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Gent Jazz Festival 2010: Days 6-9

Martin Longley By

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Days 1-5 | Days 6-9
The Gent Jazz Festival
Bijloke
Gent, Belgium

July 15-18, 2010

It's now customary to expect the biggest players in the jazz universe to alight each night at the Gent Jazzfest. This massively historic Belgian city provides a beautiful setting for the music, with its Bijloke site situated just outside the main centre, in a universe of its own making. The large marquee set-up is now an established success, oscillating between seated rows for the first week's hardcore jazz sequence, and then converting to a standing dancefloor scenario for the second week's concentration on the peripheries of jazz. This year, that meant Brazilian music, Portuguese fado, jazztronica, soul-poetics and blues-rock bombast. Each night, the area surrounding the main marquee sprawls outwards with bars and food stalls, the imbibers and grazers entertained by a series of mood-enhancing DJs. Humid heat pervaded, with a downpour descending on only one night. Better to be damp with sweat secretions than chemical rain, surely? [read our July 7-11 report]

July 15: Gilberto Gil/Mariza/Cibelle

Just as Norah Jones played to a standing crowd during the normally seated first week of the festival, this first night of its second phase once again switched the rules. A night of Portuguese centred music mostly demanded that the chairs remained. The marquee would only become an all-standing zone on the following night. The evening benefited from a masterstroke of sympathetic programming, uniting artists from Brazil and Portugal, although the opening Cibelle chose to sing mostly in English.

Originally from São Paulo, Cibelle now lives in London. She's signed to the very diverse Crammed Records, of Brussels. The singer's onstage attitude, and the make-up of her band, certainly suggest an English glam-pop lineage. Surely, Cibelle must be partially influenced by Goldfrapp. It's always welcome to view a band who pay attention to sculpting their stage environment. Cibelle had overseen the complete draping of all instruments and microphone stands with brightly-hued, spangled fabrics, with glittery tendrils winding around any available limb. She aims to transform her space into an alternate environment of exotic colour and texture. This is also her primary desire when creating a songworld.

It's a shame that following all of this effort with set and garb that the actual music fell short of its intended mystery, depth, campness and confrontational drama. This was only half Cibelle's fault. Somehow, the daytime marquee setting just wasn't conducive to the fulfillment of her atmospheric requirements. She'd be happier in a club, after midnight. The set concentrated on the latest album, Las Vênus Resort Palace Hotel. Its contents were virtually replicated, like the concept album it is: an alternative cabaret that is rocky, poppy, breathy, electroid and kitschy.

Cibelle's voice is well-modulated, but sometimes a touch too strident, and lacking variation. She combines a modelling sophistication with earthy antics designed to subvert her own teetering dignity. Cibelle likes to rock. She also enjoys a hearty laugh. The aura aimed for is quite clear, but the desired showy confrontation eventually eludes her clutches. The result was a failed intensity, which was a great shame. The special Gent crowd vibration wasn't there, but it was to appear soon enough when Mariza swept across the stage.

This Portuguese fado singer operates a different kind of poise (well, strictly speaking, Mariza was born in the old colony of Mozambique, but she grew up in Lisbon). Her dignity is not opposed to humour, but her quips come from a more old-fashioned place. Mariza's persona involves a constant display of her mastery as a virtuoso vocalist, charismatic entertainer and dedicated interpreter of a song-form that is the essence of old-time Lisbon culture. Her striking physical appearance and innate gracefulness project this musical message to the furthest corners of any concert hall. She has an almost unearthly presence, dark skirts lending a sweeping motion to her stage navigations. Unlike Cibelle, on this particular night, Mariza is the epitome of large-scale emoting, of grandiose gestures that convince each member of the audience that she's singing to them alone.

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