The Gent Jazz Festival 2009
July 8-12, 16-19, 2009
Days 6-9 (July 16-19)
The second extended weekend of the Gent Jazz Festival is traditionally concerned with what might be called jazz peripherals, meaning music that might be electronic, poppy, rocky or countrified, but generally still possessing sympathetic elements that might entice the previous phase's crowd. The bonus is that the audience widens out into folks who might not usually attend a hardcore jazz sequence. Speaking of peripherals, the jazzfest itself is almost a peripheral to the mainline ten-day Gentse Feesten, which hauls its huge, sweaty ass into gear over this final weekend, rising (or descending?) into a maelstrom of city-wide artistic partying that demands a huge feat of stamina. A key element is the free riverside concert series organised by Polé Polé, Gent's long-established global music promoters. To coincide with this is the similarly lengthy 10 Days Off dance/electronica festival, held at the historic Vooruit arts centre.
Day 6 (July 16): Jamie Lidell/Briskey/DJ Squadra Bossa
What finer representative of the Belgian electronica scene could there be, other than the mysteriously- named Briskey, a be-titfered upholder of the ancient trip hop traditions. Yes, this cinematically washy genre might be presumed quite dated now, over a decade on, but Briskey only settles into this category because there doesn't seem to be another way to describe his heavily evocative soundscaping wash. Briskey (alias Gert Keunen) has been active for around ten years, continually altering his approach until arriving at the present incarnation of widescreen atmospherica. Briskey's strategic knob-triggering is only part of an extended live band that he's built up around a sampling core, featuring drums, bass, keys, cello and a horn section. Dorona Alberti navigates the torch singer zone, swelling with an almost operatic drama. Or maybe a sepia tango styling from the 1920s is her stylistic template.
Right down in the depths lies the staggeringly low belch of bass saxophonist Nicolas Roseeuw, delivering the killer quake blow-lines on several pieces. Another shocking surprise arrives during the Fender Rhodes solo given by a so-far quite restrained Sara Gilis. Suddenly, she issues great cranked-up sounds of scabrous disintegration, being Briskey's second secret weapon. Each tune travels implacably onwards, inevitably gathering its sensuous layers until all elements are colliding in either a soothing or sometimes seething climax.
The experimental extremities of England's Jamie Lidell are becoming increasingly covert. His early work was concerned with an extremely ruptured outbreak of laptoppery twitchiness, but Lidell was barely concealing a love of classic soul music, blessed with a sweetly acrobatic voice that could always offer him a career beyond glitch-sampling. Over the last few albums, that's the way he's journeyed, with the modern soul songs taking precedence over the electro-cavortings. Even in his live set, Lidell has now reduced the amount of real-time sample layering and mixer-desk mischief. This is not necessarily a problem, but maybe a necessity if he wants to keep a more mainstream audience within his grasp. There aren't many avant gardists who also happen to have the skills of a charismatic entertainer, forever torn between the two temptations. He's very assured and relaxed, garbed in what look like pajamas and flip-flops. Meanwhile, saxophonists Andre Vida does not disappoint fans of his trans-gender attire. His bearded lady image continues as normal, and he's still wearing his accustomed flowery summer dress.
Besides having an arresting image, Vida blows a mean horn (sometimes two at the same time), and rolls around impressively on the stagefloor. Lidell won't allow himself such indignity, preferring the cheerful soulboy demeanour of rehearsed casualness, a master of kicking and swinging his old-school microphone stand. The songs are taut, bouncing, rubberised and slinky, rooted in the Sam Cooke sound, but informed by modern electronica. Lidell could be accused of entering into the tired old festival pact with some of his overdone audience interaction schemes, but ultimately the spangled songs transcend any such repetitiveness. It's a shame, though, that Lidell now appears to have jettisoned all visible irony in his quest for being the ultimate entertainer.
DJs play every evening, in-between the live sets, but by far the best such session of the festival is provided by Squadra Bossa, a team-up between Buscemi and Livingstone. They benefit from a strong general attendance, and a night of warm weather, but their melange of supple Afro-Latin-Caribbean beats produces the first stirrings of actual dancing in the outdoor garden cafe area. Slinky percussion webs graduate into almost-drum'n'bass, dubstep and reggaeton pumpings, as the pair feed off the crowd's ascending attention.