Reykjavik Jazz Festival 2004

Mark Sabbatini By

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Equally rewarding are their rotating shifts as leaders, including each playing an unaccompanied piece during the middle of their opening set. A better reviewer would know the names of the compositions; instead I'll just note Egilsson morphs a slow and thoughtful melody into a rapid-run piece with a bit of Spanish/flamenco flair, Orstead gets seductive with a piece ("has the sound of a great treatment of some rock/standard, but no idea what it actually is," my notes state) that stays mostly in the lower ranges with some pleasing sudden breaths into the upper regions and Darling put his chops nicely on display on another bunch-o-notes solo jam.

The whole group gets back into the swing of things, so to speak, for the closing songs of the set, hitting their peak with the closing Egilsson original "You Gotta Be Kidding." It opens with a playful walking bass rhythm that needs no percussionist before pianist Fritz Paul takes over with an R&B romp and, having caught the crowd's attention, nails them between the eyes with an all-out free exchange with drummer John Hollenbeck that gets them roaring. Great stuff that shouldn't have been under wraps that long.

The evening's second act, at the now-familiar-to-me Kaffi Reykjavik, is also a step up from previous nights. The place is more decorative, food is on a buffet table, and again the crowd is bigger and better dressed. They get what seems like a pretty decent performance by Eyjolfur's Jazzband, an octet led by tenor saxophonist Eyjolfur Porleifsson, although logistics kept me from hearing all of it.

They have an intelligent bit-of-old-school approach that recalls memories of the promising but sadly short-lived Harper Brothers from the late '80s and early '90s, although they're more diverse, mixing Latin and some other styles in their their horn-heavy straighthead compositions. Bits of Coltrane, Rollins, Frissell and even Doc Severinsen at one point come to mind, all meshed into something more modern. What it can't do during the relatively short time I'm able to hear it is stand out from some of the more unusual and distinctive ensembles featured so far. My guilt at leaving early - and writing such a pathetic assessment - is alleviated somewhat after talking to a few listeners the next day who offer similar "good group/decent performance/didn't totally blow me away" comments.

But most of the buzz by now has little to do with Friday's concerts or anything else not related to a single subject: Van Morrison. Turns out nearly all of the newcomers are here for his long-ago sold-out performance Saturday night. That hearing him means a trip to Iceland and/or the chance to hear some Scandinavian jazz is often a nice but not totally necessary element to the whole experience. Considering my feelings are exactly the opposite I'm a bit taken aback by all this, but I also have my own agenda to pursue tomorrow: Is he worthy of headlining a jazz fest and how legit are his recent wanderings into the field? No matter what I write, I have a feeling it won't be sufficiently complimentary and insightful for the faithful.

And so I approach my impending doom...

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Day 5: Kids, fans who act like them and the Main Event

"Van Morrison is nothing if not punctual."
~ John Lappen, Sept. 2 concert review, The Hollywood Reporter

It's the day of the main event and, no matter what I write the faithful will score it a knockout

Nearly all the talk on day four of the 2004 Reykjavik Jazz Festival is about the evening Van Morrison concert, which makes me feel a bit sorry for the other groups performing today. They have their share of fans, but it's got to be obvious to them how outnumbered they are by those who've come to listen to a rock and blues guy who just happens to be headlining a jazz festival.

This isn't happening because the Iceland folks couldn't get anyone else: The Van's been playing jazz fests all summer and apparently has real interest in taking his chops there, at least for a bit. Considering the fest's previously headline talent in recent years has included Diana Krall and Dave Holland, I think it's safe to say they booked him on merit.

In some ways it's not going to matter how good or bad the concert is - the faithful are making it a full weekend thing just by being part of the scene. A Minnesota couple who's seen him repeatedly seems to get as big a thrill out of meeting a guy who runs one of the major fan sites (who asked to remain nameless for reasons I'm not sure of) as they're likely to at the concert. And so it goes - people with a common connection bonding with each other throughout the day and doubtless forming alliances they'll share after going home.

As a follow-up the next morning, by the way, I do the Google thing for "Van Morrison" and "Iceland," hoping the faithful have beaten me to the punch with some raves/rants/photos/whatever from the concert. No such luck. Instead I learn:


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