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5

Rigas Ritmi Festival: Riga, Latvia, July 3-6 2013

Bruce Lindsay By

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The set contained numbers from Experiment's hit album Black Radio (Blue Note, 2012), obviously familiar to many audience members. A brief, laidback, take on "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and a lovely performance of Sade's "Cherish The Day" were highlights. After a standing ovation from much of the near-capacity crowd the band returned to encore with another beautiful tune, "Gonna Be OK."

Somi shared Experiment's ability to create an irresistible groove, but in her case she used it to underpin a set of songs that spoke affectingly of her life and especially of her experiences of living in Nigeria during the previous year or so. "Ginger Me Slowly," inspired by the Nigerian slang for making somebody feel good, was cheery and fun. Most of her songs dealt with more serious subjects such as grief and poverty. The combination of her voice and her songwriting talent created some of the most affecting songs of the festival, the finest of which was "Last Song," a sad yet uplifting celebration of life which Somi wrote in memory of a friend killed in an air crash.

The evening closed with the first midnight jazz cruise on the Misisipi. The boatload of late-night revelers cruised up and down the River Daugava in the company of the Andreas Varady Trio and Riga Jazz Quartet. Andreas Varady, a 15-year-old guitarist recently signed to Verve Records, was accompanied by his father Bandi on bass guitar and his 11-year-old brother Adrian on drums. The trio played a set of upbeat original tunes that stayed close to the tradition of players like Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell without simply mimicking any one guitarist. The Riga Jazz Quartet—pianist Viktors Ritovs, drummer Artis Orubs, saxophonist Toms Rudzinskis and bassist Edvīns Ozols—played with three of the young vocalists, staying with the American Songbook for the most part although Daniel Cacija's version of "Stormy Monday" took a bluesier direction.

Friday, July 5

Friday began with two workshops. Keyboardist John Medeski ,of Medeski, Martin & Wood, gave the first. The highlight was his opening piano improvisation, a performance of some energy and power that drew on George Gershwin's "Summertime." Medeski's stated aim was to discuss the importance of slowing down and learning by ear, both useful pieces of advice. He also entered into a discussion of life as a working jazz musician. It was an intriguing insight into that life, but his tale of the band's difficult early years and his declaration that things ..."have never been as bad as they are now" made for somewhat grim listening. He then revealed that the band's income had fallen in recent years and was now only about half of what it had been at its peak. Probably not what the audience, mostly aspiring jazz players, wanted to hear.

By contrast, Andreas Varady gave a workshop filled with the optimism and enthusiasm of youth. Varady delivered his talk with an engaging mix of confidence and self-consciousness, giving insight into his playing, his practice regime and his life as a touring musician. He also played extensively, often in partnership with brother Adrian who joined in with a set of congas that the brothers found in the studio that morning. An impressively fast yet precise "Donna Lee" was a clear demonstration of Varady's talent.

Medeski, Martin & Wood opened Friday night at the Congress Hall. The trio played its set as a single piece, with no interactions with the audience and little variation dynamically. The mix of jam band, prog rock, Acid jazz and Gregg Allman-style boogie seemed technically skilled but lacked excitement. The audience response was more than favorable, however, and the trio returned for an encore. It turned out to be the best number of the performance: all three men moved to front and center, playing acoustically—Medeski on melodica, Chris Wood on double bass and Billy Martin on tambourine—belatedly facing the audience rather than each other and creating one or two humorous musical moments.

Anyone in search of audience interaction, genuine emotional connection, dynamics and sheer delight needed to arrive at the Congress Hall in time for the evening's headliner. Butterscotch, a young beatboxer, singer and instrumentalist from California, was a joy. Looking sharp in a dark suit, white shirt and tie and carrying a beautiful, pale wood, acoustic guitar she walked on stage alone and gave a low-key, almost fragile, rendition of "The Very Thought Of You." Her singing voice may have lacked power, but it was full of emotion.

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