Two famous trumpet players played on the opening day of Gent Jazz: Terence Blanchard and Ibrahim Maalouf. It is the 15th edition of the festival in the Belgian town. Since 2009 Gent has been a Unesco Creative City of Music. A great jazz festival is a must in such a town. Thursday 7 July was the opening day. The new Messiah on the tenor sax Kamasi Washington played a set on the main stage.
Terence Blanchard provided the opening concert. He was once a young talent in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Now he’s a famous trumpet player and a celebrated (film music) composer. He played with The E-Collective, with which he released the cd ‘ Breathless ‘ last year. The concert was a lot of funk, and lots of electronic violence. The beautiful sound that Terence Blanchard can extract from his trumpet was completely distorted in electronics. Thankfully, his beautiful acoustic signature remained The electronics needed to serve the music. Not the other way around!
Ibrahim Maalouf wrote his musical name in full. Four top musicians assisted him: Mark Turner (tenor saxophone), Frank Woeste (piano), Scott Colley (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). The French-Lebanese trumpet player connects Eastern and Western music. Sounds from the Orient come together with jazz. He uses a trumpet with four valves and it helps him to make his recognizable sound. The concert of Ibrahim Maalouf had the title ‘ Kalthoum’, a program dedicated to the Egyptian singer and actress Oum Kalthoum. The concert was set up like a Symphony, with different parts. After an Oriental intro followed jazz improvisation. It was a wonderful concert with a special mention for pianist Frank Savage, who had no trouble with the Oriental rhythms. On the contrary his accompanying was stellar.
TOWER OF POWER
Kamasi Washington proved to be a tower of power on the main stage. He is the front man of a new generation tenor saxophone players from the USA. Great body, broad sound, important message (about the position of African Americans in the US), in short, impressive. The concert went up-tempo. Last year came the album The Epic (3 CDs) which made a very positive impression. Kamasi Washington and his seven fellow musicians live performance was impressive. The energy splashed off the stage and the enthusiastic public took it all in.
Day 2 began with the duo Pat Metheny and Ron Carter: a tour de force both on the guitar and on bass. It was particularly high-level music, but for me, not very exciting. The musicians did not come out of their comfort zone. The thousands of fans had no trouble with it. They came to see their heroes, to hear them and to honour them. You could tell from their faces that Pat Metheny and Ron Carter enjoyed to the fullest of their concert. The guitarist played electric, acoustic and his pikasso 42-string guitar. It is amazing to see how someone can play that complicated instrument.
NO COMFORT ZONE
The trio – De Beren Gieren have no comfort zone limits letting it all hang out. The Dutch pianist Fulco Ottervanger and his Belgian companions Lieven De Pée (bass) and Simon Segers (drums) have been previous Gent Jazz talent competition winners. They now are one of Europe finest piano trio’s. Their music is dynamic and rhythmic and they continue to expand their musical boundaries with ease. Not afraid to fail (they don’t). The trio does not want any comfort zone; they would not fit in anyway.
The British singer Hugh Coltman paid tribute to crooner Nat ‘King’ Cole and thus also to his mother, who died at a very young age, being a big fan of the American. Coltman is actually more of a blues singer and his rough voice gives the sweet genre of Nat ‘King’ Cole enough body to be able to sit out an entire concert. The fine (French) band deserves praise.
The highlight of day two was the closing concert. John Scofield, Brad Mehldau and Mark Giuliana are absolute world class. Three celebrities on one stage is not a guarantee of a great concert, but the chance that it happens, of course, is great. Moreover, it happened. Guitarist John Scofield acted as leader. However, he played bass guitar as Brad Melhldau soloed on keyboard (only after the first half of the concert, did he start to play on the grand piano). Mark Giuliana provided a rhythmic surface, on which guitarist and pianist could surf away. John Scofield and Brad Mehldau came to some impressive solos.
What a great way to end the musical day.
On day three of Gent Jazz were two names on the poster you would not expect at a jazz festival:
John Cale and Max Richter. Both of them are musicians who cover a broad musical terrain. John Cale was a member of the Velvet Underground, one of the most influential pop groups, active between 1964 and 1973. John Cale is a youthful 74-year-old guitarist and singer – playing mostly keyboard – performing well-known songs from his repertoire. He was in fine voice and with a great supportive band. Nevertheless, it was above all John Cale’s show. He belongs in the list with the great heroes of pop music. Thousands of spectators rewarded his performance with great enthusiasm. He wholeheartedly deserved it.
Pianist and composer Max Richter performed two of his works: ‘The Blue Notebooks’ and ‘Infra’. The composer played the piano and keyboard, assisted by an actress (spoken word) and a string quintet. The gig went into a flow as it were. So staid, not previously heard on this festival. Texts with a political message fitted into a wonderful music surrounding. If pop music finds its way on jazz festivals, there must also be room for this mix of classical and modern music. The whole thing was almost hypnotic, with an often-repetitive theme. Electronics and modern acoustic music that go hand in hand. It was special experience. Very exciting, and great artistry!
The second part of Gent Jazz Festival begins on Thursday 14 July.
Information and tickets:www.gentjazz.com
Text: Peter Beije