With lightning flashing out at sea, Bill Bruford's Earthworks kicked up a storm all of their own on day one.
Hua Hin Jazz Festival 2006 Hua Hin, Thailand June 2-4, 2006
Hua Hin locals could probably blame King Rama VII for setting in motion spiralling real estate prices, when he built a summer palace here in 1928, a trend continued today by an armada of well-off Europeans. And whilst Europeans were not in short supply at the third annual Hua Hin jazz festival, the predominantly Thai line-up of bands drew large numbers of locals who enjoyed three days of free music, fresh seafood and copious amounts of beer on the beach between two stages. With lightning flashing out at sea, Bill Bruford's Earthworks kicked up a storm all of their own on day one. Twenty years into their remarkable journey, Earthworks are in rude health. Bruford has changed his electronic kit for a conventional one in recent years and the result is an earthier sound with more swing. A set which highlighted songs from two decades of recordings gave brilliant young pianist Gwilym Simcock and sax man Tim Garland plenty of room to stretch out. Garland was in particularly fine form, whether on tenor, flute or bass clarinet, from which he coaxed gorgeous sounds during "Bajo del Sol." The crowd loved it. The presence of Earthworks was down to the efforts of promotor Mark Bolam of Enlightened Planet - a Don Quijote who has made it his mission to bring jazz and roots music to Southeast Asia. Mikkel Nordoso's fusion band from Denmark are heavily influenced by Santana and Weather Report, and their guitar-led, percussion-driven sound earned them a standing ovation. Day one was brought to a rousing conclusion by Cuban Lazaro Valdes, a piano veteran of the Benny More band of the '50s. It seems that there is a never-ending supply of venerable Cuban musicians in their eighth and ninth decades. Good thing too.
Saturday brought the crowds in who really crammed the beach. Some perched on rocks in the sea, and when the rocks ran out they simply stood in the sea to be treated to the cream of Bangkok's jazz scene. The Bamboo Bar jazz Quintet played a lovely version of Coltane's "Naima"; T-Bone, who some readers may have seen at Glastonbury last year, or at the tsunami fund-raiser in London, brought the crowd to their feet with their infectious ska-jazz; and guitarist Proad Tanapat, a Berklee College graduate, mixed his own strong compositions with a couple of Pat Metheny covers.
The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the Danish trio Ibrahim Electric. Jeppe Tuxen's Hammond unleashed keyboards, Stefan Pasborg's blistering drums and Niclas Knusden's jazzy guitar lines conjured up imagery of Jimmy McGriff meeting the Jimi Hendrix Experience. They were joined on stage by Canadian saxophonist Michael Blake, who raced down from his set on the other stage through the sea on horseback! Memories of Roland Kirk were stirred when Blake played two saxophones simultaneously. Bare-back riding and saxophone juggling - should Michael Blake ever tire of jazz there's always the circus. Heady stuff.
The final day was something of an anti-climax. As on the previous two days ,the final day started with up and coming young Thai jazz talent. This was followed by saccharine Thai pop which the crowd lapped up, and finished with yet another Dane, singer Marlene Mortenson. A fine voice and backing band won the crowd over, but where was the encore? Just as she was exiting the stage to whoops and yells the MC bounded on and talked everybody into submission.
The current King of Thailand (jazz enthusiast, saxophonist and composer who once jammed with Benny Goodman) still vacations in the palace and may well have been listening. He probably wouldn't have approved of such an ending, but of the festival as a whole? Most definitely yes.