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Festival Jazz International Rotterdam 2018

Festival Jazz International Rotterdam 2018
Jakob Baekgaard By

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Festival Jazz International Rotterdam
October 26-28, 2018

As a jazz enthusiast strolling along the beautiful waterfront of Rotterdam, encountering the name Van Gelder almost seems too good to be true. Even though in this case, the name is found on a truck and refers to a corporation that sells fruit and not the famous jazz engineer Rudy van Gelder of Blue Note fame. However, Rotterdam is truly a jazz city, and this is underlined not only by the highly profiled North Sea Jazz Festival, but also by the Festival Jazz International Rotterdam.

Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands and its status as Europe's largest port with an ideal location by the North Sea has resulted in names such as Gateway to Europe and Gateway to the World. The openness of the city was also reflected by the program of this year's festival curated by Frank van Berkel. Whereas a big part of the attraction of North Sea Jazz Festival is to get a package deal to hear hot and established names that are already mainstays in the festival circuit, Festival Jazz International Rotterdam plays it less safe. A festival can be a pleasant way of confirming the familiar, but it can also lead to new roads and discoveries. This is what Festival Jazz International Rotterdam does.

The concerts all took place at LantarenVenster whose history as a place for dance, theater, movies and music goes back to 1949. It was originally located at Gouvernestraat, but in 2010 changed to its present location at Wilhelminapier. The dual identity as a place for cinema and music was also reflected in the program that both included concerts and two screenings of jazz related films: the classic sci-fi blaxploitation movie Space is the Place from 1974 starring Sun Ra and his Arkastra and a new Dutch biopic about the last days of trumpeter Chet Baker called My Foolish Heart.

The overall theme of the festival was the voice and it was a suitable umbrella to explore different aspects of the human voice as expressed through vocal cords and instruments. Instead of feeling forced, the theme functioned as a lens that illuminated the many ways the musical voice can be used. However, even though Mischa Andriessen's fine article about the voice found in the festival program pointed out the link between jazz and the quest for the personal voice, the emphasis was not on the pure solo voice, not a single solo recitation was found in the program, but rather the interplay between voices in smaller or larger groups ranging from intimate duos to elaborate orchestras.

Voices of Protest

One of the ways in which the voice expressed itself at the festival was in songs of protest. Such songs can come in many shapes and forms and the protest songs at the festival were subtler than the typical political song. Instead it was about providing a new perspective that could give food for thought. Romanian singer Suzana Lascu, who opened the festival, questioned the norms of society in a song like "Just let the woman be sad" with the line "don't force woman to smile." The music was seeking to expand established genres and a song introduced as a ballad did not fit the conventions of the form. Lascu and her band, Crusaders vs. Hurricanes, created an expression somewhere between jazz, pop and art-rock. Especially the expressive playing of guitarist Jorrit Westerhof contributed to the energy as his hair was swirling around during a guitar solo.

The Norwegian trio, Gurls, also challenged clichés and conventions and swept the audience away with their minimalistic soulful jazz pop. They supplemented each other perfectly. Rohey Taalah as the charismatic singer, Hanna Paulsberg with her elegant ornaments on the saxophone and tight funky playing, and bassist Ellen Andrea Wang with her breathy background vocals and superb groove. Their song "Syngedame" (singing lady) turned the male clichés of the pop world around with lyrics that told of the girls cruising around in a car and experiencing screaming boys at their concerts. In fact, they did bring one of the boys, drummer Elias Taffjord, for some of the concert and he fitted the sound perfectly, but it was the three girls that commanded the stage with presence, storytelling, sophisticated playing and pure girl power.

As opposed to Suzana Lascu and Gurls, the sound of Vera van Der Pool Band was following the pattern of the classic singer/songwriter, but the use of upright bass was a refreshing touch. Guest trumpeter Jan van Duikeren also added a solid dose of jazz atmosphere to a sound related to the eclectic Americana aesthetic found on Anthem (2018), the latest album by Madeleine Peyroux.


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