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Gent Jazz Festival: Days 1-4: July 5-8, 2012

Gent Jazz Festival: Days 1-4: July 5-8, 2012
Martin Longley By

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Gent Jazz Festival
Bijloke
Gent, Belgium
July 5-8, 2012

All parts of northern Europe had already been suffering an intense rainfall throughout the month of June. There was no abating once July was in swing. The forecast was pretty much for a daily downpour, and for once the predictions came true, sadly. This was ultimately no problem when viewing each performance, as the stage was curled under a huge tented space. The main disadvantage lay with the surrounding bar, food and general hanging-out areas, where folks were frequently forced to huddle undercover. This tended to inhibit the usual summer fun festival behavior, particularly regarding the DJ sets in-between each live act. We can always expect a few downpours in Belgium, but this was a very bad year for its weather. That aside, the music beamed out its own warming energies, and the lineup was as exciting as ever.
July 5: Paco De Lucia / The Miguel Zenón Quartet
Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon focused on material from his most recent album, Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook (Marsalis Music, 2011). He was joined by regular quartet members Luis Perdomo (piano), Hans Glawischnig (bass) and fellow Puerto Rican Henry Cole (drums). These classic—though obscure to many—tunes were reinterpreted in an extended, improvisatory fashion, maintaining their popular melodies while flitting off into a deeper exploration. The most well-known tune to most would be "Silencio," by Rafael Hernández. Here, playing in front of thousands, this was the kind of combo that might be found down at New York City's Smalls club in front of mere dozens. The mushrooming from such accustomed intimacy wasn't entirely successful. By the time Zenón's 70-minute set had finished, he was just beginning to burn. Cole provided detailed embellishments as he stoked and stroked his entire kit, Perdomo made elaborate romantic flourishes, and the leader's sensitively tart phrases were filled with notes curtailed, or elided into their neighbors. Okay, so they won an encore, but it was almost undeserved, given the mostly cool levels of expression and excitement. The quartet was solidly built, yet rarely rose above the pedestrian.

The fervent lust to see rightfully revered Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia up close was palpable. So palpable that it invaded the physical realms. The tent was filled to capacity, and folks blocked up the aisles, vainly searching for stray seats. Push metamorphosed into shove, and the general atmosphere was anything but conducive to the concentrated calm required to hear De Lucia's often introspective music.

As he opened what was to be a two-hour set with a solo guitar piece, it was a challenge to home in on the delicate expression, as the masses were still jostling for their positions. After about 20 minutes, matters leveled off, the movement and talking subsiding and the audience ready for the intense journey to come. Looking faintly grizzled, with his straggly long locks trailing back over his collar, De Lucia maintained the intent gaze of a much younger man. He was a charismatic individual, exuding the aura of artistic profundity. The stage was flanked by two large screens during the festival, and these would often be an aid to comprehension rather than an annoying distraction. The close-ups of De Lucia's visage revealed peepers that were constantly alert to the actions of his band mates, each reaction and instruction clearly revealed.

The uncompromising set offered few of the so-called entertainment tactics that can usually dilute a hardcore flamenco experience. With two singers, who periodically turned into palmas practitioners when a twilight non-vocal role was required, a percussionist/cajon-player (Piraña) and a staggeringly clack-heeled dancer (Farruco), there was no shortage of dynamic alternatives to the gratifyingly frequent guitar soloing episodes. This was also the first time witnessing harmonica as part of a flamenco ensemble, with keyboardist Antonio Serrano switching to mouth-harp for an impressive degree of group phrases, as well as lonesome statements. Singer Duquende was a key contributor to the evening's passion levels. The show's pacing was such that each member eventually came under the spotlight, or there were sub-sections featuring various group permutations.

July 6: Jim Hall & Scott Colley / The Brad Mehldau Trio / Gretchen Parlato / Ifa y Xango

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