The sound of Ornette Coleman kept alive at Jazz Middelheim..“Sound is a form of invisible emotion.’’ Saxophonist Ornette Coleman spoke those words in a 2008 interview. The interview clip was replayed as part of one of Ashley Kahn’s Jazz Talks at Jazz Middelheim. Ornette Coleman died in 2015. During Jazz Middelheim, he felt very omnipresent. His music and his ideas resonated during the many concert performances of the 35th edition of the four-day jazz festival in Antwerp (12-15 August). A record 21,000 visitors came to the festival.
Artist in residence this year was the Israeli trumpeter Avishai Cohen. He performed on the opening day of the festival with his quartet. An astonishing performance, with a solid foundational virtuosity under his musical message. The quartet (with pianist Yonathan Avishai, bassist Barak Mori and drummer Nasheed Waits) is currently among the best in the business. They played music from Avishai Cohen’s latest album, ‘Into the Silence’.
Italian pianist and composer Ludovici Einaudi was the main attraction on Friday. He has one thing in common with compatriot Paolo Conte, playing the piano in the center of stage, with his back to the audience. The string section provided a very different atmosphere. The music felt meditative, with a light swing.
On the second day of the festival drummer, Denardo Coleman paid tribute to his father. In his band are musicians who have played with Ornette Coleman. Saxophonist David Murray was a special guest at this concert. He provided some impressive solos. The artist in residence Avishai Cohen played some tracks on ‘Denardo Vibe’. The concert was a melting pot of talent and musical messengers.
Avishai Cohens second appearance was with his group Big vicious. Two drums, guitar and bass guitar accompanied the artist in residence. Miles Davis electronic period has had great influence on this band. “Big Vicious does not play jazz, rock or pop”, says Avishai Cohen. It is a mix of those music styles. The link with Ornette Coleman is clear: keep searching for renewal.
Main act on Saturday was ‘An evening of Words and Music with Patti Smith’. She told the audience:
“I am not a jazz singer, but we are here to celebrate jazz. We like the improvisation too.’’ Many remarkably young people were familiar with the music of the old pop queen. Patti Smith was another artist influenced by Ornette Coleman: “He always went into the unknown.’’
The second day of Jazz Middelheim also became a showcase for the Instant Composers Pool. The famous European orchestra made a great impact in Antwerp in 1999. This concert seventeen years later also made a great impact. Ellington and Monk are never far away, but often hidden in free jazz and humor. The sax section of this orchestra is among the best in the world, what a sound!
Their electronic innovation in music came to the attention of Antwerp on Sunday. The band Stuff presented ‘Hybrid Love’. The basis of their music is funk from the 1970s. Like a translation on stage from analog to digital. The technological revolution in music lasted 75 minutes. Jazz Middelheim embraced the project. Many young people came to the festival to see and hear this group. Renewal is oxygen for Jazz! You might say that Stuff operates in the spirit of Ornette Coleman.
Pianist Jef Neve performed last year for the first time with rapper Typhoon. The Belgium and the Dutchman have continued this cooperation and were now at Jazz Middelheim. Surprisingly, while English is the main language in jazz, Typhoon performed in Dutch. Flemings had no problem with this as they understand the Dutch language very well. The French-speaking Belgians and visitors from other countries could only feel the deep emotions in the performance of Typhoon. The piano of Jef Neve was in full support, and he also improvised on the words of the rapper. Surprising and masterly performance.
The second venue of the festival, the Club Stage, on the third day of the festival swelled when Tutu Poane performed. The Belgian singer with a South African origin has become one of the best jazz vocalists in Europe. She sang a program dedicated to the creative music of Joni Mitchell. An important role in the performance was played by talented saxophonist Tineke Postma. The Club stage was introduced some years ago as a small alternative to the main stage. It now is a venue where hundreds of visitors enjoy the shows.
On Monday, some of the finest piano players in the world were gathered in Antwerp: Craig Taborn, Bill Carrothers, Geri Allen and Joachim Kühn. And also Fender Rhodes wizard Jozef Dumoulin was there. Craig Taborn played solo. His solo concerts are often completely improvised. Cecil Taylor, Duke Ellington, Abdullah Ibrahim and Sun Ra are named as his sources of inspiration. But at Middelheim Thelonious Monk came along as well. The Steinway started to really sing through Craig Taborns hands’.
‘Coutances’ is the title of the latest CD by drummer Dré Pallemaerts. This was presented on the last day of Jazz Middelheim. There were two pianists on stage which is not commonplace. Bill Carrothers played the acoustic piano and Jozef Dumoulin played the fender rhodes, which was also connected to electronic equipment. It turned out to be a good formula. The keyboardists complemented each other well. Bassist Nicolas Thys and saxophonist Robin Verheyen made valuable contributions to the concert as well.
What’s in a name! Power Trio is the proper name for the band of pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and saxophonist David Murray, who also played bass clarinet. The audience was treated to a fantastic concert with refined solos. Shortly after the death of Ornette Coleman in 2015 the trio recorded the album ‘Perfection’, a composition by Ornette Coleman and the title track of the CD. That song was the encore of a concert of three great artists, who have found each other in a perfect playing trio.
Pharoah Sanders, Zakir Hussain and Joachim Kühn closed the festival on the main stage. The saxophonist with that wide and deep sound, the tablat virtuoso and the renowned avant-garde pianist had joined forces. It was a concert with two faces. Steve Kühn and Zakim Hussain as rhythm section of the tenor saxophonist and as Pharoah Sanders paused, started a friendly dual between the pianist and the percussionist. It was an amazing experience. Remarkable to hear that the 74 year old saxophonist still has that powerful playing. Again there is a link with Ornette Coleman. He once claimed that Pharoah Sanders probably was the best tenor saxophonist in the world.
Text: Peter Beijie
Video: Jazz Middleheim