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

Bruce Lindsay By

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Just as Butterscotch brought a fresh, hip-hop sensibility to songbook classics, Jansone brought contemporary musical awareness to an ancient instrumental tradition. At one point her kokle sounded like nothing else than Neil Young's guitar circa "Like A Hurricane"; that may be taking things a little too far, but Jansone and her trio were still experimenting, still taking risks. The young Latvian and her kokle are full of potential, an exciting and fascinating mix of ancient and modern.

Schuur's performance was enthusiastic, but her quartet took some time to gel. Schuur seemed a little uncomfortable at times and momentarily forgot the words to "I Get Along Without You Very Well" and "For Once In My Life." However, saxophonist Julian Siegel crafted swinging tenor solos on "Change Partners" and "Here's That Rainy Day." It all came together in fine style on "Louisiana Sunday Afternoon." The song was a highlight of the festival, a terrific combination of instrumental and vocal prowess that connected immediately with the audience; all four players seemed to raise their energy levels and Schuur and Siegel, on soprano sax, interacted perfectly.

Walking from the Congress Hall to the Misisipi riverboat for the final midnight cruise only took about ten minutes, but it was a ten-minute trip through a surprising variety of musical genres as the open air bars in Riga Old Town were kicking into gear for Saturday night. That short walk across the capital's medieval center took in dance, techno, hard rock and rockabilly. Then as another Rigas Ritmi venue came within earshot, the Open Air EGLE stage, the sound of a sitar cut through the air, gradually followed by vocals, guitars, tenor saxophone and percussion. This was the Frank/Pashkevich Experience stretching out on "Afro Blue."

Sadly, arriving rather late at the EGLE stage—and missing a second chance to hear the young Lithuanian singer Laura Budreckyte, who had impressed many people with her performances earlier in the week—the midnight cruise did provide a last chance to hear Cacija, Viluma and Protektore, backed once again by the Riga Jazz Quartet, including the excellent Orubs, now back behind a more standard drum set than the one he'd played with Jansone just a few minutes earlier.

Closing Thoughts

This year's Rigas Ritmi took place at the same time as a major celebration of the folk music and traditions of Latvia: the Latvian Song And Dance Celebration, which featured around 40,000 singers, dancers and other performers (including drummer Orubs). The event, which takes place once every five years, filled the city with bands, choirs, dance troupes and craftspeople, all in traditional dress. It was clearly a source of great pride to the Latvian people and grabbed a surprising amount of space on Latvian television. Did it impact on attendance at Rigas Ritmi? Probably not too much, as the open air events were all well-attended and each of the Congress Hall concerts sold well.

It was once again a pleasure to be invited to attend Rigas Ritmi and to enjoy the hospitality of Latvia's capital. In 2014 Riga becomes the European City Of Culture, which will bring a year-long series of events to the city. Hopefully Rigas Ritmi will benefit from this and continue to bring top quality jazz and its relatives to this beautiful Baltic capital.

Photo Credit

All Photos: Bruce Lindsay


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