It's always a joy arriving in Barbados, a place that has become infinitely familiar and whose people welcome us as family. Years past, the view from the side window of the airplane exposed terrain dried from uncompromising sunshine, at other times, as is the case at present, incessant rain. Fortunately, the opening concert at the Sunbury Plantation was spared interruption.
Local hero, pianist Adrian Clarke led with his crack band featuring saxophonist Andre Woodvine on tenor, Nicholas Brankcer bass plus steel pans and drums offering everyone a taste of mainstream jazz laced with island rhythms. The hour and half long set allowed everyone time to socialize and savour the local cuisine. The spectacular setting was immacuately decorated and lit for effect. Star attraction, Gato Barbieri proved to be more than a handful. From the moment of his arrival there was a sense the hot-bloodied Brazilian would implode.
Gato Barbieri began by scolding the soundmen then chastising the imported film crew for documenting his concert. He then began to play somewhere between lost and found. Within the structure of the song, the support band landed in differing zones causing Barbieri to stop and admonish sidemen. This went on a few times before Barbieri settled into the brash playing he's known for. At moments the set seemed eerily like a skit from Comedy Central. In the end the crowd reacted indifferent to his antics. Barbieri is unique in that he plays few notes and dynamics are mostly absent. Somehow he hits a universal chord with followers. Fortunately, the set ended without further mishap. "Europa", the expected encore never materialized. This was most welcomed.
The press conference following the concert was another affair one that will eventually make it into a collection of favourite road stories. Tuesday morning deep-blue pierced the overcast sky as temperatures rose to humid strength - great day to toil under the lush overgrowth and walk the streets of Bridgetown. Jazz broadcaster/musician Walle Larrson was up for a trip in a mini van along the coastline with yours truly. For those who have never experienced the tropical flavours and hospitality - this is a must. The sublime taste of a local banana is enough to overwhelm the senses.
Two days in a row the Barbados Jazz Festival was spared torrential downpours. The night air was ripe with the scent of sweet grass and mature sugar cane surrounding Heritage Park/The Rum Factory in St.Philip - the featured venue.
Local singers Janelle Headley and Tamara Marshall had the evening to themselves. Both seized the opportunity and gave crowds what they had been waiting for - first rate vocalese and classy entertainment. Headley, younger of the two, looked spectacular in her chosen attire - most appropriate for the high-end occasion. Headley's choice of material ranged from traditional standards to jazz songs - "Afro Blue" - to soft romantic rhythm and blues. Confidence was never a factor. The crowd was on her side throughout. There were moments of wavering pitch that eventually found steady ground when connecting with the solid backing unit.
Tamara Marshall entered the stage as a seasoned professional having spent most her life in front of audiences. In fact, Marshall made her debut at age four in The King & I at O'Keefe Centre in Toronto. Marshall slipped from one costume change to another with grace and poise, her singing worthy a spot on Broadway. Marshall has great range and aptitude. She knows when to seduce and when to coddle. This she did with ease. Pitch was never a factor - neither was pacing. Marshall needs only to be seen by an international audience to rate a worldwide profile. At present she makes a tidy living singing everything that presents itself on the island.
Day three, festival producer Gilbert Rowe made an astute calculation - don't defy the odds and move one of the main concerts scheduled for the splendid grounds of the Sherbourne Conference Centre featuring pianists Jason Moran and Ellis Marsalis indoors. The move paid big dividends. It was another long day of torrential downpours one many islanders wish would exit peacefully. No such doing. The land remained saturated and heavens above blind to the predicament. Moran and Marsalis were served well by the venue change.