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Punt a del Este Jazz Festival, January 15-19, 2011

Gerardo Stawsky By

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15th International Festival of Punta del Este
January 5-9, 2011
Punta del Este, Uruguay

Over the last 15 years, dozens of today's top jazz musicians—the McCoy Tyner's and Joe Lovano's—have continued to return to the Punta del Este Jazz Festival, in Uruguay.

The Festival is celebrated on a dairy farm in an idyllic countryside, set in a hilly valley, where it's a struggle to hear the subtleties of a bass solo over the sound of crickets and the occasional moaning of cows and whinnying horses.

While the 15th edition may have not featured the lineup of past years, there was top talent, nevertheless: Lewis Nash proving, yet again, that he is one of the greatest drummers alive—alive being an understatement, when it comes to Nash; pianist George Cables, the delightful veteran, aptly called in for an homage to tenor saxophone legend Dexter Gordon; and pianist Cyrus Chestnut. There was also a host of younger, but well-established talent, like tenor man Jimmy Greene;trumpeter Jeremy Pelt;pianist Xavier Davis; drummer Gregory Hutchinson; Israeli guitarist Yotam Silberstein—who will be remembered, at the festival, for his dazzling rendition of a Hermeto Pascoal chorinho, along with clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera; and the presence of veterans like trumpeter Claudio Roditi.

All of these artists were returning for yet another edition of the festival. Greene, in particular, charmed the audience with his amazing technique and sheer lyricism. His music was also extremely relevant, displaying an overarching spiritual quality, while his tone was rather unique for a tenor man with a rubber mouthpiece. It's time to stop calling him a "young talent"; he's simply a great talent who happens to still be quite young. Green introduced his quartet, featuring Davis, Hutchinson and bassist Reuben Rogers, playing . He tunes from some of his most recent releases.

Greene was also featured in a celebration of Dexter Gordon's music, along with Grant Stewart, a gifted tenor saxophonist whose round tone and phrasing resembled that of Gordon more than Greene's did.

A special word for the towering figure of Lewis Nash, a drummer who demonstrated an astounding awareness of everything that happened around him onstage, always ready to change gears—either accelerating or slowing the pace, so the music never ceased to startle. Some may also be tempted to chronicle the human being behind such forceful dexterity—that of a sweet loving man, who walked offstage and took an hour to move among the hordes of aficionados hungry for autographs, pictures and, more than anything, a piece of this walking legend.

Stick-less after yet another tremendous performance, he walked amongst festival-goers, rather reluctant to address his own mastery, and definitely more interesting in the stand where chocolate of all kinds and shapes were being offered.

There was much more to this festival, under the artistic direction of Paquito D'Rivera and the insatiable artistic hunger of Francisco Yobino and Beatriz Martinez Sosa. Indeed, the first hour of every night was devoted to showcase rising Latin American talent—much of it good—featuring, amongst others, the intriguing Colombian virtuoso harpist Edmar Castaneda; Pippi Piazzolla, the grandson of the late tango legend, Astor Piazzolla, and Uruguayan guitarist Nicolas Mora. There's simply no other place in the world like like Punta del Este, and no other festival like the Punta del Este Jazz Festival.

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