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North Sea Jazz Festival 2013

R.J. DeLuke By

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Saturday turned out to be the day for burning, kick-ass, no-holds-barred jazz at some of the stages, if one so chose. Kenny Barron, one of the elite pianists, brought with him George Mraz on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, and for trio music that's nirvana. Barron still plays with all the drive, bounce and elan one can be expected to muster. And he writes great tunes, from thoughtful, mid-tempo romps to sweet ballads. The band also played some of the classic numbers and burned like Georgia asphalt. Mraz was fleet-fingered with great tone, knowing every change, and Nash dashed and darted through each, coloring Barron's statements with rhythmic accoutrements that were always hip and often exciting. They went through some jazz chestnuts, as well as Barron's "The Question Is." A special thing was "Second Thoughts," by Barron's close friend pianist Mulgrew Miller, who died some weeks ago. It was a fine dedication.



Eliane Elias is known lately for her beautiful, soft singing voice in the samba genre and she excels at it. But it belies the fact that she is a superb pianist. In Rotterdam, she did both, but a lot of straight jazz cooking, as her band was augmented by Randy Brecker on trumpet and Joe Lovano on sax, who blew the roof off the place on some intensely swinging numbers. When she sang "Fotographia," Lovano was a perfect foil with a soft but creative solo, like Getz-Gilberto. Another twist to the band was the appearance of Amanda Brecker, daughter of Elias and Brecker from their previous marriage, who has a nice voice and presence. Mother and daughter sang a duet on "Rosa Morena" and it was blissful, including a gorgeous sax solo from Lovano.

Nice to see the unsung and immensely talented Willie Jones II fronting a quintet that could have burned up a cornfield. They wailed, propelled by his forceful drumming and super-quick stick work. His rhythm section mates Danny Grissett and bassist Daryl Hall were right in step. Each Grissett solo was dazzling. Put Eddie Henderson's trumpet and Justin Robinson's sax on top of that and you had nuclear fission. Henderson is as strong and inventive as ever, with a sweet clean sound. Robinson burned and fit right in with this wild bunch.

Henderson pulled double duty a bit later with the Cookers, another mainstream jazz unit that takes no prisoners. Drummer Billy Hart is the glue that holds this music together, with polyrhythms aplenty. He laid down the cushion with Cecil McBee on bass, over which the others could blow freely. Pianist George Cables was wonderful, gliding the keys expertly, and everything done with swing and great taste. Saxophonist Donald Harrison filled in terrifically in Craig Handy's absence. Saxophonist Billy Harper and trumpeter/leader Dave Weiss also brought the heat. The band is aptly named.



Brecker left the Elias set to star in his Brecker Brothers Reunion band, his wife Ada Rovati taking the saxophone spot once held by his brother, the late Michael Brecker. The band had great energy and rhythmic drive and the horns were in fine form, playing music for an album to be released later in the year, which the leader said would be called Brecker Brothers Reunion Band.

Sunday was a day for larger ensembles. Both Herbie Hancock and Lovano did sets with the fantastic Metropole Orkest based in the Netherlands, the renowned big band complete with a huge string section and conducted by Vince Mendoza. Ron Carter did a scintillating set with the other fine European big band, Germany's WDR Big Band, conducted by the fine American drummer Dennis McKrell.

Hancock's set featured some of his classic's like "Maiden Voyage" and "Eye of the Hurricane," as well as some things associated with his tenure with Miles Davis, like a very intriguing redesign of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." The hero of that set was the music itself, its wonderful original design and then the re-imaginations of the various arrangements. In selected spots, Hancock would play but never unleash. He played certain improvisations in the windows of the arrangement, but was somewhat restrained. Not Lovano. His set was a tribute to the well loved John Coltrane album Ballads (Impulse!, 1963). The arrangements of those tunes, "What's New," "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)," "It's Easy to Remember," "Say It (Over and Over Again)" and so on, were lush and grand, as they should be for those memorable ballads. But when it was time to solo, Lovano was out front, injecting his personality, his bold and probing style. Each statement he made was beautiful, alternating a fat, sweet ballad tone with his characteristic serpentine bursts of joy, bursts of exploration. The songs had Lovano's fingerprints all over—a very good thing.

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