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North Sea Jazz 2018

Phillip Woolever By

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Charles Lloyd and The Marvels were, indeed, marvelous featuring Bill Frisell on a recognizable, light blue Fender he's employed with remarkable effect at North Sea on previous occasions. Frisell merited plenty of slick solo time as the band offered subtle support before Lloyd stepped into the understated spotlight and reminded a vocally appreciative crowd why his name topped the marquee. Lloyd dispersed melancholy magic as Frisell picked through sparse background on classics like "Ballad of the Sad Young Men." When the rhythm section with Reuben Rogers (bass) and Eric Harland (drums) slid in it was a perfect example of how, while offering plenty of variety, NSJ continues to front the best pure jazz one could ever hope to hear. This was one of the better shows in the medium-sized venues, with a rotating audience of around five hundred in the Hudson hall.

If you had to pick a name for their sound, STUG probably comes as close as anything. The Amsterdam based band led by drummer Gerri Jager delivered an unconventional set . There were omnious but upbeat themes as various group electronics merged with droning bass lines by Laurens Smet, while Joachim Badenhorst lurked around the reeds. Sofia Jernberg 's generally sweet vocals added even more mystery and a hint of danger. Guitarist Raphael Vanoli blew and hummed on what must have been some pretty loose strings. Actually, between and zany effects, the group was interesting and pretty tight. On "Funky One," Jernberg shrieked like Yoko Ono as if it were progressive days of the plastic band but it all led to another situation of unusual music leading to empty seats and an audience that didn't stick around long.

After well-schooled Israeli guitarist Oz Noy relocated to New York City decades ago, he jammed with some of the top technicians around. The advanced education shows. The current quartet Noy appeared with are a very strong unit, and their NSJ gig featured fine, bluesrock traditions with excellent rotating solos by all. Jimmy Haslip stood out on a bombastic bass while drummer Gary Novak maintained his own flawless bottom lines. There was a humorous visual as organist Scott Kinsey loomed over his tiny keyboard and belted out huge runs, with his chart sheets on a diminutive reading tablet. Whatever scales applied, this was a concert of substantial proportion. There was more room to stand near the Congo stage than during some of the other evening sets, so between excellent sounds and more comfortable sight lines it was hard for a listener to tear themself away and return to the crunching confines of much larger, more enclosed sardine cans like Maas or Nile. One of many highlights was an extended jam on a Thelonius Monk theme.

Delgres is a thundering trio that frontman Pascal Danae (vocals, guitar) described as a "journey from Guadeloupe to New Zealand," but they seemed to know no bounds. Whatever the mileposts, Delgres are a wonderful trip along zesty latitudes. The band is named for a freedom fighter and political passions are evident, even when sung in Creole. With Baptiste Brondy's drums shaking the floorboards and Raf Gee in the clouds on sousaphone/tuba they cooked up a New Orleans type gumbo of funk that drew in otherwise preoccupied passersby like instagram insects to everglades fire. Delgres were one of the tightest groups to appear on a smaller platform. That midway stage, Congo Square, was relatively tiny, but these powerful pundits made it a very substantial space.

Youthful UK crooner J P Cooper got a shot at Nile, the festival's biggest venue, and while there was nothing really faulty, his performance never scaled the heights of most other acts in the huge, modified exhibition hall. "September Song" showed promise, while John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" caught the essence, but not much more. For the most part, Cooper and his band played a set that stalled in the middle of the road. Some of the audience looked delighted while others seemed to completely ignore what emanated from the stage. Standing out at NSJ requires a solid "A" game. Cooper scored a "C."

The outdoor space Mississippi is a bit of a quandary. The scheduled there are generally talented enough to excel on their own, but due to the preponderance of international headliners, the less renown are relegated to NSJ's biggest open-air stage, situated at an always busy pedestrian thoroughfare leading from one big hall to another. Accurate assessments on relative popularity can be made based on the number of people who stop on their way to see the stars.

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