist Ricardo Lew and pianist Ricardo Nolé, proved that even a duo could capture and hold the attention of the Parque Centenario audience. Easy flowing and virtuosic performances touched on such regional styles as Brazilian modes and candombe, the rhythmically vibrant idiom created centuries ago by African slaves in neighboring Uruguay.

The other end of the stylistic continuum was offered in the next set featuring pianist Manuel Fraga and vocalist Helena Cullen. The loquacious Fraga, one of the city's most celebrated pianists, crafted an intimate set filled with banter and a program that evoked an evening of cabaret jazz in a stylish club. His solo interpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "How Insensitive" was technically ravishing. Singer Cullen, regarded for her jazz chops and affinity for Brazilian bossa nova, provided stylistic adept versions—in English—of such standards as "Summertime," "My Funny Valentine" and "Get Out of Town." Another unit from the country's interior, the Tucumán-based Melina Imhoff and Julio Goytia Quartet featured the vocalist and guitarist in a set of jazz standards. Imhoff boasts a Stacy Kent-style tonality but a fierier delivery, as she demonstrated on tunes like "Body and Soul," "Cry Me a River," and "Speak Low." Goytia and his rhythm team provided sympathetic backing, and the guitarist added whistling to his improvisational repertoire.

A flashy change of pace was offered by the Bluesbrass Kings, a nine-piece band featuring guitarist and vocalist Maximiliano Hracek and a five-member horn section providing occasional solos and tight, brassy accents. Sporting a set list that included hits by B.B. King and Fats Domino, the group wrapped up its raucous set with a crowd-pleasing arrangement of the 1940s Louis Jordan swing hit "Caldonia."

The Jazz Meeting Crew brought mainstream jazz back to the fore with a hard bop-centered set. Fronted by alto saxophonist Federico Alvarez, the quartet coasted through a polished set of standards like "What is this Thing Called Love" and "April in Paris." The reedman has a commanding knowledge of such alto stalwarts as Phil Woods and Charlie Parker and displayed a biting, urgent attack.

The trio of pianist Nicolás Boccanera proved to be a festival revelation. Featuring Colombia native Diana Arias on double bass and drummer Federico Isasti, the formation masterfully combined unconventional forms with frenetic, rock-like rhythmic energy and the spirit of free jazz and contemporary classical styles.

Another group that provided a different slant on the tradition was the 13-member Sotavento Big Band. In addition to a standard rhythm section, the group featured only woodwinds—five tenor saxophones, two clarinets and one alto. This unique combination of sonorities was employed to perform jazz-oriented version of traditional and modern tango.

The Parque Centenario audience proved to be unerringly supportive of the performances, regardless of style. The level of audience enthusiasm was exemplified by a dedicated group of swing dancers, who swayed to anything remotely associated with classic swing music. When Swing '39, a quartet featuring bass, clarinet and two guitars that's dedicated to the Django Reinhardt era, took to the stage, the hipsters were prepared, rolling out a large swath of linoleum to make the impromptu dance floor more welcoming. And swing they did.

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