Festival Review: Canarias Jazz & Más International Festival

Written by | Festivals, News, Reviews

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Canarias Jazz & Más International Festival that takes place in each July in Canary Islands. This year marked the 32nd edition of the festival making it one of the longest running festivals on the European circuit.

Festival director Miguel Ramírez, who has been at the helm since the festivals inception, explained in a recent interview that the original concept of the festival was to create an event with great music for the local population of the islands and it’s this concept that still remains the driving force behind the festival today. That said, you can’t deny that a festival of this caliber in such a tourist location is without doubt a major draw card for international guests.

Speaking about the origins of the festival, Miguel explained that before this festival was established “there were a number of other smaler festivals and attempts however these didn’t last. So, when we started this festival we wanted above all to create continuity and I think after 32 years you can say that we have done this. We started by bringing the music to the people and not trying to bring the people to the music. We did this by organizing concerts in different locations that were easily accessible for the public. After this we started to bring the concerts also to the major venues on Gran Canaria, and Tenerife. But we always kept the concept of bringing the music to the people, also in outdoor locations in the more tourist spots. But the main thing is that wherever we put on a concert we never compromise on the music.”

Not compromising on the music was certainly the case at the concerts I attended during my stay in Las Palmas, the capital city of Gran Canaria. The first concert I attended was the quartet led by French drummer Manu Katché. Katché is often applauded as one of the best drummers of our time and renowned within the industry from his work with Peter Gabriel and Sting. The performance I witnessed at the Canarias Jazz & Más Festival was with his quartet consisting of guitarist Patrick Manouguian, Basist Jérôme Regard and Eric Legnini on the keyboards and the band played a set mostly derived from their 2019 album “The Scope”. Based on the evenings performance, it’s not difficult to state that Katché’s reputation is more than well deserved. The band was spot on the entire set with each player given the room to stretch out with extended solo spots. However it was Katché himself that was the star of the show. His playing was captivating displaying an ease that belies the complexity of the music.

While, on stage, the band performed in quartet form the guest vocalists on the album also made an appearance, projected on a video screen behind on the stage. This is no mean feat to achieve live while keeping everything in sync however, in all three instances throughout the set it was beat perfect. The set contained many highlights such as the live version of “Glow” and a haunting version of “Overlooking” however it was the shows closing the was one of the most memorable. During this track Katché managed to engaged the entire audience to sing the vocal hook, splitting this between male and female and allowing this to fade out for the end of the show.

One of the greatest musical surprises of the trip occurred the following evening in the “Teatro Pérez Galdós” with the performance of the Portugese vocalist Salvador Sobral. Sobral surprised the world in 2017 by winning the Eurovision Song Contest for Portugal with the highest score ever obtained by any artist. In Las Palmas, Sobral delivered an infatuating set of music from is “BPM” and “Excuse me” albums as well as new new material from his up coming album to be released at the end of September this year. Joining him on stage was his long term band consisting of Max Agnas (piano), André Rosinha (double bass), Bruno Pedroso (drums) and André Santos (guitar).

Live Sobral is quite something to experience, his vocal performance is highly animated yet at the same time delicate and intimate. Highly memorable was the duet with guitarist André Santos and “se de mim precisarem” with a wonderful piano solo from Max Agna. Sobral is without doubt a accomplished performer, connecting immediately with the audience and this included a number of audience incursions. That said, it was his vocal performance that was the highlight of the show. On reflection I would have to say this was one of the most engaging concerts I’ve seen quite some time and I’m sure the packed audience, who by the end of the concert were dancing in the aisles, felt the same.

The following evening saw French ensemble DAÏDA take to the open air stage in the Park of the village Villa de Santa Brígida on the outskirts of the city. Comprised of Auxane Cartigny, keyboards; Arno Casanove, trumpet; Samuel F’hima, double bass; Antonin Fresson, guitar and on drums Vincent Tortiller, DAÏDA presented a high energy show of contemporary jazz. I’ve seen quite a few groups recently that are moving in this direction of introducing elements of EDM to their music and I have to say that what you perhaps miss in harmonic complexity is often compensated for in groove and that was certainly the case here. I really enjoyed this band and found the way they integrated the dance aspects highly creative and the dynamic range of the show very well crafted. The combination of Arno Casanov (Trumpet) and Antonin Fresson on guitar created some mesmerizing moments ranging from the atmospheric through to full on aggressive. This is one band to watch out for.

the second band of the evening, Thorbjørn Risager & the black tornado was a completely different kettle of fish, and perhaps one that was a little out of water following DAÏDA. However that said, their set of Blues Rock was very well received by the audience and in the long run this is what it’s about. There was nothing negative here as far as the performance is concerned, it’s just music than can be heard at any pub anywhere in the world at any time.

My final evening in Las Palmas was spent at the Teatro Cuyás located on the edge of old city center. Front and center was the world renowned Metropole Orchestra conducted by the Miho Hazama together with the rising Blue Note artist Kandace Springs. With no less than four Grammy Award-winning productions to their credit and countless of collaborations with many of the genres greats exponents the Metropole Orchestra needs little introduction. Kandice Springs also has a long list of credits to her name however it was her 2020 album “The Women Who Raised Me” (Blue Note Records), where she paid tribute to her greatest influences, that brought her international recognition.

As you would expect from musicians of this caliber, the performance was world class as were the arrangements. The show included many highlights however the rendition of the Ewan MacColl classic, made famous by Roberta Flack “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” came close to bringing tears to my eyes. Other highlights included their arrangement of “Devil may Care” and one of her most proplar tracks “Soul Eyes”, that has racked up close to 5 million streams. There were also some great moments within the orchestra including a trombone feature highlighting Martin van den Berg and and some great solo passages, albeit short, by Marc Scholten, saxophone and trumpet player Ray Bruinsma. This was truly an amazing concert and a great way to close my stay in the Canary Islands.

I also want to thank the festival organization for organizing an excursion for the journalists present to explore some of the aspects of the island outside of the Las Palmas. We visited the beautiful village of Teror as well as taking a trip to Tejeda one of the highest points on the Island that delivers a remarkable view over almost the entire island. We then visited a winery, where we enjoyed a fantastic lunch of local cuisine, that is run by Domaine Vandama and has been producing unique wines for generations. A huge shout out to our guide for the trip, Marc Llorens from Private & Tailored-Made Tours (Tours Privés sur Mesure).

Having now witnessed the festival first hand I can only conclude that the Canarias Jazz & Más International Festival is one of the best festivals on the European summer circuit. It takes more than just great programing choices to make a festival, it’s the combination of the organization, the ability to create a welcoming atmosphere for the visitors and of course the festivals location. All of these aspects were top class at the Canarias Jazz & Más International Festival. Festival director Miguel Ramírez and his team have truly created something unique here and I promise I’ll be back.

I want to  thank the Gran Canaria Tourist Office for making my trip possible.

More information on the festival can be found at their website.

Last modified: August 21, 2023