Jazzablanca Festival 2013: Casablanca, Morocco, March 30 - April 4, 2013

Jazzablanca Festival 2013: Casablanca, Morocco, March 30 - April 4, 2013
Mehdi El Mouden By

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Jazzablanca Festival 2013
Casablanca, Morocco
March 30—April 4,2013
A chronological scan through the list of artists who have played in jazzablanca Festival for the last seven years reveals a strong wish to improve and position the event as a leading jazz festival in Morocco, beside Tanjazz in Tangiers and jazz au Chellah in Rabat. Indeed, each year has been marked by the appearance of a great jazz figure: guitarist Al Di Meola, guitarist/vocalist Keziah Jones, pianist/singer Peter Cincotti, pianist Chick Corea and bassist Marcus Miller. However for its 8th annual edition, the new production team was able to assemble a strong lineup of highly distinguished stars: the retiring Dani Klein (Vaya Con Dios), rising singing star Melody Gardot, accomplished composer/pianist/arranger Chucho Valdes, klezmer jazz/funk band Abraham Inc, and avant-garde oudists Dhafer Youssef and Karim Kadiri (M'oud Swing).

Meanwhile, off events were programmed downtown in one hotel and five restaurants converted into jazz clubs, in addition to jazz workshops for young students organized at the FOL (Fédération des Oeuvres Laiques). The objective was to transform Casablanca into a booming centre for jazz during the days of the festival.

The main concerts took place in the Hippodrome (racecourse) of Anfa. Characterized mostly by green spaces and a beautiful view over Anfa's golf course, the Hippodrome offered a relief to the audience, alongside a VIP space, dedicated to cocktails and concert preludes.

On Friday evening, April 30, Melody Gardot opened the festival. The audience knew beforehand that you do not necessarily need to be a jazz specialist to like Gardot's music, and was rather ready for the show and the musical voyage upon which Gardot was about to take them. Starting in Brazil with "Mira," Gardot mashed up fast rhythm with Samba influences. Up to Capo Verde, she "kissed the sky for Cesaria Evora" with a rhythmic rendition of "Sodade," then northwest to Paris with "Les Etoiles," played essentially with Manouche style guitar strings. Still with guitar, but in a flamenco fashion, Gardot moved south to Spain with "So We Meet Again My Heartache," then back to Brazil, closing the concert with "Lemanja." Gardot encored with an intimate version of "Over the Rainbow," accompanied by Stephan Braun, who grappled his cello like a guitar to release some smooth sounds.

On the second day, another female voice reverberated throughout Anfa's complex: Dani Klein. At the age of 60, Klein is still heading Vaya Con Dios with the same heated passion, though she confessed that this world tour is the last before her retirement. Overbooked, the concert promised amazing feedback from the audience; and indeed dancing, clapping, and singing all throughout the concert was part of the show. Vaya Con Dios' songs were all classics along with which the audience was ready to sing along. "Johnny," "Puerto Rico," "Just a Friend of Mine," "Je T'aime, Je T'aime..." and the final tune, "Nah Neh Nah," for which Klein asked the audience "to go crazy" and which was considered, by general consensus, to be one of the biggest highlights of this year's festival.

April 1 was by far a different date for jazz aficionados. Singer/oudist Dhafer Youssef was expected to play and sing a worldly jazz, yet one which combined oriental sufi airs with rock beats. His bliss-manifesting voice offered the audience another perspective on avant-garde jazz, where ascending music accompanied by climatic solos sounded like a mystic voyage. Youssef played mostly titles from Abu Nawas Rhapsody (Jazzland, 2010), specifically "Les Ondes Orientales," "Sura," "Ode Suite Profane," and "Khamriyyat Abu Nawass." The audience couldn't help but applaud Youssef's songs through an unconditional frenzy, spurred by the electric and very harsh playing of the skilled musicians accompanying Youssef: drummer Chander Sardjoe, double bassist Phil Donkin, and pianist Kristjan Randalu. For the pleasure of the audience, Youssef encored with "Ode poetry" from the album Divine Shadows (Jazzland, 2006).


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