All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

516

Fes Jazz Festival: Introducing Swinging Sounds to Moroccans

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Fes Jazz Festival 2008
Fes, Morocco
November 14-16
For various reasons, Fes, Morocco isn't the most obvious place to stage a jazz festival. Unlike Moroccan cities like Tangier, Casablanca and Marrakech, Fes' charms are more ancient than modern or cosmopolitan, as any traveler will discover by visiting the bazaar section of Fes el Bali, one of the oldest portions of the city. There, amid the merchants that line the medina's labyrinthine alleyways, donkeys are still among the key ways to transport assorted goods. Swinging sounds are virtually nonexistent if the music coming from local boomboxes is any indication. Generally, traditional Arabic and Gnawa music vies with its modern, supercharged incarnations, much of which is more emulative of beat-conscious Western dance music than bop.

All of this could be why the annual Fes Jazz Festival, a five-year old mini-event that took place November 14th-16th, seemed a bit like a happening hidden in plain sight. That's not to say that the festival's marquee concerts were not well-attended; this year, crowds came to hear Randy Weston's African Rhythms Quintet, Anouar Brahem's Astrakan Cafe Trio, Mike Mainieri's Steps Ahead and the Puerto Rico- based outfit Plena Libre. The billboards at various intersections in Fes Jdid, the bustling modern section of the city, are a signification of the pride its organizers take in the event, but it's instantly apparent that the evening concerts are programmed for tourists and the local (and, honestly, French-speaking) elite. For any student or scholar of jazz history in surreptitious basements and after-hours speakeasies, there's something both familiar and strange about entering the concert space in the Riad Mnehbi, a converted open-air townhouse replete with floor-to-ceiling mosaic tiles and a non-working fountain.

It's safe to say that Fes is growing accustomed to going about its business as foreigners descend to hear music from around the world. The Nice-based Frenchman who books the festival, Gerard Kurdjian, is also the brains behind the much more extensive Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. The program booklet gives its subtitle as "The best of Northern and Southern Jazz" (as in hemispheres), even though, varied as it is, the fest includes no band that hails from below the equator. Nonetheless, the variety is astonishing for a city that doesn't see an overwhelming amount of world-class jazz.

Perhaps it's fitting that Randy Weston got things underway. At 82, the stately, Brooklyn-bred pianist is well-known throughout Morocco, owing to the fact that he was settled there from 1968-73 and still considers the country his home away from home. He's given concerts in the States that featured his band augmented by a troupe of master musicians from Morocco's Gnawa people, but in Fes, Weston performed a rousing set of Afro-blues with his longstanding quintet (T.K. Blue, reeds; Benny Powell, trombone; Alex Blake, bass; Neil Clarke, percussion). Given this lineup's two-plus decades together, its cohesion should surprise no one, but it is Weston's ringing piano clusters that always manage to impress. He spoke to the crowd in marvelous French, dedicating his famed piece "African Sunrise" to newly-elected president Barack Obama.

The jazz idiom's ability to stretch would be on display for the rest of the weekend event. The oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem, an actual native of neighboring Tunisia, offered a set that was ideally suited to the Francophone Arab world. One could imagine that the Riad Mnehbi had been host to musicians wielding his classic 11-string lute for hundreds of years, artists who referred to the process of improvisation by its local title, taqsim. Brahem's famed Astrakan Cafe Trio is clearly mined for maximum Mediterranean impact. Turkish clarinetist Barbaros Erkose's lines alternate between maintaining close harmonies with Brahem or snaking around the oud player's sprinting plucked figures. Percussionist Khaled Yassine's rhythms on the bendir, a frame drum, also served a dual function: They were rollicking enough to give the music momentum (some in the crowd collectively gasped when the music shifted gears) while also maintaining its meditative qualities. The audience couldn't get enough encores.

Kurdjian staged a coup by tapping bassist Gary Nunez' 11-piece ensemble Plena Libre to close out the festival on Sunday afternoon. The location shifted to the garden of the Batha Museum. One of the organizers commented that it was a bit ambitious placing a makeshift, red carpeted dance floor in the gulf between the stage and the rows of chairs, despite Plena Libre's fleet mix of Latin jazz and folkish rhythms like Puerto Rican bomba and plena, Cuban rumba and Colombian cumbia. "Audiences here are spectators," opined the organizer. "They don't participate."

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Read Enjoy Jazz 2018 Live Reviews
Enjoy Jazz 2018
by Henning Bolte
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Jazz for all Ages Live Reviews
Jazz for all Ages
by Martin McFie
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Baku Jazz Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Baku Jazz Festival 2018
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 13, 2018
Read Joanna Pascale at Chris' Jazz Cafe Live Reviews
Joanna Pascale at Chris' Jazz Cafe
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: November 13, 2018
Read Moldejazz 2018 Live Reviews
Moldejazz 2018
by Martin Longley
Published: November 10, 2018
Read Nik Bärtsch's Ronin At The Bop Stop Live Reviews
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin At The Bop Stop
by Matt Hooke
Published: November 10, 2018
Read "Flow Festival 2018" Live Reviews Flow Festival 2018
by Anthony Shaw
Published: August 14, 2018
Read "Big Ears Festival 2018" Live Reviews Big Ears Festival 2018
by Mark Sullivan
Published: April 13, 2018
Read "Pablo Ziegler Latin Jazz Trio at Sha Tin Town Hall" Live Reviews Pablo Ziegler Latin Jazz Trio at Sha Tin Town Hall
by Rob Garratt
Published: October 22, 2018
Read "Henry Threadgill at Tilton Gallery" Live Reviews Henry Threadgill at Tilton Gallery
by Kurt Gottschalk
Published: December 10, 2017