Text Peter Beije | photo’s Eddy Westveer
In the morning at the rehearsal and sound check, it became clear that this would be an exceptional tribute to Toots Thielemans. Numerous greats of jazz gathered for their tribute to the retired king of Belgian jazz. His compatriots Philip Catherine (guitar), Bert Joris (trumpet), Bart Denolf (bass) and Bruno Castellucci (drums) were at the scene. Bassist Hein Van de Geyn come over from South Africa. Pianist / vocalist Eliane Elias and her husband, bassist Marc Johnson, were flown in from the USA as was pianist Kenny Werner. In addition, Dutchmen Karel Boehlee (piano), Hans van Oosterhout (drums) and Bert van den Brink (piano) also crossed the Dutch/Belgium border to take part. In all these various formations the music of Toots Thielemans was performed in an evening to never forget.
Musical highlights were the ingenious improvisations of pianist Bert van den Brink at the start and the end of the concert and Marc Johnson who played an emotional version of ‘Ne me quitte pas’ on bass with the bow. The American was performing with his wife Eliane Elias, who took care of Toots beloved Brazilian music in the tribute. The show ended as could be expected with all participating musicians on stage performing a rendition of ‘Bluesette’.
All this was witnessed by Toots from back stage. What the thousands of people in front of the stage were hoping, happened when Toots Thielemans appeared on stage, he brought his harmonica. Together with Kenny Werner he played ‘What a Wonderful World’ and at that moment it was not about the music, it was about emotion on stage and among the thousands in the concert tent. It sure can be a wonderful World, thanks to the music.
Prior to the tribute to Toots pianist Jef Neve celebrated the tenth anniversary of his trio aided by four brass. Jef Neve has been called the crown prince of the Belgian jazz scene for years now, whether he will be the successor of King Toots only the future will tell. In any case he is emphatically a contender after an exciting concert at Jazz Middelheim. For the second time during the festival, the Fazioli grand piano was on the stage. The first time was for the great Herbie Hancock on Thursday. An omen?
Dreams Project’ was the second appearance of Vijay Iyer, artist in residence. With texts by Mike Ladd critical notes were cracked about how the United States deals with military veterans. It almost seemed as if the texts were taken from above the audience by drones and then released. They hit their goals, it was a political message wrapped in music written by Iyer.
It is a valuable tradition in Jazz Middelheim. Talented students from the Conservatory in Antwerp are coached by an established musician, this time bassist Jesper Hoiby of Phronesis. A concert on the main stage is the apotheosis.
Hurricane Ahmad did hit Antwerp with great force. The concert from Ahmad Jamal and his accompanist’s was the concert that concluded Jazz Middelheim. It was a rhythmic tour de force. The American pianist and composer is 84 now, but his hands and musical intelligence are that of a younger man.
Smooth, fast, hard and soft touch attack, he leads his band members sitting on or leaning against the piano. Themes are often repeated and interspersed with eruptions of musicality by the pianist himself or by one of his band members.
Ahmad Jamal has total control over the music and what happens on stage. The enthusiasm of Manolo Badrena (percussion), Herlin Riley (drums) and Reginald Veal (bass) is no less obvious as there are many smiling faces on stage and that’s always a good sign.
Two Italians have topped some standards with an Italian sauce. Enrico Rava is a master at expressing his emotions through his trumpet. He was not in great form as his stories were not fluent, he stuttered as it were, however pianist Stefano Bollani played not one note out of place. The trumpeter and pianist have known each other for a long time and regularly play together, the interaction between the two makes every performance still worthwhile.
Vijay Iyer made his third appearance on stage as artist in residence. This time as a soloist on the piano along with electronic effects. Following this he performed his composition Mutations (10 parts) with the string quartet “The Hermes ensemble”. A wonderful experience.
The Carate Urio Orchestra brought theatrical music with an experimental twist, where the extreme range’s of their instruments were explored. This asks a lot of the musicians, however they succeeded in their mission.