A Cultural Comment at the New Yorker website, July 12, 2017.
The photograph, which appeared in the program booklet for Toscanini’s 1944 Red Cross benefit at Madison Square Garden, is by Sgt. Stanley Smith. It shows a 1943 mission by the 390th Bombardment Group. See a larger image here.
A Cultural Comment at the New Yorker website, July 12, 2017.
The Südtirol Jazz Festival is unique among jazz festivals in that the concert locations are as important as the concerts themselves. The festival not only presents the best in new and emerging talent but also showcases the stunning beauty of the spectacular scenery of the Dolomites in tandem with the music.
The locations are carefully chosen – which this year include city spaces such as an art gallery, a park with a natural mini amphitheatre, an exhibition centre and a small club in the basement of a brewery. Locations in the countryside and its breath-taking mountains you will find concerts in remote huts, on hillsides and in forest walks, lakesides and even a hayloft. As a frequent festival visitor this is a breath of fresh air (quite literally!), with each day presenting a new adventure in sight and sound.
Director Klaus Widmann, has a mantra ‘New Sounds Fresh Perspectives’, and in this he succeeds brilliantly. Widmann’s ability to spot emerging talent and the natural resources he can use on his doorstep make for a wonderful experience.
So to the music. This year Widmann choose the Benelux as his showcase countries and he chose the young Dutch guitarist Reinier Baas (below) as his artist in residence. The opening concert featured Baas’s jazz opera ‘Princess Discombobulatrix’, is a commission originally written for the North Sea Jazz Festival, but here extended to include a new piece of music based on a local legend. The show is accompanied by projected comic book drawings by the artist Typex.
Soprano Nora Fischer (below) was superb (and striking) in the role of the Princess and the band, including sax player Ben van Gelder and bass clarinettist Joris Roelofs were superb. Baas played guitar and piano and conducted the ensemble. The music and story made a fascinating audio visual experience, the writing very mature and thoroughly entertaining.
Baas re-appeared many times during the festival and his performances fully justified Widmann’s choice of him for artist in residence. He is a regular (with van Gelder) in Han Bennink‘s trio and the show with this band (plus guests) at a Michelin starred restaurant was certainly a highlight. Baas showed a gentler style with a beautiful duet with Nora Fischer at the Kloster Neustift (an Abbey complex a short drive from Bolzano). Fischer has a wonderful range and tone to her voice and Baas delivered the perfect foil in his playing.
The night club in the basement of local brewery Batzen hosted French drummer Anne Paceo who features regularly on the European Festival circuit (her recent album ‘Circles’ has received excellent reviews). The venue is tiny and has a real jazz club feel to it, perfect for this gig.
The band features vocalist Leila Martial, who is an incredible vocalist – be it singing lyrics, scatting or producing harmonics with saxophonist Christophe Panzani (who himself is no mean player). The quartet is completed by keyboard player Tony Paeleman, who with Paceo drove the whole show. The gig was a revelation both for Paceo’s excellent compositions and Martial’s extraordinary vocal performance.
In a different way but equally exciting was Warped Dreamer: trumpeter Arve Henriksen’s collaboration with Stian Westerhus (guitar), Jozef Dumoulin (Keyboards) and drummer Teun Verbruggen. Starting in lyrical fashion with Henriksen playing gentle pocket trumpet and counter-tenor vocals, the mood rapidly changed to be more chaotic and darkly aggressive. Dumoulin was always inventive with his devices and drummer Verbruggen kept a frenetic but constant pace with Westerhus mostly bowing his guitar. This is music ‘by wire’ the band have a massive sound, which, while almost overwhelming at times, is held tightly in check by Henriksen who controlled the suite and eventually the mood and the journey came full circle. The set ended with Westerhus playing subtle chordal sequences and Henriksen returning to trumpet and exquisitely haunting vocals – an exhausting and exhilarating experience for both audience and musicians.
By total contrast in a hayloft by the side of a lake in the Dolomites, one of Europe’s brightest piano players David Helbock (above) took to the stage with his trio. Helbock has rapidly gained a reputation as one of the most exciting new talents on the scene and his trio did not disappoint. With his trademark piano motif beanie, Helbock is instantly recognisable – his writing and playing are stand-out. Groove-based tunes with great hooks and clever solos are his style and the band with Raphael Preuschl on bass ukulele and drummer Reinhold Schmölzer create an immersive and very tight sound – definitely a band to watch out for.
There were 70 concerts during the 10 days of the festival in 60 locations across the Alto Adige region featuring some 180 musicians. The wonderful thing is that most concerts are free and by following the gigs around you get to see the most spectacular scenery while also discovering some outstanding music. This is a real gem among the many European jazz festivals that happen this time of year.
– Story and photos by Tim Dickeson
The mid 20th century saw several jazz A-listers working with the Gnawa, the Sufi healer musicians of Morocco: Archie and Ornette, Randy and Pharaoh, But each year for the last 20 an array of free-thinking musicians from the Motherland and beyond have come to Essaouira, a whitewashed town of cawing gulls and cleansing winds tagged the ‘jewel of the Atlantic’, to jam with these mystical brotherhoods with their leaping dancers, pentatonic rhythms and repertoire of ancient African Islamic spiritual songs. Remarkably – given that the festival is run by a Muslim woman, Neila Tazi, and champions the music and culture of a once-derided people – this was the 20th anniversary of the Festival Gnaoua & Musiques du Monde. A sense of occasion was palpable, even if hard times had trimmed the programme from four days to three; the so-called “biggest jam session on the planet” was still all that, and more.
Tens of thousands of Moroccans (and few hundred Westerners) turned out for the free events on the main Moulay Hassan stage, where jazz rock outfit Band of Gnawa (named in honour of Hendrix’s 1969 album Band of Gypsys, pictured above) featuring French jazzers including keyboardist Jean-Philippe Rykiel, percussionist Cyril Atef and multi-instrumentalist (and festival co-founder) Loy Ehrlich and Gnawa musicians led by Maalem Said Boulhimas on the thudding three-string guimbri bass-lute mixed pieces of the Gnawa repertoire with classic rock standards. Invested with Gnawa energy, with call-and-response chants and those driving, hypnotic rhythms, tracks such as Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ and Hendrix’s ‘Power of Love’ have never sounded so good. It was an opening concert that set the bar high for another main stage act, Bill Laurance (pictured top), he of Grammy-winning Stateside collective Snarky Puppy – and a keyboardist long used to collaboration.
Still, working with the likes of David Crosby and Lala Hathaway is one thing; jamming with the guimbri-bass-strumming Maalem Khalid Sansi and his chanting, metal-castanet clacking crew is another. Laurance’s dreamy, evocative stand-alone set (as is customary, each invited guest did their own thing before being joined by a Gnawa maalem/master and his musicians) was a departure from his Puppy-esque good-time funk. A pairing with Sansi’s loping Gnawa rhythms lent the sound a cinematic quality as Laurance improvised looping minimalistic riffs to which the Gnawi lent ancient cachet.
On the Scene de la Plage stage overlooking the wind-buffeted, wave-smashed Atlantic Ocean, the great Paris-based Congolese keyboardist, percussionist and vocalist Ray Lema teamed with Essaouira Maalem and festival co-founder Abdeslam Alikane and his group Tyour Gnawa and rediscovered the chemistry they displayed on their acclaimed joint 2001 album. It was a pairing that reinforced the deep African roots of Gnawa music and forged links between the patterns of the metal kraken castanets and the percussion grooves of Lema, the latter’s seasoned versatility and honorary Gnawa status (he spent a lot of time here, back in the day) enthralling the young thronging crowd, who danced, tranced and shouted chants along with, and back to, the musicians on-stage.
Jazz gems were to be found in the medina, in smaller ticketed venues including Dar Loubane, a cosy, carpeted space in which a capacity audience sat on the floor to watch acts including the French composer, oudist and musician Titi Robin (above) create something precious, of the moment, with devotional Pakistani qawwali singer Murad Ali Khan, Brazilian percussionist Ze Luis Nascimento on cajon, the venerable Maalem Abdenbi Gueddari and his Gnawa musicians, seated cross-legged and variously chanting, wielding krakeb or leaping up to dance languidly on the carpet, the tassels on their skull caps twirling.
It was this grouping, expanded for the main stage on Saturday (variously with Robin’s trio, feted Hindustani sarangi player Murad Ali Khan, progressive Gnawa jazzer Mehdi Nassouli, and a full set of percussion for Nascimento), that proved the highlight of this 20th anniversary event. Fittingly so, given that peace, love and cross-cultural understanding is intrinsic to the festival’s remit; here, galvanised by the rhythms of the Gnawa, those sentiments swirled, entwined and took all participants, musicians and audience, to a higher, more hopeful place.
– Jane Cornwell
– Photos by Sife El Amine
Ronnie Wood left his wife of 23 years and moved in with an 18-year-old Russian cocktail waitress. The 61 year-old dad-of-four had met the teenager while out drinking and had taken her away to his luxury pad in Ireland.