North Sea Jazz Festival, July 8-10, 2011

North Sea Jazz Festival, July 8-10, 2011
R.J. DeLuke By

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North Sea Jazz Festival
July 8-10, 2011
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

The North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands is staggering in size, touted as the world's largest indoor jazz festival and that's certainly a good bet. With 13 stages running from late afternoon until the early morning hours, it's far more than a smorgasbord. More like an avalanche, but one where the music fan happily stands at the bottom of the mountain.

Artists of all statures perform, from the biggest names to up-and-coming artists. It's also—like most jazz festivals these days—one in which pop, soul and rock acts augment the schedule to make the event more of a draw to general music fans.

The 2011 edition, in the city of Rotterdam, was one in where you could see someone like Ntjam Rosie, a Rotterdam resident who's been working on her sound that combines pop, world music, R&B and jazz harmonies at times. It was a soulful, energetic mélange that could spring the young singer/composer to fame beyond Europe. She was cool and confident, yet humble. Eager to make her own music and bring it to the world.

And it was also a festival where one of the world's best jazz musicians, saxophonist Joe Lovano, marched in with his Us Five quintet and blew the roof off the place, shredding the room with saxophone that roared, screamed, and vibrated with power and sophisticated rhythms that demanded attention. Lovano's group brought American swagger to the Ahoy festival venue.

There were aspiring stars, established stars and everything in between. Holland's own Tineke Postma and her quartet of Dutch musicians were superb. A saxophonist who is making waves on a more global scale these days, her sound melded beautifully with her sympathetic mates in a heady and heartfelt display of first-rate jazz.

Good festivals always have surprises and North Sea had plenty. Among them: finding Pharoah Sanders smoking with the Robert Glasper trio to round out the pianist's quartet; walking into a set by French reedman Michel Portal and finding trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire in the band with Harish Raghavan and Nasheet Waits. Or finding the band of bassist Chris Lightcap, which had saxophonists Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek and pianist Craig Taborn.

Non-jazz acts included Prince, who played all three nights (actually starting in the wee hours and going on from there), Paul Simon. Seal, Bootsy Collins, Snoop Dog, Tom Jones, Chaka Khan and European pop star Selah Sue.

But the jazz was plentiful and often brilliant, and the acts stood together, side-by-side. One couldn't possibly see everything in the incredible Ahoy venue. So jazz fans had to miss fine groups, but what a person could fit into the weekend was great stuff. People had to go away satisfied with the amount of stellar music they could engulf in an evening. The audiences that went to the jazz rooms appreciated every nuance. They stayed tuned in to Tom Harrell's mainstream jazz, like they did to Dave Holland and John Surman playing soft, oblique music with Anouar Brahem's oud, or John Escreet's strange keyboard explorations over Tyshawn Sorey's percussion that came from many odd directions.

Rotterdam is a great host city for the event. It may not dazzle as some cities, but it is very friendly, which is perfect for an event that attracts 70,000 people. It's also easy to get around, rich in arts and culture, and delightfully laid back. It's a multicultural city that is a great backdrop for the giant-sized festival that grabs all the attention for a few days.

The festival can be a whirlwind, where one can pick their spots and enjoy, or portions of sets can be caught before scooting off to others. In this case, it was quite often the latter approach.

Day One

The Ahoy venue was shaking with music from the onset. Ahmad Jamal's quartet and Esperanza Spalding's Chamber Music Society were among the leadoff groups. But holding interest early on was Yuri Honing's Acoustic Quartet. Dutch jazz was well represented throughout the weekend. Honing is known for his rich tenor sax sound, which was on display. On ballads, he played slow, floating lines, using dynamics and punchy phrasing over the gentle rhythms. Pianist Wolfert Brederode was similarly selective and unpreserved, adding to the band's mellow sound.

There were many melodic riffs, even a sensuality to the music. Even when the tempo picked up, Honing didn't seem to have more than a third gear. The group built tension with phrasing and the use of space between musical conversations.

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