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First, some words about the festival itself. This five day program would be impressive in any location but in a city of under 80,000 makes it even moreso. This is a totally free program sponsored by the City of Wilmington (Delaware)with support from eighteen businesses. This year's program included Lou Donaldson, Jazz Messengers alumni, Nnenna Freelon, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Alex Bugnon, Najee, Earl Klugh, Patti Austin and David Sanborn. After Saturday night's concert the festival promotes a "Jazz Loop," offering free trolley service to any of twenty venues for live jazz. How many cities, no matter how large, can offer such an experience? Just some added logistical notes: the festival is held in downtown Wilmington's Rodney Square, just off Rt. 95, not far from Philadelphia and about 90 minutes from Baltimore. For more information contact 1-888-3-CULTURE or www.ci.wilmington.de.us/cliff.html. Star Brazilian singer/composer/musician Ivan Lins led off the Sunday, June 13th program just after a drenching rain. Backed by a tight, excellent band of four (keyboards, acoustic guitars, bass, drums) and playing rhythm keyboard himself, Lins was a consumate entertainer. His set was greatly varied, including rousing anthems, at least half slower love songs, a "scot" from northeast Brazil which sounds like a cousin of reggae, and elements of jazz fusion running throughout. I love the way, especially on romantic songs, his chords dart into unexpected directions. At times the band's weaving of melodic lines and momentum-building seemed reminiscent of Weather Report. I'm no longer a big fan of fusion but applied to Lins' material it works. Ivan Lins always keeps it interesting, adding a trombone solo imitation, quotes from "Someday My Prince Will Come" tongue clicks, polyrhythms, even elements of hip-hop. Not a whole lot of solo work here but this department was handled beautifully by keyboardist Marco Brito. Lins himself was an excellent emcee. I appreciated his explanations of each song. His love of performing and appreciation for the audience really came across. Cubanismo! was next, with leader/trumpeter Jesus Alemany making it clear from the start that they were a dance band. For over an hour the 13-piece, Havana-based band heated up Rodney Square, with about a third of the crowd (somewhat tepid during Ivan Lins' set)dancing at any given time. In typical Afro-Cuban band fashion, singers danced and played percussion, trumpets went into the stratosphere, the bass was solid as a rock and the horn section played intricate lines throughout. Tight and hot! As with Lins'set, there was not much in the way of solo space, but during the fourth number (a cha-cha)there was some stretching out, with the pianist providing a real bravura performance, integrating numerous stylistic elements including Eddie Palmieri-like sounds. If Cubanismo's performance/reception today is any indication I think Afro-Cuban music, especially once relations with Cuba are normalized, will have a huge popularity in this country.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.