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Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival: Curacao, August 31-September 1, 2012

Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival: Curacao, August 31-September 1, 2012
R.J. DeLuke By

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Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival
World Trade Center
Curacao
August 31-September 1

The Caribbean island of Curacao can claim, after three years, that its jazz festival is a success. It sells out tickets and brings people to the island, which depends so heavily on tourism. More music lovers should look into the festival, as much for its exotic ambiance as for the opportunity to see jazz, pop and R&B stars in a welcoming venue.

The event is produced by the same folks who run the amazing North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Curacao is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, hence the connection, and the North Sea name being kept for branding purposes. Over two nights, on three stages, people enjoy some fine music, even though it's far from a true "jazz" festival. There's always a lot of Latino flavoring in the acts and has as much pop and R&B as it does the art form of jazz. In the daytime hours, the incredible beauty of the beaches, the land, the attractions—even the people—can be relished. Hotels are lavish, the food varied, interesting and good.

In 2012, jazz fans could be satisfied with James Farm, the excellent cooperative band comprised of saxophonist Joshua Redman, bassist Matt Penman, drummer Eric Harland and pianist Aaron Parks. The group went straight to the heart of jazz, as did the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. The wonderfully soulful India.Arie was a special artist, though not jazz. Pianist Joe Sample's trio straddled the line between jazz and pop, playing some straight-ahead stuff and accompanying singer Randy Crawford, who covered a variety of styles including pop and soul and some jazzy selections.

Guitar burner Carlos Santana provided enough fire for any music fan, while keeping fans of his popular side pleased as well. Clarinetist/saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera knocked people out with his musicianship and also his sense of humor during his banter with the audience—in two languages. Performers like Ruben Blades, Luis Salinas, Sergio George and Marc Anthony are wildly popular in the Caribbean, so a lot of the schedule was dedicated to that kind of music, which included salsa, Latin jazz and other influences, strongly injected with a barrage of varied rhythms. Stuff that moves the feet, for sure.

Also there was Allen Toussaint, the pianist/songwriter from New Orleans, where he is an R&B and blues icon. His first step was a rendition of "There's a Party Goin' On." There was, but this party wasn't R&B hits. In the band was saxophonist/clarinetist Don Braden and guitarist Marc Ribot, in addition to a rhythm section. Braden, a player with few peers, blew sharp, bluesy choruses over tunes that touched, at times, on bouncing pop, but more often than not were the blues. Ribot, for his part, played an old-looking acoustic and made it moan. Hunched over the guitar, holding it like it was his favorite child, Ribot's solo lines were scorching, each note ringing out clear and strong. Like Buddy Guy on those rare occasions when he picks up an acoustic guitar.

The band covered tunes like "St. James Infirmary" "Summertime" and "Blues in the Night," sometimes segueing one into another. Toussaint compositions were sprinkled in during a very pleasing and inspired show.

A special treat was the appearance of Joshua Redman, who came in from the wings to play a duet with Toussaint, "Day Dream." It was touching. Redman doesn't play many standard ballads, what with his searching and groundbreaking work with other bands. But what a reminder of how rich and expressive his tenor can be, with a sensual sound that touches people. Like his dad, the late Dewey Redman, could do. Delicious.

Toussaint, dressed in pants the color of the Blue Curacao liqueur, played the piano as hip and cool as ever. He's influenced many cats over the years and it was a pleasure to hear him still at it and strong in his seventies.

Santana's band was as high powered as ever. Plenty of rhythms crossing and driving the music, and two horns to accentuate various musical passages. The first part of his long set included covering some of his radio hits from years gone by, and some newer ones that younger people know. In some respects, it was Santana as entertainer, not as artist. That's his right. He has both qualities. But as the night wore on, he shifted gears and gave music lovers the right dose of his signature moaning, expressive voice on guitar. "Europa" was bliss, as he wrung all the emotion out of the well-known melody, but the arrangement then changed—refreshingly—to a more rhythmic style before coming back around.

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