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North Sea Jazz Festival: Rotterdam, The Netherlands, July 6-8, 2012

North Sea Jazz Festival: Rotterdam, The Netherlands, July 6-8, 2012
R.J. DeLuke By

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North Sea Jazz Festival
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
July 6-8, 2012

The city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands seems ideal for a jazz festival. It's a large enough metropolis to hold things of interest for any tourist—arts, culture, architecture, fine eateries, interesting activities—while at the same time being friendly, laidback and manageable. Toss the mammoth North Sea Jazz Festival into the mix and you really have something.

It's also an easy hop to Amsterdam via train for vacationers. So what's to stop jazz fans from getting there, even if they have to cross the Atlantic? Thirteen venues within the awesome Ahoy venue—most of them indoors—and performers in 2012 that included saxophonist Joshua Redman as artist in residence; saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas's new Sound Prints group; saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Archie Shepp; pianists Ahmad Jamal, Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper and Hiromi; the Metropole Jazz Orchestra; guitarists Pat Metheny and Jim Hall; trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire; bassists Esperanza Spalding and Ron Carter; and many more. Also pop and rock stars like Van Morrison, Lenny Kravitz and D'Angelo, as well as fine European jazz musicians and pop stars on that continent, like Janelle Monae and Rumer.

And, of course, these days it seems you have to toss in the new "hardest working man in show business," Trombone Shorty and his Orleans Avenue band.

The answer to the question posed earlier is: nothing really should stop jazz fans who can combine vacation with one of the world's best jazz festivals. No venue-hopping. One ticket gets access to all the stages inside Ahoy. It's impossible to see everything a person would want to see, but attendees can still grab a plentiful taste of some of the best musicians on the planet, and discover many new performers to boot.

Running down the proceedings at North Sea Jazz is a task. Friday and Saturday each featured 49 sets of music, and that didn't count a DJ stage and a room where artists were either interviewed before a live crowd or gave clinic sessions. Sunday, which ended earlier, "trimmed" down to 47 sets.

But with all the running around, sets by James Farm, trumpeter Christian Scott, Wayne Shorter, and a tribute to the later electric music of Miles Davis dubbed Miles Smiles, stood above a tremendous amount of fine music.

James Farm is one of the great bands on the circuit and was absolutely on fire. Joshua Redman was a man possessed, lighting up fiery, inventive and soulful solos on tunes like "Coax," written by the band's fine bassist Matt Penman, and Redman's own "Polliwog," which was played with a verve and intensity that could raise the hairs on the back of one's neck. Penman was always in step at every turn, and drummer Eric Harland was a whirling dervish, rhythms spewing out from everywhere. And always tasty. PianistAaron Parks was fantastic in his agility and ideas. His own "Bijou" slowed the pace down, but not the aesthetic, as Redman's tenor moaned sublimely.

Redman, as artist in residence, also appeared with The Bad Plus piano trio, and did a spot with the Metropole Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Vince Mendoza, where he could be heard crooning a soft, sensual tenor sax that suited Mendoza's Latin-inspired arrangements, with vocals from Luciana Souza and Lillian Vieira. Another interesting offering was Redman's Axis Quartet—four saxophonists, also including Chris Potter, Chris Speed and Mark Turner—playing delicate arrangements during which one of them would solo. The entire lot showed that Redman is truly one of the finest saxophonists out there, as well as a noted composer, and deserves even more credit than he already gets.

Christian Scott's group has been working a long time and shows that kind of familiarity where they know how to take chances together. The music was intense, with the extremely underrated Kristopher Funn playing bass like it was his last day on earth, and drummer Jamire Williams providing thunder and passion. Pianist John Escreet, an adventurous soul from Great Britain, is relatively new to the group, but not the exciting jazz scene in New York City. His sizzling style was a great fit. Guitarist Matt Stevens was so steady and fit so well; he made his stirring solos seem easy.

And Scott knocked it out of the park, with his bold playing and great sound. He was always motivated and reaching. His compositions, often inspired by unpleasant events in the U.S., were strong foundations for these young players to build inspired moments.


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